Have you ever had the opportunity to knit with exotic yarn? Sadly, I haven’t. When I knit, I usually use wool, cotton, acrylic, nylon, alpaca, and occasionally polyester. I’ve also knit with blends that also include fibers such as bamboo, rayon, silk, and soy. It isn’t that I don’t want to knit with more exotic fibers; it’s more that I don’t often come across them in my usual yarn purchasing habits. (I’m still awaiting Hobby Lobby or Joann’s line of qiviut yarn. Something tells me I’ll be waiting a LONG time.) But every now and then, I come across listings in yarn catalogs for exotic yarns, and I am definitely intrigued! Have you ever knit with, for instance, yarn spun from camel hair? Or yak fur? How about guanaco or vicuna? (Guanaco or vicuna?!) Below are some fun, exotic varieties of yarn fibers, and the properties of each.
Exotic Yarn: Fun Facts
Camel: Warm, soft, and doesn’t felt easily. Camel fiber has a structure similar to cashmere. It is non-allergenic and doesn’t pill. Yak: Very warm and soft, lacks the elasticity and memory of wool. Like camel, it is very similar to cashmere. It may be blended with merino wool for added elasticity. Qiviut: Fiber from the musk ox. Like the previous two fibers, this is a very warm and soft fiber that doesn’t felt. It is far stronger than sheep’s wool and even softer than cashmere. Bison: Warm, smooth, slippery, soft. Like the previously listed fibers, it doesn’t felt. Guanaco and vicuna: Guanaco and vicuna are both South American camelids, closely related to llamas, and they produce the second-most and the most highly valued wool in the world, respectively. The fibers of both animals are extremely fine and very warm, accounting for their high esteem. Both animals produce small amounts of wool that require a careful process to gather, also accounting for the wool’s high value. Corn: Corn? Yes! Corn yarn is created from the starch within the kernels, a great choice of yarn for those who prefer not to knit with animal-based fibers. The resulting yarn has some qualities in common with cotton — it looks similar and has the same breathability, but it is springier and more lightweight than cotton. It is also quick-drying and has a fluid drape. Banana fiber: Banana plants produce fibers in vast quantities that are useful in textile-making. Textile artists in Japan and Nepal are well known for using banana fiber. This yarn tends to have similar qualities to bamboo. It is very strong, somewhat shiny, lightweight, and absorbs and releases moisture quickly. Chiengora: Never heard of chiengora? This happens to be — wait for it — yarn made from dog fur! The word is a combination of the French word chien, meaning “dog,” and “angora.” Believe it or not, chiengora is actually far warmer than sheep’s wool, although like many of the exotic animal fibers mentioned above, it is not very elastic. While not many people are likely to seek out yarn made from other people’s dogs’ fur, a surprising number of companies have developed offering to spin your dog’s fur into yarn. If you enjoy spinning and have a dog that sheds a lot (or that requires a great deal of grooming), maybe you’ll want to consider spinning chiengora for yourself! I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a bit about yarns that you probably won’t find at your nearest craft store. One of these days I’d definitely enjoy trying out an exotic yarn. Maybe I’ll win one in a contest someday!