Spinning the wool of angora rabbits
The wool of angora rabbits is the only natural fibre that can be spun immediately after "harvesting", i.e. plucking or shearing the wool from the rabbit. Angora rabbits don't get hurt or killed in the process as many people assume. Just like sheep or goats, angora rabbits are also very expensive animals, so hurting them in any way is in nobody's interest. Here is how to spin angora wool to produce one of the most expensive and softest yarn.
English Angora Rabbits moult naturally about every 3 months. This is the time to either pluck, shear or clip them. For good spinning fibre production, angoras need to be brushed or combed regularly to avoid felting and to produce a nice length of wool of about 6 cm.
Plucking/shearing/clipping the wool
Whilst plucking, the rabbit sits on my lap without being forced. It usually enjoys to get rid of its coat, so it can nibble and scratch itself down to the skin again. Plucking during natural moulting time isn't cruel and doesn't hurt the rabbit. Sometimes, with a nervous or ticklish rabbit, I comb or pluck it between lots of strokes and cuddles.
Another way to harvest the wool is clipping (with scissors) or shearing (machine). This has to be done very carefully and slowly in order to preserve the quality of the wool and to prevent wounding the rabbit. Young angora rabbits are usually clipped and it is this baby wool that is best for felting.
Angora wool is the only natural fibre that can be spun immediately after harvesting. In fact, there are people who have the rabbit sitting on their lap while plucking and spinning the wool at the same time. Angora wool doesn't need to be washed or carded, but it can be dyed. Carding the wool into a small "rolag" makes spinning easier. Always place only thin layers of wool onto the carder, then card, then add another thin layer of wool until there is enough to be taken off in one piece and rolled into a "rolag". If there is too much wool on the carder at any one time, only the top is carded and the underneath remains curled which can later result in spinning problems.
Most people mix angora wool with other wool at the time of carding, but I don't find this necessary at all. I only use 100% angora wool.
If, like me, you've never done any spinning before, just get yourself a spindle and let somebody show you how to spin. I tried to learn it from a book and for 3 days I was near tears! It just didn't want to work! Until I read one sentence again and again: "Hold the wool to be drawn like you would hold a tiny bird (I was hanging on to the wool for dear life, my hand hurt with so much effort!). Draw (pull) a little wool (see if you can see a triangle of the un-spun wool forming!), twist the spindle, put the spindle down on a pillow, then draw again, pick up the spindle and turn it to twist the wool.
I had also read that our ancestors were spinning for so many thousands of years that the ability to spin is virtually in our genes. Well, I hoped my genes would remember and when I let go of the thinking and let my hands do the spinning by themselves, it worked!
Then, little, by little and with much practice, the first unrecognisable thick and thin yarn appeared. Call it "designer yarn" at this stage to give yourself a moral boost! Soon you'll see a finer yarn emerging - perfect!
Angora fibres must be spun with more twist as they are much finer than sheep wool. For knitting, I normally spin a two-ply yarn which is stronger and evens out too much twist. If I use a single ply, i.e. for weaving, I wash it gently and let it dry on a reel. That fixes the twist.
When spinning angora wool, the spun wool is almost "flat", the "fluff" or "halo" of the finished garment comes up after washing and drying. Fluffing up by using a hairdryer achieves the desired finish.
Angora wool can be dyed with natural dyes and commercial dyes and this can be done before or after spinning.
Look out for my next articles on felting and dying angora rabbit wool!
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