You might be aware that it’s the Year of the Sheep, according to the Chinese Zodiac. Since the character for sheep and goat are the same, it also means it’s the Year of the Goat. As knitters, it’s easy to just focus on sheep, but goats deserve a little attention, too.
Goats lend their fiber to two luxurious blends of yarn we carry and love a lot here at Knit Purl—mohair and cashmere.
You might have some of these fibers in your stash, but how much do you know about their history? Do you know what projects are they best suited for? What does an fiber-producing goat even look like?
We did some research on fiber goats, and created this informative infographic. It turns out that there are quite a few interesting things to learn about our friend the goat.
First, let’s explore mohair. You might recognize the presence of mohair in a yarn due to its fuzzy halo (like in Shibui’s Silk Cloud yarn). Mohair fiber comes exclusively from a breed of goat called Angora, which is not to be confused with the angora yarn that comes from rabbits.
Angora goats are named after the capital of Turkey, Ankara, which is where the breed originated. The word mohair comes from the Arabic word mukhayyar meaning “choice.” Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Angora goats have a fascinating story. Since originating in Turkey, they have been imported to South Africa, Australia, and North America. Within North America, they now live primarily in the Southwest, especially Texas, which is the largest producer of mohair in the United States. While the U.S. is the largest North American producer, South Africa is the largest producer of mohair in the world.
Image source: Wikipedia/Erica Peterson https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angora_goat#/media/File:Quebec_angora_goat.jpg
This is what an Angora goat looks like. As you can see, Angora goats have a unmistakeable curly fleece, which is shorn twice a year. Originally bred in white, Angora goats were bred in color beginning in the late 1990’s. Now Angora goat fleece comes in shades of white, black, red, grey, and brown!
What qualities does mohair have? Mohair is well-known for being soft, shiny, and warm. It keeps you warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Mohair’s micron count (a way of measuring the fineness of fiber) is on the lower end on the micron scale, measuring between 20 and 30 microns. The lower the number, the finer and softer the fiber.
Mohair has scales just like wool, but they’re not fully developed, so it doesn’t hold together quite like wool. On its own, mohair yarn tends to be slippery and stretchy, so it’s frequently blended with other fibers like wool, alpaca, and silk.
Wondering what to make with mohair? The fiber is a good match for projects that benefit from a nice amount of drape. It makes warm, soft, and light fabrics for shawls and wraps. Yarns with mohair also look elegant in lace patterns with loops and wraps.
Want to give mohair a try for your next project? Try Silk Cloud, which is a 60% kid mohair/40% silk blend from Shibui, with a dazzling array of colors and beautiful halo.
If you’re looking for a woolier option, some other choices are Twirl’s Twirling Petals and Isager Irish’s Tweed. Both contain mohair blended with wool and other fibers, and are worth exploring!
Cashmere is another fiber that comes from goats. Unlike mohair, which is from a specific breed of goats, cashmere fiber can come from any goat, including but not limited to the Cashmere breed. Cashmere specifically refers to the soft, downy fiber found on the undercoat of a goat, which Angora goats do not have. You might recognize the presence of cashmere in a yarn due to its softness and hand.
The name cashmere comes from the word Kashmir, a valley between the Himalaya mountain range, and the Pir Panjal mountain range. This is where the production and trade of cashmere originated, perhaps as far back as the Mongolian empire. Currently, most cashmere is currently produced in Northern China, which produces somewhere between ½ and ⅔ of the world’s cashmere.
Image source: Wikipedia/Charles Esson https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cashmere_goat#/media/File:Old_O102_cropped_small.jpg
This is what a Cashmere goat looks like. Cashmere goats produce a double fleece. Underneath the outer coat, made up of guard hairs, is a soft, downy undercoat, which is harvested for cashmere. Every spring, the goats naturally shed their coats. The fiber often undergoes a dehairing process which combs out the finer down fibers from the coarse.
Cashmere is renowned for its softness, but it has other pleasing qualities, like warmth, strength, and lightness. Its micron count is on the low end of the scale, and usually ranges between 14-19. That explains its extreme softness!
Now, what to make with cashmere? It’s a fantastic yarn in sweaters, shawls, scarves. It’s perfect for items that go next to the skin, and project that you want to keep you warm. Since cashmere can be delicate, it’s best for things that will not get too much wear or abrasion.
If you’re looking for a new cashmere yarn to try, Pepperberry Knits offers a pure cashmere yarn in lace, DK, and bulky weights. For equally luxe blended options, try yarns like The Fibre Company’s Road to China Lace, Shibui Knits’ Pebble, Madelinetosh Pashmina, and Sunday Knits’ Eden.