As I said in an earlier post about spinning, winter is when I spin my angora rabbit fiber into yarn so I can use it to knit. I have a traditional Saxony single drive spinning wheel, acquired second hand years ago, along with my first two angora rabbits. The wheel was once used to spin sheep wool and still has some areas of lanolin slick on it. Angora rabbit fiber does not contain lanolin, a greasy substance secreted by sheep to waterproof the hair.
Angora rabbit fiber is soft and fluffy and not at all oily. I take great care to produce clean fiber with no vegetative matter, soiling or matting. When I remove the fiber from the rabbit, I place it all oriented in one direction with tips and ends going the same way. Because angora is spun tip first, it helps to arrange the fiber this way.
Since the fiber is already clean, loose, and matt-free, it does not require carding to prepare it for spinning. I simply spin the fiber exactly as it has been removed from the rabbit. I hand pull the fiber from the animal, to preserve the full length, or staple, of the hair. Hand pulling does not hurt the rabbit. Only the loose fiber that is ready to fall out is removed. Here are a couple samples of fiber, fawn agouti and plain fawn colors, and a fawn rabbit–Gem, a doe. In the photos that follow, I am spinning fawn fiber.
I have several colors of angoras in my rabbitry: albino (white,) sable (gray/black,) fawn (reddish,) and chocolate torte (reddish and light brown.) In the past I’ve had chocolate, a pretty brown color. Agouti is the wild color of rabbits, each hair is banded with three or more colors. I have had agouti in the past, as well.
I like to spin in a well-lit area and usually work bare-footed, I find it more comfortable. Spinning the fibers involves developing a twist along the length of a small amount of hair and then adding more hair to it to produce a type of thick thread. This process is called joining. The fiber it fed with the tip toward the wheel. The foot pedal turns the wheel which turns the spindle with the strand attached, producing the twist. New swatches of fiber easily catch onto the twist to quickly form a long strand that is wrapped around the bobbin.
The skill of spinning incorporates keeping the wheel turning at the proper speed with the foot pedal, holding the right tension on the fiber you are joining and feeding the appropriate amount of fiber as it is needed. Angora fiber is usually spun into a fairly thin strand, especially if it is used pure and not blended with another fiber like silk or baby alpaca. This is because angora fiber is expensive and also very warm. A little angora goes a long way.
The strand of joined fiber runs through the center of the spindle then through the guide hooks and onto the bobbin. The strand can be placed on different hooks to fill the bobbin smoothly. To start the strand through the spindle and onto the bobbin, a special hook is used. The hook is inserted through the spinning end to catch and pull the strand of yarn through. Occasionally the strand will break during spinning, if the tension is too tight or the strand is too thin. Then the hook must be used to re-thread the strand. The tension is maintained with a knob mechanism attached to a spring by heavy monofilament. At the right tension the strand goes smoothly onto the bobbin.
After two bobbins are filled with a single strand, usually the same color, the strands are plied together to form two ply yarn. Sometimes three or more strands are plied together, but mostly I make two ply for my knitting projects. The bobbins are placed on a Lazy Kate and the strands are fed back through the spindle hole and onto a third bobbin. The wheel is then turned in the opposite direction from the direction the strands were spun. This joins the two strands together smoothly without placing more twist on the yarn.
Here are some bobbins filled with single strands of fiber and a small amount of two ply yarn.
For most of my spinning, one ounce of fiber will make about 50 yards of two ply yarn. When I have enough yarn made, I knit up a project in pure angora fiber. Most knit items are made in open, airy patterns to conserve the expensive fiber and make the most of the great insulating qualities of angora. The ends of the fiber often open away from the yarn to form the characteristic “halo” effect of angora. This halo adds to the garment’s warmth.
I made a very luxurious stole from a thicker yarn spun from Jet, a beautiful sable angora. The stole is closely knit, full and heavy with a big halo. When I’m in need of comfort, perhaps suffering from a sore throat or chill, I wrap my angora stole around my neck. Just like snuggling a bunny!