Rabbit Angora has been used in spinning for at least the past two thousand years. Eight times warmer than sheep’s wool, only a little Angora is required to give a garment much of its warmth and fluffiness. At only 10 microns (the unit of measurement used to measure fiber diameter), it far surpasses that of other wools such as Cashmere (at 16 microns) and Merino (at 17 microns) in fineness.
However, with this high quality come a few disadvantages. Angora can fly around, causing difficulties in people with allergies. For this reason, it is often recommended that the fiber not be used if knitting for children younger than four years of age due to their undeveloped respiratory system. Also, there may be severe shedding from finished garments.
There are two main reasons for this. One is the type of fiber used. Shorn fiber contains many “second cuts” or little pieces. If you’re spinning pure angora (not blended) you can deal with this problem by picking out the pieces when you come across them. Plucked fiber (which is pulled out by hand when the rabbit moults naturally four times a year) is less likely to have this problem as the fiber has to be at least 6 cms in length otherwise it will not pull out. It also retains the oil gland situated at the base of the fiber, keeping it in good condition.
The other reason for shedding is due to the formation of the rabbit’s coat. There are two types of hair: a soft fine undercoat and a coarser outer coat that helps prevent the rabbit’s wool from matting. The coarse fiber is perhaps not so desirable as it sheds and is slightly prickly to the touch. A good rabbit breeder will try to eliminate too high a percentage of this leaving the delicate wool that gives Angora its reputation.
One of Angora’s advantages is that it has little to no smell at all and is also anti-static in that it can actually repel dirt. In many cases it can be spun without any washing, combing or processing. Some spinners have been even known to spin straight from the animal with the rabbit sitting on their knee!
The fiber is divided into four grades. First grade is 6cm in length, clean and free from any matting or tangling. Second grade is clean under 6 cm long but over 3 cm. Third grade is any second cut or clean but matted fiber whereas fourth grade is dirty or stained with urine. The first two grades are the most suitable for spinning although the latter two can be washed and carded for use although they will never be as easy to spin or as good in quality.
There are three ways to spin Angora. The first method is as a pure fiber, the second is onto a core yarn and the third is as a blend with either sheep’s wool or another material such as alpaca, mohair, cashmere or silk. The first is the most difficult to accomplish as Angora is quite slippery and it takes some practice to learn to spin an even thread. Apart from that it is also an extremely wasteful method for even if you ply it the resulting spun yarn with wool it will still be a 50% mix making any resulting garment very hot. The second method is slightly easier with angora being spun directly onto a manufactured yarn, which perhaps has some Angora already added.
Spinning blended fiber is perhaps the easiest method of all. Angora can be blended by hand with a drum carder by forming a layer of sheep’s wool and then lying another layer of Angora on top of this thus forming a rollag (a long strip or material ready for spinning) or can be undertaken professionally by a carding company. They have huge machines to undertake this and can even dye the fiber as it is being processed.
When choosing what to blend Angora with you need to think about the finished product. If you’re intending to make a high-quality fashion garment then choose fine wool such as Merino or Corriedale. Otherwise, you can use a good grade, Romney, as this is far less expensive. When blending you will only require a 20% Angora and 80% wool mix. This will give the fluffiness and softness for which Angora is famous without waste.
When spinning Angora remembers to use an extremely loose bobbin and wheel tension so that the wheel can just move without slipping. With pure fiber take a small amount and fluff it out. Spin fairly slowly and only a small quantity at a time, pinching it rather than smoothing it out as in spinning wool.
Angora has to be spun very finely since it will later expand giving the fluffy effect desired. When plying remember to have your wheel go in the opposite direction. Store the end product in hanks, not in balls as these will reduce the fiber’s elasticity. Although it does take patience and practice (especially for the beginning spinner) spinning Angora can be a rewarding experience resulting in a fine garment that will last many years.Angora has to be spun