Why Protein Fiber?
Keratin, a natural protein found in the hairs of mammals, is responsible for the strength and natural flame-resistance found in wool, alpaca, silk, and other animal related fibers. Protein fibers tend to hold their shape better than cellulose fibers. However, other than silk, protein fibers are weaker wet than when dry.
Types of Protein Fibers
Wool - Before it is wool as we know it, raw fleece must be scoured (the separation of dirt, grease and other impurities), carded or combed and then spun into yarn. Different breeds of sheep have varying degrees of fiber fineness and range from 1.5 – 4.5 inches in staple length. Merino is the most common wool breed and is often blended with other protein fibers to create structure while also retaining softness. Specialty breeds like Romney and Shetland have natural luster, excellent drape, and longer staples which make for durable garments, but would need to blended with something like Merino to add softness.
Cashmere – Originating from the undercoat of a cashmere goat, this extremely fine and delicate fiber makes up only a quarter of the entire fleece. On average, one goat will produce only as much as 5 ounces a year.
Angora – This incredibly soft, lightweight and low resilience hair comes from the Angora rabbit. Typically, because of its lack of structure, Angora is blended with a sturdier wool to achieve a soft, yet firm structure that makes for a very warm garment.
Alpaca – Averaging around seven pounds of fleece per year, alpaca is not only softer than other fibers from the camelid family, but it is also naturally hypoallergenic making it in some aspects superior than cashmere. Typically, stiffer than wool or cashmere, alpaca is sometimes blended with a more flexible fiber to improve draping properties.
Mohair – Though angora goats have a larger undercoat than cashmere, guard hairs from the topcoat mix in with the undercoat which gives mohair its soft, but frizzy look. Mohair fibers are also similar to wool, but have longer staple lengths which make it more resilient.
Yak - Yaks are combed when they begin to shed their hair and because of this sustainable production process, yak wool has gained popularity. Yak is often compared to cashmere for its warmth. Because of its short staple lengths, yak down is usually blended with other wools to give it length and strength
Camel – Another member of the camelid family, the use of camel hair ranges widely because the fibers itself can range from super fine to coarse. Typically, items made from camel hair are very soft while also retaining strength. Coarser hairs are used mainly for rugs, while the softer coat can be used to create clothing items.
Brushtail Possum – Native to Australia, but invasive to New Zealand, Brushtail Possum fur is one of the softest natural fibers, making even cashmere feel coarse. Incredibly difficult to find in a raw and unblended form, The Woolery offers it on its own to blend as you see fit.
Silk – Silk is the strongest natural textile in the world and one of the oldest fibers to be manufactured going back at least 5,000 years. Silkworms make cocoons out of one long strand of fiber. These individual fibers are then combined to create a yarn. While there are several types of silk, around 90% of the world’s silk supply comes from the mulberry worm. There are three other common silks known as muga, tussah (or tasar), and eri. Muga silk has a natural golden shade and is the most expensive of wild silks. Tussah silk has a natural beige color, but it can be dyed and is known for its stiffness. In India it is the preferred fabric for making saris. Eri silk is one of the highest quality and is also known as “peace silk” because the cocoons are processed after the moth emerges, so no harm comes to the insect.
Qiviut – Underneath the coarse guard hairs of the musk ox you will find qiviut down which is arguably one of the softest and warmest natural fibers on the planet. Qiviut wool is harvested as the animal sheds and the loose hairs are combed and collected by hand.
Mink – While thick and very soft, mink hairs are short and break down easily in yarn form on their own. Typically, a blend of wool or cashmere is added to provide strength. Mink re-grow their fur three times a year and farmers cut and comb the fibers at no harm to the animal.
Purchase 12 fiber items and save 5% off each.
If you don't find exactly what you want, or would like a product recommendation, please call the shop directly at 800-441-9665 or contact us for assistance.