Mohair is a very controversial fiber in my knitting group. Approximately 20% of us love it and actively seek to use it in projects and the other 80% hate it. Mohair may not be as ubiquitous as wool in knitting, but it is an amazing fiber.
Goats were domesticated about 10,000 years ago. Angora goats, which produce mohair, come from the Ankara region of Turkey dating to around 1200 A.D. The Ankara region of Turkey is also where angora goats get their name. Next to cats, goats are the quickest animals to go feral.
Angora goats need a dry climate but are able to withstand cold temperatures. These goats are also not the same goats that produce goat’s milk because, while they can supply plenty of milk for their young, they are not very good milk producers. South Africa is currently the #1 producer of mohair and produces 60% of the world’s supply. The state of Texas in the U.S. is the #2 producers of mohair. The first angora goats were brought to the U.S. by James Davis in 1849.
Angora goats produce curly locks that are not replicated in any other breed. Like sheep, angora goats should be shorn. The softness of the shorn fiber depends on the age of the goat when it is shorn; the younger the goat the softer the fiber. Unlike sheep, if angora goats are not shorn their spring fleece will drop off naturally as the temperature rises. When they are shorn bucks tend to have coarser and heavier fleece. Prime mohair fibers come from the side of the goat.
Mohair has many of the same qualities as wool. It is flame retardant, soil resistant, and absorbs moisture without feeling damp and cold. Mohair is actually warmer and stronger than wool. When mohair is knit alone it lacks elasticity but has a lot of luster and drape. It is often sold in a blend. When it is blended with wool it is given body, loft and, stability. When it is blended with silk richer colors can be achieved when dying because silk absorbs color more readily.
Most people think of the brushed fluffy stuff when they hear the word mohair and it is probably the most common way to find it. This type of mohair comes from fiber plied with a nylon binder at a rate that the mohair loops back on itself. It is then replied to secure the loop. Finally, it is run through a machine to create the fluffy and fuzzy halo that knitters know and love. (See also blog photo)
It is important to understand the different grades of mohair available to knitters. Super-fine kid mohair comes from the goats very first shearing at 6 months old. This is the softest form of mohair and rivals cashmere in its softness. Kid mohair typically comes from a yearling goat. Fine mohair is shorn from an adult goat. Unfortunately, some yarn labels give this type of information and others don’t. As always, the best way to choose a fiber is to let you fingers guide you.
Hopefully, I will persuade a few readers to love mohair as much as I do. At the very least, angora goats are amazing animals that deserve a little time in the spotlight.
Robson, Deborah, and Carol Ekarius. The Fleece and Fiber Source Book: More than 200 Fobers from Animal to Spun Yarn. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2011.
Friesen, Phyllis L. Natural Fibers Information Guide: Information, History, and Uses of Natural Fibers: Ancient Fibers in a Modern World. Sula, MT: ARBIDAR, 1994.
Parkes, Clara. The Knitters Book of Yarn: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Using, and Enjoying Yarn. New York: Potter Craft, 2007.