Humans have been wearing animals since the dawn of time; it is a survival tactic, protection from the elements and immediate injury, as humans physically don’t have skins that allow them to adapt to extreme temperatures and environments.
We all have an image of a stone-age ancestor wrapped up in the pelts and furs of animals -optional club in hand-but over the years humanity has developed more sophisticated ways in which to manufacture fabric from animals, so much so that one would almost not realize that the clothes you are wearing is technically not too much of a far cry from wearing pelts over our goose bumps.
We all know this comes from sheep. We all know how the farmers shear their little sheep and end up with pillow of the stuff, and we see that without its fleece, the sheep looks more like a skinny, dejected goat. Not quite surprising, but then again, we are working our way up from the least surprising.
Fleece is made from the wool of the sheep, and is used mostly in blankets and winter-clothes. It can absorb up to 30% its weight in moisture without feeling damp and clammy. For this, it is used also in diaper covers and mattress pads. Its lightweight qualities make the material popular for mountain climbing clothing.
It is also naturally fire-resistant, self extinguishing when taken from the flames. Blankets made of wool have been known to effectively put out fires!
Alpaca fiber has been described as being similar to sheep’s wool, but warmer and non-itchy. It lacks lanolin, making it hypoallergenic, also enabling it to be processed without harsh chemicals and high temperatures.
The fiber comes from the Alpaca, an ancient breed from the Camelidae family which also includes the south american llamas, guanacos and vicunas, and the asian and African Bactrian and Dromedary camels. They had been domesticated by the Incas over 6,000 years ago, for their luxurious fleece which, due to its quality, was reserved for the nobility.
Among the superhero qualities of the Alpaca fiber include it being both fire resistant and water resistant. Meaning, those Incas have been using super powered, super fluffy fabric for over thousands of years!
Pronounced kee-vee-ute, it is unlike sheep’s wool in that it does not shrink in water at any temperature, which also eliminates it as a candidate for use of felting. It is commonly used for hats and scarves; it is extremely soft and highly expensive: a single scarf can cost up to hundreds of dollars but with proper care, can last up to twenty years.
Qiviut comes from the Muskox, named thus because of its characteristic musky odor. Qiviut refers specifically to the soft underwool beneath the longer outer wool, and is shed by the Muskox each spring. It is then plucked or brushed from the Muskox while it is molting, or gathered from the places the animal has rubbed off on.
The mere sound of it just resonates luxury. It is known for its fine, buttery texture, strength, lightness, and the excellent insulation that it provides. It comes from an old spelling of Kashmir, a region where its production and trade originated, possibly as early as the 13th century.
The fabric comes from the soft undercoat of the Cashmere goat. The goats shed this precious material every spring, and the fibers of this warming undercoat has to be separated from a coarser top coat, a labor intensive process that involves the combing and sorting of the hairs–by hand. It takes more than two goats to make a single sweater, making cashmere among the most expensive fabric among cold-weather fashions; a cardigan can cost as much as 195 dollars!
Exotic as it sounds, it does not come from the Angora goat, but the Angora rabbit. It is humorously often referred to having the appearance of a large furball with a face, which has a very literal truth to it, as they have long, thick, and fluffy fur. Other than for their fabric, one could easily see how these curious little creatures can be popular as pets.
The fabric is known for being extremely soft, silky, floaty, and for their halo quality, which is just a knitter’s term for “so so fluffy.” it is much warmer, and much lighter than wool. One unique quality of the Angora fiber is that it has a hollow core, which, paired with its fine texture, emphasizing its characteristic floatiness.
Legend has it that a Chinese empress once saw a mulberry larvae spinning its cocoon and grew fascinated by the thread it produced. It was sticky to the touch, and so she thought of boiling the unfortunate creature in its sleep, and later saw that the thread came off easily, and was tougher than at first. Other variations of the legend say that a cocoon fell into the princess’ tea and the princess unraveled the thread once she tried to fish out the cocoon from her drink. Either way, from there, silk fabric was born, a secret the Chinese fiercely guarded for hundreds of years, the trade assisting in the empire’s climb to greatness.
Silk is credited for being the purpose of the creation for the Silk road, which connected the world in one unified path towards the pursuit of fancy garments; a catalyst for pretty much the turn of events that would shape mankind: the Bubonic plague, which spread across the globe with the help of the Silk road, which leads us to the dark ages…
In those times, outsiders thought silk grew on trees (how typical). China kept a monopoly on the Silk trade by decreeing that anyone who attempted to export the silkworm eggs would be put to death.
All this because a silkworm pupae just had to fall into a cup of tea.
George Shaw is a dedicated guest blogger. He works for ColorTex Inc., which provides a range of fabrics and dyeing products for all textile industries such as apparel, knitting, and cut and sew. He loves to read and travel when he is not busy writing.