Fiber crafts are, as a general rule, solitary hobbies. But depending on the complexity of a project, you may be comfortable working away while visiting with friends and family. One of the most fun, social activities about working with fiber is going to fiber festivals. They’re offered all over the country and are usually weekend events filled with vendors, demonstrations, classes, and the animals who donate their fiber for our creative pleasure. There are such a rich variety of animals to visit at these events that it’s like a fiber rich petting zoo. They, like the fiber they provide, have such diverse characteristics.
Angora rabbits are so fluffy that it’s hard to imagine they’re real – they look so much like an overstuffed toy. Soft doesn’t begin to describe their fur. There are different types of angora rabbits (English, French, Giant, and Satin). Like most rabbits, they eat a lot. It’s necessary for them to eat large amounts of hay so that they can digest all the fur they eat while grooming themselves. They can be domesticated as pets, enjoy the company of their owners and get along fairly well with cats. Since their fur doesn’t fall out, they must be sheared about every three months.
At one time, France was the leader in raising Angora rabbits; however, now most come from China, Argentina, or Chile. Angora fiber is often blended with other fibers and is considered one of the warmest fibers.
Sheep come in 200 different breeds and are abundant worldwide with over one billion estimated. They’re probably the first animal thought of in terms of yarns. Typically, sheep are shorn once annually with two-thirds of their fiber used in clothing and the remainder used for warmth, such as blankets.
Sheep are social animals with strong following instincts, even to their demise. The old saying, ‘Would you jump off a cliff if your friend did?’ applies to sheep. Most experts recommend that herds consist of at least five sheep. With keen hearing, they’re are easily startled and may harm themselves in their quest to get away.
Goats are considered highly intelligent, curious animals. Like sheep, companionship is an important characteristic and owning more than one is encouraged. Each breed of goat has its own traits; however, most all are considered escape artists. One expert recommended that owners not let their goats observe how the gates or enclosures were opened because left to their own devices, the goats practice and learn how to get out.
The fiber from a Kashmir goat is considered rare and quite expensive. To make one average sized jacket requires fiber from six Kashmir goats.
Llamas, another herding animal, also crave companionship. They are intelligent and make fairly good pets. They have a certain look about them that make them interesting to watch – a little aloof perhaps. If you listen, they’re probably humming; that’s how they communicate. One negative is that they do spit, which is not an attractive trait and usually done to show dominance, to discipline other llamas, or if they feel threatened.
The Incas domesticated alpacas long ago and their fiber was reserved for the nobility. Their fur is considered hypoallergenic and is also flame/water resistant. With about 22 variations of colors and shades, there’s little need to dye alpaca fiber. Like llamas, alpacas also hum to communicate. They can be crossbred with llamas to produce offspring known as huarizo, valued for their long fleece.
These are some of the most well-known of the animals that provide fiber. They’re also entertainers, watching sheep and goats play and jump on and over everything in their path can put a smile on anyone’s face. Llamas and alpacas are somewhat exotic and interesting to watch, just as they seem to be watching us. All in all, it’s a win-win situation. Check the web for fiber fairs in your area and enjoy the show and the animals that make those fibers possible. Happy crafting!