Fiber Feature: Protein Fibers... and the Great American Aran Afghan KAL!

Haymarket in Whitewater
In last week's blog while telling you about the Lorna's Laces contest I talked a little about Bluefaced Leicester (BFL) wool as an introduction to protein fibers. Lorna's Laces Haymarket and 6 other yarns that we carry contain BFL specifically.

Yarns made from protein fibers are probably the most commonly used fibers by knitters in North America and Great Britain. Protein fibers are fibers harvested from animals, usually by shearing or plucking their coats. Sheep of course are what most people think of when they think of animals that give us fiber but there are many animals that humans have used for their fiber throughout the ages.

Most of the animals from which we obtain fiber have been domesticated for centuries and sometimes bred for certain characteristics. For instance; good muscling, wool/coat qualities, hardiness and docility. Many of the characteristics that we humans find desirable in a domestic animal are juvenile traits which tends to make an animal unsuited to life in the wild. Your typical sheep, for example, would not survive in the wild because it has been breed to continue to grow its softer undercoat and must be sheared periodically. Wild sheep shed this softer undercoat once or twice a year.  When left unshorn, a woolly, domestic sheep will eventually not be able to move and will eventually die.

Here are some of the animals from which fibers can be obtained:

There are hundreds of different sheep breeds the world over that produce all types of wool. Sheep are one of the oldest domesticated animals. I'll talk about specific breeds in various up coming posts but if you want to read about some you can at Sheep 101

Just like sheep, goats have been domesticated for thousands of years and some are also dependent on humans because of the need to be sheared. The two main varieties of fiber goats are: Angora goats originated in the Ankara region of Turkey and yield mohair and Cashmere which yields cashmere fiber. Other common types of goats used for fiber are Cashgora (a cross of cashmere and angora) and Pashmina which is a breed of goat from high in the Himalayas of Nepal, Pakistan and Northern India from which a very fine fiber is harvested.

Angora rabbits which been breed by humans for centuries are also from the Ankara region of Turkey and yield angora.
Alpaca (they come in two types)
     -huacaya (regular type of alpaca)
     -suri (these have long, silky coats that look a bit like dreadlocks)
Vicuna (likely wild ancestor of alpacas)
Guanaco (wild ancestor of llamas)

Various other animals:
Muskox - this is where Qiviut comes from
Brush tail possum

Please let me know if I've missed an animal!  Fiber enthusiasts can be a creative lot, spinners in particular. I've known spinners to try to spin just about anything, including dryer lint!

Next week I'll spotlight one of these fibers.

Now to change gears a bit. It looks like we have quite a few people joining me to knit The Great American Aran Afghan! Anyone is welcome to join in, even if you've already started the afghan and just want a little company during your project. You can work at your own pace and knit as many or as few of the squares as you like. Beginners, don't be bashful, this is a great way to expand your skill without a big commitment.  Try the easier squares first, then try one that pushes you a little, you'll be surprised how much you improve.  Each square is knit one stitch at a time, one row at a time just like any other project.  Everything is composed of knits, purls, yarn overs, knitting 2 together, SSK, and some Make 1s, along with changing the order in which you knit stitches.  There is plenty of help if you join our Ravelry group thread. You can also come into the shop or email me your questions.

So far I've started with the square on page 22 of the book and I'll choose another square soon for September's choices.  So far, I've only had time to work a couple of inches of mine but the resulting fabirc is so soft and squooshy!  I'm using the new Cascade Longwood, in case you were wondering. :)

So come join us and we'll make this beautiful afghan together!

One little tidbit of good news if you're visiting us in Reno, the city has put up a new street sign at the intersection of McCarran and Capital Blvd!!!  This should make it easier to find the street where we are located. We love to meet our out-of-town customers and look forward to showing you around on your next visit!

Have fun, don't stress and enjoy!  I'm here to help as are many of our fellow knitters on Ravelry!

Please send your questions to askTerry (at) jimmybeanswool (dot) com.

Happy knitting!

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