Is Angora wool cruel?

No.

Angora wool comes from the Angora rabbit, of which there are several breeds. All Angora rabbits are large, some startlingly so:

Woman holding a gigantic white rabbit, which pretty much covers her torso. The rabbit's head appears to be larger than the woman's, though this is because of the amount of fur on it.
FLOOFF!!

Their wool grows to about 3″ (7.5cm), though some can be up to 5″ (12.5cm).

An almost featureless squashed sphere of oyster coloured fur that occupies the entire top of a bedside locker, which on closer inspection, turns out to be an Angora rabbit just prior to moulting.
FLOOOOOOOOOFFFFFFFFFFFFFF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This naturally falls out every 90 days, although some owners trim their bunnies regularly:

An Angora rabbit just after trimming. It looks more like a white scottish terrier than a bunny, but with rather longer legs, and sporting what looks like two huge, fluffy feather dusters on its head. I swear. I could just DIE of the cuteness.
Like a Scottish terrier with feather dusters on its head.

The main reason for keeping Angora rabbits is not for their wool – it’s for competitions. After competing for a year or two, they’re retired, often becoming pets as they are very used to being handled. They’re terrific fun, a mix of dog-like rascality and cat-like snuggles.

Their wool is harvested through regular brushing, moulting, or trimming. It’s actually possible to spin directly from a bun in moult:

As long as it’s moulting, it will happily sit there and let you. If it isn’t moulting, you can expect a surprisingly painful kick in the stomach. These are not coot widdle bunnikins, they can and will draw blood.

Most owners, however, will collect wool from brushings:


Now, a number of people have mentioned PETA. It may be true that some Chinese Angora farms have poor animal protections in place, and that abuse took place. I deal with that by never buying Angora from China, or from anywhere that is even slightly suspicious – but I do that for any fibre*. However, I would like to direct you to this website, and, when you have examined it in full, I would like you to think about whether PETA is the sort of organisation from which to get your information on animal abuse.


*: this means that I only work with substandard cashmere, for example, because the truly high-quality cashmere comes from half-starved wild goats. Starvation is the reason for the ultra-fine fibre these goats produce. NB: they’re not deliberately starved. It’s because their native environment (mountain grassland) doesn’t produce enough food. Cashmere goats living in, e.g., Australia or Scotland, are well-fed, and therefore produce thicker cashmere fibre.

Quora linky.

When making textiles, how would early people card them?

There is such a thing as craft historical re-enactment – it’s not all Vikings and Romans. Craft historical re-enactment can happen on its own, often in living history museums, but also in conjunction with the sword and sandals kind of re-enactment*. There are also many knitters who are interested in historically-accurate crafting – there’s large and active communities of Historic Knitters and Spinners on Ravelry, for example, and another dedicated group of crafters who are preserving old, out-of-copyright patterns and crafting books online.

So, how would people have carded fleece to make yarn in the pre-industrial era?

Image showing modern and historical carders.

I’m sorry this is such a poor-quality image – I took it with my phone at my first-ever wool festival, and, while camera quality is my main criterion for buying a phone, that phone was high quality for 2009. These are carders: the pair at the front are relatively modern, but at the back, on the cross-shaped handle, is a typical pre-industrial carder. Those fuzzy blobs you can see are the seed heads of one of the Teasel species of plant:

Historically, Fuller’s Teasel seeds were used for both carding wool for spinning, and for finishing woven cloth by brushing and softening the surface.


* – In my LH characters of Jodis (formidable matron) and Finnbogi (beardless and somewhat inept young warrior), my craft skill was naalbinding, a kind of Viking knitting but with a sewing needle.

Quora linky.

Is there a huge markup on yarn? Why is yarn so expensive often?

Sometimes. But mostly, not.

I had a little adventure into yarn production some years ago. I purchased the fleece, had it spun as a worsted-spun 4-ply, and wound into undyed hanks.

As I recall, the fleece, a rare-breed Galway (my Unique Selling Point (USP)) was £11 a kilo. I bought 10kg – £110.

I drove it to a spinning mill – around £200 by ferry plus 500miles petrol. Total in the region of £600 – lucky it was a multipurpose trip…

The mill charged £56 per returned kilo. I got 60-ish 100g hanks back, so about £336.

The resulting yarn was shipped to me at a cost of about £60.

>> 110+(600/2)+336+60=806 (travel costs halved because it was a multipurpose trip)

>> 806/60= 13.43333333

So, just to break even, I’d have to sell each hank for £13.50. And that’s without a ballband, gauge testing, packaging and posting, Etsy listing and selling fees, etc. A 50% markup would bring it to just over £20. And you’ll find, as you look around, that £20 is an average price for a hank of good-quality 4-ply yarn with enough yardage to make a pair of socks.

But that’s a profit of only £405 – half as much as I’d need to repeat the process the following year.

Rare-breed Galway sheep with characteristic top-knot.

A non-profit business, just bringing attention to the lovely Galway, would need to charge £30 per undyed 100g skein – and that leaves nothing to plough back into a breeding programme, fodder, housing, veterinary bills, or my time and expenses! Salary? Don’t make me laugh…


I could, of course, have shipped the fleece instead of delivering it, at about £100 for the 10kg. I could have gone for a less expensive woollen treatment, costing a mere £52 per returned kilo – and if you think that’s still expensive, you should watch this:

Fleece processing is intensive both manually and mechanically. Neither the expertise nor the machinery (£1mn startup costs) comes cheap!

I could even have used any old fleece at half the price, instead of rare-breed Galway – but that would have eliminated my USP. I’d have to find some other way of adding value, such as hand-dyeing. Sadly, while I can do and enjoy dyeing… I’m not really ‘valuable’ as a dyer. I have no unique vision that allows me to create exquisite colourways that are Art in the skein, like my neighbour EweMomma does:

Skein of hand-painted yarn in shades  of pink. green, purple and yellow.
Ewemomma hand-painted yarn.

I’d produce plain solid colours like wot i dun ere:

7 hanks of yarn dyed in solid maroon, red, salmon, burgundy, lime, turquoise and orange.
Sooooo boring. But at least I got a good R-O-Y range.

The way you need to look at fibrecrafts is as a hobby, like golf, wine-tasting, or astronomy. A decent golf club can set you back £100 – and you’ll need more than one, plus balls, tees, club fees and funny trousers. Wine tastings can be as little as £30 – for a couple of hours, and you don’t even get to drink the wine! Astronomy costs – are astronomical. But a decent yarn is lovely and squishy in the hank, provides hours of knitting pleasure, and an end product that – with a little care – will last 1,000 years…

Egyptian sock fragments, c. 1000–1400CE, with colourwork geometric designs in black, white and blue cotton.
Egyptian sock fragments, c. 1000–1400CE. From L to R: Textile Museum, ca. 1000 – 1200 AD; Victorian & Albert Museum, ca. 1100 – 1300 AD; Textile Museum, ca. 1300 AD

Quora linky.

Can I make a living from selling wool and from knitting?

From knitting? Almost certainly not.

I was a maths teacher, and collected some data for a Functional Maths project I ran with low-ability students. One heavily-cabled Aran sweater I made took me 60 hours (I’m a fast knitter. It was complicated) of knitting time, and about 10 hours of swatching, planning and finishing.

  • At the current minimum wage in the UK (£8.21 an hour), I would need to sell that sweater for £574.70 to compensate me for my working time, plus the cost of the yarn (just over £50, so pretty cheap).
  • However, I am NOT a ‘minimum-wage knitter’, I am an expert AND an artist/artisan. In my professional career, I routinely charged £25–50 per hour for private work. Applying that to my knitting, that raises the minimum sale price of the sweater to £1,750-3,500, plus yarn costs.
  • I knit that particular sweater for my husband: people regularly complimented him on it, and, on learning his wife had knitted it, asked if I’d knit one for them – – – – for £20. INCLUDING the yarn…

From selling wool? If you mean running a yarn shop, people do, and can be quite successful. However,

  • my local non-artisanal yarn shop also sells cheap crappy acrylic yarn, fabric, supplies for sewing, embroidery, quilting, paper crafts, art (painting, sculpture, etc), and just about anything else you can imagine. The owner makes a modest living.
  • a posher yarn shop stocks only locally-sourced wool and mohair. The owner is independently wealthy, only opens part-time, and uses her profits to promote local charities. She does do a mean hot chocolate and gluten-free cookies, so I spend far too much time there.
  • A friend and neighbour who’s a yarn-dyer does make a living by selling online and through trade fairs all over Europe, and teaching, and giving talks, and Patreon, and ‘moonlighting’ as an accountant.

From producing wool? Eh. The suppliers of the posh yarn shop that I’ve met produce yarn as a way of offsetting the cost of keeping their animals. One also keeps milk goats and sells the milk, another keeps Jacob sheep for meat, skins and wool. They also teach, dye, design, etc.,etc. They’re not getting rich, and might not be making very much money at all once the accounts are balanced. I once had a go at buying fleece and getting it spun for sale: I did make a profit, but I had to sell the undyed yarn for nearly £20 a 100g hank – and the profit wasn’t enough for me to buy more fleece to spin the following year 😦

Almost everyone I know of who is making a living off fibre crafts is not just a dyer, or a designer, or a spinner, or… They’re a sample knitter and a dyer and a designer and a spinner and a teacher and a vlogger/blogger/podcaster and a magazine contributor and a book author and a photographer and and and. I knit, design, and teach, and it just about covers the cost of my yarn.

Quora linky.

How easy is it to make “wool” out of pet hair?

Not hard at all. The only thing you need is the right kind of pet.

So goldfish and budgies are right out.

The best pets are the fluffy ones – the ones that grow a decent undercoat in winter. Huskies are good, and so are long-hair cats like Maine Coons. Also, Angora bunnies, and some lionheads, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some guinea pigs and ferrets didn’t produce small, usable amounts of undercoat.

The fluff can be collected through normal grooming. Keep it in a clean, sealable plastic bag until you have enough. When you have about 100g/4oz, you can try removing the hairs from the fluff, wash (if you don’t like spinning “in the grease”) and card, and spin.

This first spinning effort will tell you whether the fluff is worth spinning on its own – some of it may be too short – or whether you’d be better combining it with a longer fibre, like wool or cotton.

Here’s some people who made clothing from their dogs’ hair:

Two women in dog-hair cardigans, with their dogs - a Tibetan mastiff and a husky. I think - I'm not great on dog breeds.
Aman in a cabled dog-hair sweater, with a large hairy mongrel (probably).
A woman in a dark-brown dog-hair gilet, with rough collie who is too light-coloured to be the dog-hair donor.
A man in a bright white Aran-style cabled cardigan, with a beautiful white husky.
A woman wearing a black stole which looks like Persian or Astrakhan  lambswool, but which clearly comes from her huge Royal poodle.

These People Are Wearing Sweaters Made From Their Dog’s Shed Hair

There’s even a company – Knit Your Dog – that will do the hard work for you, if you’re not crafty:

And a woman who works exclusive with dog har, and writes about it:

——————

The main problem with cat hair is there’s comparatively little of it. I’ve only really heard of people felting with cat hair:

Crafting with Cat Hair: Cute to Make with Your Cat

Angora bunnies produce Angora wool, that fluffy, soft stuff that makes gorgeous, expensive sweaters, so that’s pretty mainstream and commercial. However, here’s a video of a woman who keeps Angora rabbits (and poodles), showing the process of producing items from bunny to needle, which would be the same for any other animal fibre:

Quora linky.

Momma gotta brand new bag!

I do! I will!

I’ve been having a go at dyeing wool, using Kool-Aid (right, top) and food colouring and vinegar (right, bottom). I have loads of undyed 4ply which I am probably never going to use up otherwise. The plan is to double-ply it and knit and full (felt) myself a bag. I love Clarice Cliff so I just had to get a copy of Melinda Coss’s Art Deco Knits when it came up on eBay. I’ve had it for a while but the designs are so 80s that I’ll never knit anything from it. However, it would be a pity not to make something. So I thought bags. The first one with be a straightforward knit-up of a sleeve, but if/when I do more, I might try to mimic the shapes of Clarice Cliff’s pottery as well.

I wound off approximately 2oz (50g), skeined it on the back of a chair and tied it loosely with waste acrylic yarn. I washed it in cool water with a little liquid soap, making up the dye bath while it soaked briefly. The Kool-Aid dye bath consisted of 2 sachets dissolved with cool water, in a microwaveable pot (I used a soon-for-the-bin micro pressure cooker) – except for the purple (top, far right) for which I used 4 sachets. The food-colouring dye bath was approximately half a bottle (20ml) of Supercook food-colouring and a good glug of Sarson’s Distilled White Vinegar, in cool water. I didn’t bother rinsing the wool clear of the soap – I read somewhere that it actually might help the dyeing process – and lowered it into the dye bath, adding more water to make sure it was completely covered. A good shuggle of the pot to mix it up, then into the microwave for 2-minute bursts – mine has a default setting of 750W – with 2mins rest between, when I poked it a bit with a whisk to keep it under the bath. For most, the dye bath was clear after about 4 or 5 bursts like this. I then left the wool in the depleted dye bath overnight to cool, though it only needs to reach room temperature. I washed the wool gently in cool water to remove any excess dye, and left it to dry on a radiator. I’ve double plied two already into pullcakes with my Daruma Home Twister (left).

The results of the dyeing were overall pretty fabulous, even if I do tootle me own flute. The colours on the whole are clear and vibrant, and I’m particularly pleased with the good, dense black, which I really didn’t think would come out well at all. Instead, it’s about the best of the bunch, much better than the pic shows. The food-colouring green is lovely too – a nice strong organic sagey colour. I’m very fond of the Kool-Aid turquoise (second from left), and the red (second from right) is lovely and pure too. The food-colouring blue is a huge disappointment though, all patchy. It was my first attempt at food-colouring dye: on some advice from tinterwebs, I soaked it overnight in the dye bath before zapping it. Damn you, tinterwebs! Once more you bring me wrongness! It was actually worse than it looks now: I cooled it, added more blue and, in a fit of poorly-remembered colour-theory madness, a splash of red and zapped it again. It’s better, but it suffers from the madd colorz yet, poor fluff. Saying this, I could probably whip up a bidding frenzy of Wollmeisian proportions on Etsy with the foul stuff. Many’s the fool would promise me their firstborn* for it…

Next time, I will make sure to loosen up the strands within the skein, and tie them VERY VERY LOOSELY indeed. So loosely indeed that they were virtually UN-tied. Even though I thought I’d got them loose enough, they still affected the dye penetration on the first batch. It doesn’t matter much, since I’ll be using them double-plied and then felting.

The Kool-Aid colours are, from left to right:
Orange and Lemonade (one sachet each) – light, bright orange
Berry Blue – turquoise
Lemon-Lime – bright sap green
Black Cherry – reddish-brown marroon
Watermelon Cherry – peachy pink
Tropical Punch – pure red
Grape – mid-purple. Not entirely successful.

Other craftiness: a forgotten pair of socks. Sue me. How many pairs have I done? These are claret, ribbed in the leg and down the top of the foot. And another pair, 5-row stripes in red and navy blue. And yet another: Tiny husband’s Regia Bamboo socks are finally finished. And as if that wasn’t enough, a dinky pair of ankle socks for Ickle Baby Cthulhu from the left-over Bamboo. The photos are crap. Don’t know what’s wrong with the camera.

I also made myself a fake Fair Isle tam. Not that I couldn’t make a real one, but I saw the patterns and thought “Oooh!” and “An excuse to use some of that variegated Teddy Picasso** in the camouflage colourway that I unaccountably like so much, without people necessarily catching me out being hypocritical”. So I went at it like a demented thing, so maddened by the promise of fiendish skultammery goodness that I didn’t check stitch counts or anything, finished it in 24hrs – and promptly lost it to the offspring. Seriously. I spend ages working out significant and meaningful Aran symbols for a tam for him, and he won’t touch it. I risk my mental health at the eight legs of monstrous yarn worshippers to make him a Spiderman hat that lies despised and cobwebbed in a corner until I give it to his friend Harryweb. Not to mention all the unbelievably cute little hats for which I don’t even have photos, because they got chucked out of the pram! But let me even day-dream about a hat for someone else – TH’s BS Johnson, my fake Isle tam, his Spiderman hat now that it’s Harryweb’s… – and he WANTS IT NOW. The bottom two pics are his response to mild suggestions that he give Mommy back her special hat.

“Ye can tak awa ma dignity, but ye’ll nivver tak ma tam!!!”.***

TTFN
K

P.S. I treated myself to a spinning workshop for my birthday!! Now, once I get a proper spindle…

* – What, precisely, is the attraction of the firstborn? Why does everyone want them? Why the elaborate schemes to get their mitts on them? I say this as a firstborn myself. Though perhaps the fact that no cannibalistic witches/wrathful gods/strange little spinning men wanted me makes me bitter. And envious.

** – This is the DK version of the chunky Teddy Colourama for IBC’s ‘special jacket‘.

*** – Sunday Post Translation Services, Inc.