1.3.3 Fibre Characteristics of Camel Hair

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Camel hair, like cashmere, comprises two qualities: relatively coarse outer hair and inner down fibre. The underdown produced by animals living in the hottest desert climates tends to be coarser and sparser than from those living in a more temperate climate. The best fibre is found in Inner Mongolia and Mongolia. The fine down fibre varies from 19-24 microns - about 2 microns coarser than Iranian cashmere - and varies between 2.5 and 12.5 cm in length. This fibre is the result of many years of selective breeding.

The outer hair of the camel is coarse and can be up to 37.5 cm in length with a diameter of 20-120 microns. The average weight of the adult female under hair is 3.5 kg while that of the male is double this amount. The fibres are obtained by shearing and also by collecting the hair during the moulting season.

Like cashmere, only the soft underwool or down hair is used in the production of yarn. When the camel moults it does not lose its hair all at once: first the neck hair falls off, then the mane and finally the body hair. This process takes place over a six to eight week period starting in late spring. The hair covering the humps is not shorn since, without it, the animals would be more susceptible to disease in the summer months. The hair is obtained by a number of methods: by combing, by shearing and simply by collecting the clumps of hair shed naturally during the moulting season.

Varying from reddish to light brown, the hair is sorted according to shade and age of the animal. Baby camel hair, which has an average diameter of about 19 microns and a length of 2.5-12.5 cm, is the finest and softest. It holds greater cachet but it is not currently in greater demand than adult hair as its high premium is beyond its economic value.

During the winter the Bactrian camel produces long, thick hair. A type of mane grows around the neck and a long tuft extends from the muzzle. Long hair is also found on the joints of the elbows, knees and on the limbs. The most common colour is reddish brown, with variants from brown to grey. The white fleece is the most valued but is very rare.

1.3.4 End Uses of Camel Hair

Fabrics containing camel's hair are left in the natural state or dyed to a darker shade of brown. The fine fur fibres are woven or blended with fine wool for overcoating, top coating, sportswear and sports hosiery.

The long hair removed by the dehairing process is used to make felt for the Mongolian yurts or tents and for the herdsmen's winter coats, which are very warm and completely waterproof. It is also used for carpet backing. The strong, springy hair of the camel mane is used for interlinings and the outer hair is traditionally used in bedding as it is said to have properties beneficial to rheumatism and arthritis.

1.4 Llama

1.4.1 Introduction to the Llama

The South American camelids are in four existing forms: all of which live in the high altitudes of the Andes: the Llama (Lama glama), the alpaca (Lama pacos), the vicuna (Vicugna vicugna), the guanaco or huanaco (Lama hunchus or Lama guanicoe). These animals can endure the climate of the highest Andean altitudes - from 2,500m up to 5,500m - from tropical areas to sub-polar regions, adapting to the rarefied atmosphere and are able to survive on the tough natural vegetation of the steppes. Like the Afro-Asian camel, they are pseudo-ruminants; unlike true ruminants they have three stomachs rather than four. The Llamas' tendency to kick and spit saliva and the remains of undigested food has been exaggerated; they will only do so if badly irritated.

The Llama and alpaca are domestic animals and have lived with man since time immemorial. Llama males in particular, are used as a beast of burden and have been since the times of the ancient Incas. The alpaca is the species most famous for its fibre production. The vicuna and guanaco, however, are wild animals and have a more aggressive nature. As a result, the fibre from these is seldom harvested.

Today, although less significant than in its heyday, alpaca production remains one of Peru's staple industries. In areas where little or no crops can be cultivated for subsistence, the breeding of animals is the peasants' only means of livelihood. Alpaca is also still in a small way connected to traditional ceremonies of the peasant Indian population. Weaving, although modified following the introduction of the European treadle loom in the early years of the Colombian period, is still carried out in some parts of the Andes in much the same way as it always has been.

Much of Peru's population lives in the Altiplano grasslands of the Andes at altitudes where the perpetual cold inhibits growth of trees and crops. The local Indians' livelihood depends predominantly on animals. The camelids, in contrast, are adapted to the high altitudes where they are able to convert the poor highland forage and bear young. Their soft padded feet, unlike sheep's cloven hooves, do not break the ground.

1.4.2 Production of Alpaca Fibre

It is estimated that there are some four million alpaca in South America, three million Lama glama (or domestic Llama) and 125,000 vicuna. The wildest of the Llama group, the guanaco, is in a state of great danger; the entire South American herd is thought to number fewer than 50,000.

During the early 1970's stocks of alpaca and llama were significantly reduced, seriously affecting the livelihoods of the local population. Subsequently efforts have been made, through education and research, to restore the level of the camelid population. But the fibre industry is erratic and highly dependent on world demand. It is also subject to the political and economic events that characterise life in Peru, which has also variously affected the level of the population of these animals.

A further factor affecting the breeding of the animals is the physiognomy of the land itself. The central Andean region - and particularly the vulnerable highlands - have been overgrazed in recent years by sheep and cattle forcing the alpaca back into the more remote and impoverished areas of the Altiplano.

Fibre production has been low in the last two years, dropping by as much as 40 per cent. This has been partly a result of drought.

Alpaca raw material is not exported. All raw material is processed in Peru into products for export, in the form of tops, yarns and knitwear - although some is still used for domestic consumption, for knitwear and woven fabrics, and also for the craft industry for products sold in the tourist trade.

There are about three million alpacas worldwide. Roughly 80 per cent are found in Peru, chiefly in the southern regions of Puno, Arequipa and Cuzco, where the animals have been domesticated since the ninth century. The most important areas in Bolivia are Pacejes, Carangas and Omasuyos.

1.4.3 Fibre Characteristics of Alpaca

There are two types of alpaca; the huacaya, which accounts for 80 per cent of the total, and the suri which makes up the remaining 20 per cent. The fibre obtained from the suri is the longest and most highly prized.

The hair of the alpaca is fine and silky, between 20 and 34 microns in diameter and 8-12 cm in length. The fleece comes in a wide variety of shades, which is a special characteristic of the alpaca. Colours range from pure white and various shades of white - which represent about 80-85 per cent of the clip and have the highest value - to warm fawns, reddish browns and a variety of greys and black.

The animals are shorn. With the encouragement of the research stations and major merchants, shearing is carried out with modern equipment, an advance on the pieces of glass or rusty knives used in the past.

1.4.4 End Uses of Alpaca

The fleece from the alpaca is now the only fibre from the South American camelid used in any quantity for spinning yarns for fashion applications. The primary end use for alpaca is knitwear but it also goes into woven cloth for clothing, accessories - such as shawls and stoles - and rugs.

More recently there have been attempts to promote in Europe blends of alpaca with wool, cotton and silk for both knitwear and woven cloth as a means of widening its use.

Llama hair is used for ropes or sacking and other tough applications, sometimes for export when the price is depressed. The hair from the vicuna and guanaco are almost completely unavailable.

1.5 Angora Rabbit Hair

1.5.1 Introduction to the Angora Rabbit

The origin of the angora breed is not known. It is believed to be a mutation which developed among wild rabbits in France in the late 18th century.

Angora rabbit hair is very fine, soft hair used principally in the production of high quality knitwear, although currently there is a trend towards incorporating small quantities of angora in woven cloth. It is also used in blends with other natural fibres for the production of yarns for both knitwear and woven cloth for apparel.

Rabbits are farmed on a highly intensive "factory farm" system or by individual farmers producing on a smaller scale. China has a large number of individual farmers and farming of rabbits is highly labour intensive. Rabbits are bred in hutches with a grid floor, constructed so as to avoid the animals damaging their coats. Because angora rabbits are albino, the hutches have to be kept in semi-darkness. The angora rabbit is generally shorn every three months. The fibre on the French type is sometimes pulled. This method offers the advantage that new hair grows after each harvest, but it is not generally favoured as the animal can suffer from shock. The hair from the female is considered to be better than that of the uncastrated male.

1.5.2 Production of Angora Fibre

China is by far the world's leading producer of angora rabbit hair, contributing about 90 per cent of global production. Chile is the world's second biggest, followed by Argentina. Small amounts of angora are produced in East European countries, including Czechoslovakia and Hungary, and very small amounts in France.

World production figures for angora rabbit hair are difficult to obtain as there is no group or association specific to the fibre. In 1986 world production of angora rabbit hair raw material was estimated at 7,000 - 8,000 tonnes. Chinese production peaked in 1984, reaching 5,000 - 7,000 tonnes. Production has since declined considerably worldwide. One trade estimate puts current annual Chinese production at only 2,000 -3,000 tonnes and Chilean production at 150 - 200 tonnes.

1.5.3 Fibre Characteristics of Angora

The weight of the rabbit is between 2 and 4 kg and its body is covered with an abundance of white silky hairs. The average growth of hair is 0.7 mm per day; the coat grows more rapidly in winter than summer.

Maximum production is obtained with the third and fourth shearing. Some rabbits yield a satisfactory amount until they are eight or even ten years old. Individual yields are in the range of 200 - 500 gm and average about 300 gm. Average length of hair is approximately 36 mm and diameters are between 11 and 13 microns. But there is a large differential between short and long hair. Super grade angora can be as much as 70 mm in length. China specifies that the length of super grade should be a minimum of 38 mm.

1.5.4 End Uses of Angora

The angora fibre has a smooth, silky texture which makes it difficult to spin, and the fibres tend to slip out of the yarn and shed from the fabric; nevertheless, the fibre is desired for its texture, warmth, light weight and pure white colour, although it is sometimes dyed in pastel shades. Angora rabbit hair is used primarily for items such as sweaters, mittens, baby clothes, and millinery.

There are basically two types of hair. The first, known as the "French type", is longer and spikier and contains guard hair which is hollow and does not take dye. Used in garments, this type of hair shows up as contrasting pale fibre and is often used to create a fine, brushed appearance. The second type of hair is finer and is produced by an angora rabbit with German origins. It is less spiky in character, and can be used to make a softer yarn which is sometimes viewed as an alternative to cashmere. It is used in very fine yarns for high fashion knitwear and thermal underwear. A typical angora blend yarn is a 70/20/10 woollen spun blend of lambs wool/angora/nylon. This would use a shorter fibre from the middle of the range. A high fashion garment, on the other hand, would have a larger percentage of angora made from longer fibre.

1.6 Yak

1.6.1 Introduction to the Yak

Yak hair is regarded by some as being an acceptable alternative to cashmere, although it is not produced in commercial quantities.

Although a member of the hoofed bovidae family, the yak is actually a unique species in itself, weighing 700-800 lb (315-360 kg). It differs from other bovines in several of its characteristics - for instance, its tail is similar to that of the horse but is less mobile, having long, thick/wavy hair.

1.6.2 Production of Yak Hair

Each yak only produces an average of 100 gm of hair a year, which is pulled or combed in the spring moult. The outer hair needs to be separated from the down hair. One estimate reported in Wool Record in 1989 put the numbers of domestic yaks on the plateau flanking the Himalayas at 13 million with the majority in China: in Qinghai province, which borders on Tibet; in the adjoining provinces of Sichuan and Gansu; and in the autonomous region of Tibet itself. The output from Qinghai province was estimated in 1989 at a steady 500 tonnes a year.

Note: The Wool Record is a journal published monthly in the UK and covers a wide range of topics of interest to the world's textile industry.

1.6.3 Fibre Characteristics of Yak Hair

Yak are widely used in the mountainous regions of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau as beasts of burden and for subsistence through its milk and meat. The hides are used by the local people and in more recent years herdsmen have earned money from selling the hair. The animal, which lives above the snowline, has developed a thick coat of long hair reaching almost to the ground.

Wild yaks tend to have black hair, but domestic yaks have hair which is often piebald, predominantly black and brown with white markings. White hair is inevitably the most precious, as it can be dyed. However, only about 10 per cent of yaks grow white hair. The underhair of the one year old calf has a diameter of 15-17 microns and is 4-5 cm in length. Adult underhair is 18-20 microns in diameter and 3.0-3.5 cm long.

1.6.4 End Use of Yak Hair

The hair is used locally for weaving coverings for huts, blankets, mats and sacks. Strong ropes are made from the tail hair, and felted fabrics from the down hair. Once dehaired, the fine down hair can be made into yarn comparable to cashmere.

1.7 Beaver

The largest amphibious member of the rodent family, it is found in Europe and America. Beaver fur, like muskrat, is considered the best for felt hat manufacture. Coming from an animal which weights about 20 kgs, the fur has an average fibre diameter of 15.8 microns. It is soft and silky and lends itself to textile use, but the hair is used only when certain shiny effects are desired in blends. Considerable demand exists for beaver pelts in the fur industry. They are plucked and shorn and because of the light belly portion, they appear to be striped. Canadian beaver has a blue-brown fur fibre while other animals vary in shading from light brown to pale tawny. Today, the pelt is used in fur coats and in trimming fur and fabric garments.

1.8 Weasel

There are about 175 species in existence. They have a long cylindrical body and walk on their toes, not on the soles of their feet. Some species are well known, the mink and the ermine for example are ferocious and bloodthirsty animals. Larger than these two is the wolverine which is found in Europe, Asia and America. Other members with valuable fur are the marten and the sable. Still another group includes the badger. The fur industry uses nearly all the species of the weasel family in making coats, trimmings, capes, etc. The textile industry uses large amounts of their fine fibres, but only those with names that will add to the dignity and glamour of the fabrics. The accent is on luxury.

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