When you think of wool, what’s the first animal that springs to mind? A sheep, right? In most cases, you’d be right but there’s one animal that might quite literally spring into mind when thinking about angora wool and that’s the angora rabbit.
Just to confuse things a little more, there’s also an angora goat and this is where most people believe that angora wool comes from. But that’s not the case; this animal actually produces a product known as mohair.
Angora wool, along with other products including the aforementioned mohair and the world famous cashmere, is among some of the most luxurious natural materials in the world. It’s hugely popular in fashion and for hobby knitters and this got us incredibly interested. So, we’ve put together a guide on everything you need to know about angora wool.
Table of contents
- What Is Angora Wool?
- Are There Different Types Of Angora Wool?
- What About The Angora Rabbit?
- Angora Wool Harvesting
- Why Is Angora Wool So Sought After?
- Angora Wool Cruelty
- What Is Angora Wool Used For?
- The Use Of Angora Wool For Thermal Clothing
- Angora Wool vs Cashmere
If you have been wondering where does angora wool come from then you’re in the right place. Angora wool is the product of the angora rabbit. These animals produce wool that is incredibly fluffy and luxurious making it one of the most highly sought after natural materials in the world.
This type of wool has very fine fibers with a thin diameter and has a halo-like effect that wraps around the strands. This effect means that the end product; whether that be a sweater, a hat, a scarf or anything else, has a very shiny quality that isn’t seen in other fabrics. Many would consider angora wool to be one of the finest fibers out there and comparable to the more well-known cashmere wool.
While angora can be used on its own, it is often combined with other materials during the production of angora items. This is largely because of the rigidity of the material and these additional fibers can help to make it more elastic.
One of the reasons it is so popular is because of its lightweight nature so it’s beautifully easy to wear but this doesn’t come at the sacrifice of staying warm. This wool is often considered to be far superior to sheep’s wool when it comes to warmth and this is down to the hollow fibers which act as an insulator.
There are five different types of angora rabbit, each of them able to produce this beautiful material. There is the French angora rabbit, the Satin angora rabbit, the English angora rabbit and the Giant angora rabbit. The latter is usually considered to be the best for commercial wool harvesting but we’ll look at that in more detail later on. For now, let’s look at the traits of each one.
- The English angora rabbit is the smallest out of all of the angora breeds and its hairs are typically much more coarse than others. Moreover, the hairs are incredibly thin and fine.
- On the other hand, the French angora rabbit has much thicker hairs and a very woolly undercoat. The guard hairs can usually be very easily plucked out and the halo fur is second to none making it very fluffy. It is for this reason that French angora wool is a favorite for hand spinners
- Compared to the English and French angora rabbits, the Satin angora doesn’t produce quite as much wool. However, these rabbits have an extremely shiny coat which makes the fibers excellent for spinning.
- The German angora does not molt naturally but they do produce a very large amount of wool.
- Finally, the giant angora, as its name may suggest, is the biggest of all the angora breeds and as a result of this, produces more fiber per year than the other breeds. But these rabbits, like their German counterparts do not molt so breeders must shear the fur.
So, we understand that there are five different types of angora rabbit and what kind of wool they each produce. But what about the breed in general? Well, these rabbits are a medium sized breed that quite often have stunning red eyes. They come in a huge range of colors that can be anywhere between the whitest of white and rich, silky black. Their color can sometimes depend on their region but this is a loose concept.
What’s great about the angora rabbit is that it makes an excellent pet owing to its very docile and calm temperament. They’re super cute and cuddly and when you hold one, you will feel the warm, light, plush coat that feels incredibly soft. While these features make the angora desirable for wool production, they also make it desirable as a pet.
What’s really interesting about the angora is that it is thought to be the oldest living rabbit breed ever domesticated. While their true origin is often up for debate, there is significant evidence to suggest that these rabbits were kept by the Romans as far back as 100 BC! By the time the 18th century came around, they were pretty widespread around Europe.
Henry VIII was allegedly a big fan of the angora rabbit and this meant that the people of the time followed suit, clamoring to get their hands on this beautiful material. As a result of this, they earned themselves the nickname of English Silk Hares. It’s just a shame that this admiration of angoras didn’t extend to his seven wives!
But it wasn’t just English royalty that couldn’t wait to get their hands on the angora; the French royals were at it across the channel as well. In the 1700s, sometime after the reign of King Henry VIII in the UK, French aristocrats were keeping angoras as pets for their children.
But it wasn’t until around the 20th century that mass production of angora wool was ever really noted. This happened in the USA when entrepreneurs began seeing how lucrative its production could be and started making everything from sweaters to scarves and everything in between all from angora wool.
Despite the commercial production of angora wool having its roots in America, most of the production now happens in China; as much as 90%, would you believe? That said, there are other countries including the United States, Chile and many European nations that produce smaller quantities of the material.
In China alone, it is thought that there are around 50 million angora rabbits and these will produce up to 2500-3000 tonnes of wool every year. The wool is harvested around every four months, producing three harvests each year and the way that this is done depends on the type of angora rabbit you are dealing with. Some breeds will have their wool plucked while others need to be shorn. Of course, there are some angora rabbit breeds that molt naturally and wool can be harvested this way, which is considered to be the most humane method.
Generally speaking, most angora rabbit breeders will opt for the plucking method, where possible. This involves waiting for the natural molting cycle to occur before pulling out the molted fur. This ensures that minimal amounts of the rabbit’s guard hair is pulled out and will prevent the fur from becoming matted. That said, this method of harvesting is far more time consuming which is why some producers will opt to shear the rabbits as an alternative.
One of the main problems with shearing the rabbits is that the fleece does not have quite as good quality since it includes the guard hairs. But for commercial production, it takes far less time and is ideal for breeds that do not molt.
When taking care of angora rabbits, it is vital that breeders take excellent care of their fur to prevent it from matting. This means grooming the animals at least once a week, preferably twice. Moreover, if this is not done, when the rabbit grooms itself, there is a risk of it ingesting the fur which could be dangerous.
What’s very interesting about the harvest of angora wool is that, depending on where on the rabbit the wool is taken from, there may be varying degrees of quality. For example, the finest premium quality wool comes from the upper sides and back of the rabbit. This wool usually has very long, clean fibers and there isn’t likely to be any hay, food or other matter in it.
When wool is taken from the neck and lower sides of the rabbit, this is of secondary quality. There is a chance that there may be some matter like vegetables in the fur, reducing its quality slightly.
There is the third quality angora wool which comes from the legs and buttocks of the animal. The hairs here are usually a little shorter in length. More often than not, this quality of wool cannot be used although there may be minor exceptions to this.
Finally, there is fourth quality wool which cannot be used to produce items and must either be discarded or recycled for things like bird nest lining. This wool quality is usually felted or stained but this can be avoided through good grooming.
The amount of wool that an angora rabbit produces will vastly depend on its breed. The giant angora is often considered to be the best option for commercial production and each animal will produce between one and one and a half kilos of wool each year. That’s around 3.3lbs. Compare this to an English or French angora who produces only up to 0.75 kilos a year and it’s easy to see the difference.
However, one of the reasons that the production of angora wool became so popular is that it is incredibly cost effective. These rabbits will produce more wool per animal for a lower cost of care than any other wool producing animal on the planet. Typically speaking, an individual could spend no more than $60 a year feeding their angora and still produce an astonishing amount of wool for profit.
For anyone considering breeding angoras for their wool. The German breed is thought to be the most productive and will produce a good amount of wool, four times a year. The downside is that these rabbits do not molt so harvesting the wool is a little trickier. French and English varieties may not produce as much but the plucking method does make things easier.
Of course, it won’t come as a surprise to learn that there is a cross between the French and German angoras which gives breeders the benefits of both.
When we look at the diameter of angora wool, at just 12-16 microns per strand, this is far thinner than many other animals. Moreover, regrowth takes very little time; just three to four months meaning that angora rabbits can certainly meet consumer demands. In fact, an adult angora rabbit’s hair will grow up to 3cm every month.
Another reason that angora wool is so desirable is that the fine texture makes it comparable to cashmere. While cashmere is popular, a lot of people still opt for angora over it as this material gives warmth and fluffiness that cashmere simply cannot offer. Plus, it’s super lightweight and comfortable to wear.
There’s really no limit on what angora wool can be used to make which makes it a popular choice for fashion brands and hobbyists alike.
Unfortunately, as within many trades around the world, there are some problems with animal cruelty in the production of angora wool. Back in 2013, there were a whole host of clothing retailers who stopped buying products that contained angora wool after footage of poorly treated rabbits was leaked.
This footage came from China where the rabbits were having their paws tied and being roughly plucked on Chinese farms. Normally, shearing or plucking an angora rabbit should not, and does not cause the animal any pain or distress.
Moving on to 2016 and animal rights activists in France showed the world even more shocking footage from their own country. French rabbit farms were responsible for forcibly pinning the rabbits down with both sets of legs spread apart while their fur was ripped from the skin. These poor animals were heard to be screaming in pain and when the job was done, there was not an inch of fur left of their bodies aside from on the head.
As a result of this, many ethical retailers will now only purchase angora products from farms that can prove they use cruelty free methods. One of the biggest retailers to promote this ideology is ASOS. The good news is that most angora rabbit farms operate safely and humanely, it’s a small handful that take things to heartbreaking levels. But with this ethical production comes a high price tag and this is one of the reasons that angora wool is so expensive.
Animal welfare charity PETA highlights the distress that rabbits may undergo when being plucked but there is also concern that shearing exposes the rabbits to the risk of being cut. Neither method is 100% safe and it is down to the farmers to show some responsibility in how they operate. Of course, the most humane way is to wait for the rabbits to molt naturally and collect their fur this way, plus, this is more sustainable.
In countries like China, there are no regulations or penalties for people who are guilty of animal cruelty which is why production here is so criticized.
Angora wool is, as we have learned, a very highly prized material that can be used in a multitude of ways. This gorgeous fabric is often used in the production of knitwear including things like gloves, scarves, hats, sweaters, and much more. When used this way, the wool creates a shiny, soft, warm, and lightweight product that comes at a high price. However, for the most part, it is mixed with other things such as sheep’s wool or that from an alpaca as this makes the end product much more elastic.
You’ll also often find angora wool being used in the production of home decor for items such as blankets and throw pillows. Again, it will typically be blended with other fibers when making decorative items owing to the incredibly high cost of angora wool.
Before we talk about how and why angora wool is used in the production of thermal clothing, it is important to understand how the rabbit’s coat is made up. There are two different fibers here; the guard hair and the undercoat. The guard hair is much longer and is the outer of the two layers, protecting the delicate, soft undercoat from water and rain. The undercoat is incredibly fluffy and is very insulating; one of the reasons the wool is so popular!
This undercoat is what is used when making thermal clothing. It’s super fine at around 10 microns which is 50% thinner than wool from a lamb! The fibers are hollow which is something that really sets it apart from other animal’s wool and so it holds heat very well at the same time as remaining beautifully soft. In fact, it is thought that angora wool is seven times warmer than that of a sheep!
As we have mentioned, angora wool is normally blended with other types of wool and there are several reasons for this including improving elasticity. But one of the main reasons is that, when used on its own, angora wool would create a garment that was probably too warm. While it might be suitable for use in the most extremely cold climates, the rest of the world would be sweating, even in the depths of winter!
That said, this warming effect is often thought to be a remedy for the pain in the joints caused by arthritis!
Angora wool is obtained from angora rabbits, as we have learned. While many people confuse this product with what is produced by the angora goat, the two are not the same. However, there’s another animal that also produces a luxurious type of wool; the cashmere goat.
The key difference between angora and cashmere is that they come from different animals. The two materials do have slightly different qualities although they are both used to make high-end, luxurious items that come with a significant price tag.
Angora wool is much softer and fluffier than cashmere wool and also boasts much thinner fibres. Many would also say that angora has a far silkier texture.
There are five types of angora rabbits but one thing that they all have in common is that they produce some of the finest, fluffiest, and most luxurious wool on the planet. It is often compared to cashmere or mohair and is used in the production of a wide variety of garments and decorative items.
Angora wool is one of the more expensive natural materials and must be harvested from the rabbits around four times a year, in line with their molting season. Usually this means allowing the fur to naturally come away which is the most humane method. Unless you are working with breeds that don’t molt, in which case you may need to pluck or shear.
Sadly, there have been some farms in China and France whose harvesting methods are incredibly cruel and inhumane so many of the world’s largest retailers are now very selective about where they buy their angora wool.