As we explore fiber art whether we are new at it, or a seasoned veteran, often fiber selection can be overwhelming. Here is a quick look at various fibers and some of their benefits and a few drawbacks.
Short Wool, such as merino or corriedale and some Shetlands make excellent soft garments. They create yarns that have softness for next to skin wear. They can also be blended with other fibers to increase loft and add memory to some camelid fibers.
Long Wool, such as Lincoln or Wensleydale are renown for their strength and sheen. The hair-like structure of the fiber can be used to create doll hair or Santa beards. They also take dyes very well, and can be added to other fibers to appear as a glitz effect, or carded in to improve the strength of a short staple fiber.
Bamboo can also be used in place of synthetic glitz fibers to increase sparkle in knitted or woven items. It has no memory of its own, so it is best used in blends for knits. The sheen that bamboo can add to an otherwise dull fiber makes it well worth the effort to add it to your spinning.
Flax is one of those timeless fibers that is synonymous with elegance. Fine linen is even more of a treasure when you weave it yourself. As with all plant fibers, flax has no memory, it is also not often blended with animal fibers. Flax is also non allergenic, which is something to keep in mind when working on projects for infants, or those with known allergies. Spinning with flax is an art unto itself due to the extremely long staple length.
Huacaya Alpaca is the fuzzy breed of alpaca. Their fiber has crimp which means that the finished garment will retain most of its shape. Huacaya fiber is very warm and varies in softness depending upon what part of the animal, or what quality of an animal the fiber comes from. It can be very lustrous, again depending upon the individual animal. Alpaca can be blended with wool that would not otherwise qualify to be used for next to skin wear.
Suri Alpaca and Llama fibers are very soft as well as lustrous and priced accordingly. The softness of a fine suri or llama garment is indisputable. The fiber does have very little memory, which should be taken into consideration as it is used. It is also highly insulating. A garment made with a thick layer of llama or suri fiber can be too hot for all but the most bitterly cold days.
Angora adds a timeless dash of softness to any creation. While it is very difficult to work with, and can form kemps very easily, an angora or angora blend garment is worth the effort.
Mohair is desirable for numerous positive characteristics. It is exceptionally strong and lustrous, but if it is spun correctly and brushed, it can be nearly as soft as angora. Mohair can be blended with short staple fibers to make them easier to spin without adversely affecting the softness of the finished yarn.
Silk can be found in numerous forms in the spinning world. Cocoons, hankies, top, sliver or noils; silk comes in a wide variety of forms. The main benefit of silk is its luster; however, its strength is also a great attribute. Silk does tend to form kemps in the spinning or carding process, lately it is being replaced with bamboo and soy fibers. Another interesting characteristic of silk is that it can be dyed with either protein dyes or plant dyes. It will still take up differently than other fibers it is blended with, but this can create a wonderful depth of color in the finished garment.