All About – Natural Animal Fiber Yarns

All About – Natural Animal Fiber Yarns

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Natural Animal fibers, also known as protein fibers, can vary drastically depending on the type of animal, and the specific breed of the animal who grew them, much like how our hair can vary from person to person. There are things that all natural animal fiber yarns have in common, and things that separate them from the rest.

The Difference

The most important thing to discuss natural animal fiber yarns, and it’s most significant difference from other fibers, are the scales. If you run your fingers down a strand of your hand from root to end, it will feel smooth and glide smoothly, but if your run your finger up the strand the opposite direction you might feel some slight resistance or roughness. The roughness you feel is caused by the scales on the surface of the hair, and if you were to look under a powerful microscope, you could see them.

The Scales Affect….

The scales on natural animal fibers affect several aspects of the yarn. The scales help hold the fibers together which helps when spinning it into yarn and also helps form a stronger, more durable yarn. They provide a microscope buffer between the fibers which allows them to look intertwined and unmistakably separate all at once.

A good rule of thumb for natural animal fiber yarns is, the more delicate the fiber, the more numerous and smaller the scales are and the rougher fibers, the larger and fewer scales there are. The size and number of scales is essential to the feel as well as look of the yarn. For example, a superfine merino fiber can have as many as 3,000 scales per inch, and a rougher fiber or a longwool can have as few as 600 scales per inch.

Large scales on natural animal fibers does not necessarily mean that the yarn will be rough, or that the scales will be noticeable to the touch. With fewer scales, these fibers can be more reflective and almost have a luminous quality when hit with light.

Cashmere and qiviut (musk ox) fibers have large, smooth scales that contribute to a slippery surface and almost powdery appearance. Mohair also has large scales that give it it’s beautiful reflective qualities, and the first shearing of mohair can be as soft as cashmere.

Oh, The Warmth

Another significant role the scale is in the fibers ability to keep you warm. The scales create endless little nooks and crannies to trap in the heat and warm air. When the fiber a spun with the fiber going every which way they like, even a think strand of yarn can hold in more warm air than a thicker worsted style where the fibers are aligned and combed.

An Exception

Now, there is always an exception to the rules. The only natural animal fiber that does not have scales is silk, which is in a category all of its own. Even though a living creature creates silk, it is not a grown hair; it is a liquid extruded by the silkworm that hardens when introduced to the air. The lack of scales on silk makes it tricky to spin into yarn, but give it brilliant reflective qualities.

Common Types Of Natural Animal Fibers

  • Sheep – several types of wool
  • Goats – Angora, Cashgora, Cashmere, and Pygora
  • Camelids – Alpacas, Guanaco, Llama
  • Angora Rabbits
  • Qiviut – Musk Ox
  • Silk
  • Yak

I will be trying out and review all of these different types of natural animal fiber yarns, at least 3 from each different type, and posting reviews and in depth info about each.

Final Thoughts

I hope that you have found this informative and helpful in you’re future fiber crafting adventures. I would love to hear your thoughts and please let me know if have left any of your questions unanswered. Please comment below, like share, or find us on social media.

19 thoughts on “All About – Natural Animal Fiber Yarns

  1. Thanks for this post, I always knew animals fibers are used for yarns but I have no idea how. Real informative post about fiber yarning. Will surely bookmark the site for further useful informations suck as this. But I have a little question. Can this also be applied to silk after being harvested from silk worm? Will really love to read your reply. Thanks. 

    1. Silk is a unique fiber. It is classified as an animal fiber, but it doesn’t have the same properties as most animal fiber because of its lack of scales. I will have a more in-depth look at silk yarn in a coming post.

  2. Animal wool is way better than synthetic wool. Not only is it better to wear, but it is also wonderful to knit with. It washes better too. 

    I learnt something new today however. I had no idea that silk didn’t have scales like other animal fibers, and didn’t know that it comes out in liquid form and dries when it comes into contact with air. Nature is certainly a fascinating creature. 

    1. I agree nature is fascinating and animal wool is amazing, but it isn’t for everyone. 

      I, like some, have a mild allergy to some animal wools, and that can be tricky for a lot of people. 

  3. I have always loved knitting etc. I am however not very good at it, I can make scarfs. I never realized the importance of the yarn tho and I never really thought about what they were made from other than wool. I am personally trying to stay away from animal products so I would love to get a review of the best non animal protein yarn and how they are in comparison to this type of yarn when it comes to feeling, warmth etc. Thank you for a very informative post, I am excited to see what you come up with next. 

    1. I have a few posts about natural plant fiber yarns, and there are a few reviews of cotton yarns on the blog, and I have more plant fiber yarn reviews coming. I hope you will find those help and come back to read more reviews. choosing the right fiber for our projects is important. 

      Out of pure curiosity, why do you try to stay away from animal products of this nature?

  4. Wow! This is a very insightful post. I know about Sheep and goat fibre, but seriously, I’ve never heard about most of the types of natural animal fibre u listed you listed up there. Obviously, i’ve learnt something new from your site. Thanks again for the post, really helpful. I will definitely check back 🙂

    1. Honestly, you can create yarn from just about any animal’s hair. There are a lot of people that will spin their dog’s or cat’s fur into yarn. There are so many types of different yarn; you can use a new one every day and probably never run out. I find it fascinating. 

  5. Female beauty product is the next big thing now. And thanks for your educative post on fiber crafting adventures. Animal  hair is of different type. And when you understand how each animal hair the more you can do well in your product description. In fact female beauty stuff are best selling in the market because I realised that women can go any length to look nice with beautiful hair style. Goof hair enlightenment. Thanks

  6. What a wonderful website you have here and although I am not into knitting or yarns I will definitely be passing this site on to many of my family members who are! They will really appreciate the obvious time and effort you have put into your site. 

    I really had no idea there were so many types of natural animal fiber yarns nor did I know the science behind it as you so eloquently wrote about in this post! The next time I put on one of my natural animal fiber sweaters will be a whole new experience now knowing what goes into making them! I have an Alpaca sweater grown from local Alpacas in Virginia where I live that is one of the most comfortable sweaters I own. Thank you for the education and for giving me a new appreciation for the many different types of animal fiber yarn.

    1. I’m glad I have given a new appreciation for all that goes into creating a wonderfully comfortable sweater. Alpaca is a wonderfully comfortable fiber, and it’s always great to purchase locally and support our communities. Please share with your family friends, and I hope they will enjoy it as well. 

  7. Being as I’m not a craft person, I never really gave much thought as to what kind of fibers there are or where they come from. But after reading your article, I can see all the benefits natural animal fibers have.

    I’ll be sure to tell my wife about this, as she is the one who loves making home made goods lol.

    Do you know if we can get this material at stores like Michael’s, or where is the best place to get it?

    1. I hope your wife find the information as helpful as you do. Michael’s as well Joann’s and Hobby Lobby, all carry a small selection of wool yarn, but that have more options online. Amazon and Etsy, also have a decent selection of wool yarns. I have a few posts coming out over the next month reviewing specific wool yarn, including one I purchased from Amazon.

  8. As a very new knitter (and wanna-be crocheter), I find this information fascinating. To this point I’ve only practiced with cheap acrylic yarn, so I have a whole lot to learn about natural animal-fiber yarns. This introduction was concise but informative, Clare. I had no idea about the “scales” on animal-fiber yarns, nor did I understand why they could be so much warmer (I picked that much info up somewhere in my life, but I never gave it much thought). I appreciate you enlightening me! I think I have a lot more to learn about this new hobby I’m beginning than I realized, but that’s okay. Now I know I have a great resource to learn all about yarns. Keep up the good work…a lot of us need the info you’re sharing for sure!

    1. I think we all start with cheap acrylic yarn, but that is not always a bad thing. Acrylic yarn can be beautiful, plus it’s affordable. Knowing about the fibers we are using helps us create what we are trying to achieve. Sometimes picking the wrong yarn can totally mess up your project. I am hoping to help my fellow yarn crafters understand their medium a little better, too help make their art even better. 

  9. Hi Clare,

    I did not know about Animal Fiber Yarns before reading your review. After reading your writing, I am very much interested about these. Also, I am feeling the necessity of spreading the use of Animal Fiber Yarns right now, as it is winter here. I am really looking forward to use it. Where can I find those?

    Thanks for sharing and a nice post. 🙂


    1. I have some posts coming out over the next month reviewing specific brand and styles of wool yarns. The first one will be out next week, but there are many places to find wool yarn. If you are looking to shop online, there are a lot of options on Etsy that are made by a smaller business that put a lot of care into there yarn, and Amazon also has a decent selection. Knits Picks Wool of the Andes, I purchased through Amazon and is one of the yarn I will be reviewing. Most stores that carry yarn will have a selection of wool or wool blend yarns.

  10. Very interesting information on here. The topic itself is unique. I liked reading, this. My sister purchases lots of yarns but I don’t think she knows the history of it. I am sure to share this with her.  “Oh the warmth” section is very relatable. The fiber really is comfortable and soft.

    I’ve learnt that silk is the only fiber without scales. That’s useful info, thanks!

    great post, it is a great read. 

    1. Thank you, I’m glad you found the information useful. Knowing more about the fibers we are using helps us create better results. 

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