Mohair

angora goat bringing mohair...

The animal

There are nine wild goat species, but only one has been domesticated and that is Capra hircus, whose wild ancestor is the bezoar ibex (Capra aegagrus). It is widely accepted that the goat was domesticated about 10,000 years ago, based on archaeological evidence pointing to the Zagros mountains in western Iran as the birthplace of the domestic goat. Sadly, whilst domestic goats have flourished and are found throughout the world, their wild ancestor has not fared as well and is now listed as near threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List, with an estimated 70,000 remaining throughout their range of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Turkey and Turkmenistan whilst it is unknown if they remain in Afghanistan. Natural habitats include forest, grasslands, shrubland, rocky areas and desert.
Of all the various breeds of domestic goats, there are two fibres that most knitters are familiar with cashmere and the focus of this article, mohair.
Mohair is harvested from Angora goats, which can be confusing given that Angora yarn comes from the Angora rabbit! Like Angora rabbits, the Angora goat originated in the region of Anatolia, in the city of Angora, modern-day Ankara, the capital of Turkey.
The Angora goat is unique in that they have curly locks. They are less hardy than most other goat breeds and thus in colder climates do not fair well at all. It is a relatively small goat, although there is considerable variance standing at 60-100cm at the shoulder and weighing in at 30-50kg. An adult can produce 2cm of fibre per month and they are generally shorn twice a year, producing 4-6kg of wool. As with all fibre producing animals, the softest fibre comes from the youngest individuals and the first shearing occurs when they have 10cm of fleece at about 6-months old.

The fibre

Most of the yarn originates in South Africa and the USA, in particular Texas, where the climate suits them best. Mohair can be divided into many different classes depending on the country where it is graded but the main ones are kid mohair (20-29 microns) which is very fine but not necessarily from kids as adults can produce this fine fibre, yearling (29-32 microns) which is midrange and adult (32-40 microns) which is sturdier. The scales on the fibre are thinner, smoother, and larger than those on sheep wool giving the mohair great lustre, a smoother feel, and good resistance to felting. Unlike sheep fibre, it does not have crimp and therefore it is less springy. However, the fibres are wavey and the individual fibres are elastic, being able to stretch by a third and return to their original length, this physical characteristic of the fibres give mohair wonderful draping abilities.
Like sheep wool, it can absorb a lot of moisture and feel wet, but the slick surfaces of the fibre make it water repellent. Adult mohair is very durable and thus is often used in high-class upholstery items. Whilst it does not pill, to peel off, like shorter fibres it can shed.

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Ethical and environmental considerations

Shearers in the mohair trade are often paid by volume, not by the hour, so they’re driven to work quickly, which can cause injury and distress to the animals and some clothing bans have stopped using it because of animal welfare concerns. Other considerations are that young males are often castrated with rubber bands, a painful and prolonged process, and horns are often burned off at 1-2 weeks old without anaesthetic. When they are no longer profitable most goats are sold for meat. Ideally support small farmers that are known to treat the animals humanely and where possible look for the Responsible Mohair Standard certificate on your yarn, which ensures better land management practices, good goat welfare and transparent communication. Other certifications to watch out for are Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) and World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO).

Knitting with it

Mohair can be difficult to knit with and as it sheds easily thus you may find it a little messy to work with. Mistakes happen, but with mohair be extra careful if you must unravel your work. It lacks the weight of sheep's wool and so garments knitted from it can be super warm without being super bulky and keep you cool in summer by wicking moisture away. You will find that mohair yarns are blended with silk or wool adding some elasticity that helps the garment stay in place. When processed correctly it does not crease. Its fineness allows for wonderful draping, and it gives a good halo, the latter characteristic will hide detailing so simple patterns are perhaps best with this yarn, they will really showcase the yarn. Lace knitting works well with this fibre. Think scarfs, shawls and layering if you are considering mohair for your next project. It is a delicate fibre and so it is best to hand wash in cold water.

The fibre

Ethical and environmental considerations

Knitting with it

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