Animal Fibers are textile fibers obtained from animals. They are basically hair or fur or skin or secretions of animals. The most popular animal fibers are wool, silk, cashmere, mohair, alpaca, angora, and camel hair.
These fibers are then woven or knitted or felted to form Animal fabric and ultimately made into soft and warm jackets, ponchos, blazers, wraps, shawls, coats and other clothing and accessories. Carpets, rugs and blankets are made with rougher fibers.
The animal fibers are of many kinds and are differentiated according to the animal it is taken from, their chemical structures, the way they are obtained and the fiber length. They are all made up of protein.
Some very commonly used natural animal fiber examples are fibers obtained from sheep, camel, goat, and rabbit. These are the commonly used animals for providing animal fibers which are very soft in texture; Horse, cows and pigs give straight fibers which are less soft.
Have you considered feather of birds as a fiber – it is one too.
These animals are raised as fiber animals. The coarse, longer hairs, hairs of medium thickness and the undercoat are segregated, cleaned and they are sold as luxury fibers. Read more about the different types of fur here.
Related post : Different types of Fur.
In this article I will cover:
- Main types of Animal fibers
- Wool of lamb/sheep
- Hare /Jackrabbit
- Llama wool
- Vicuna wool
- Yak wool
- Why are production of fabrics from animal fibers considered more sustainable and eco-friendly compared to synthetic alternatives?
- How are animal fibers made into fabric?
Main types of Animal fibers
Wool of lamb/sheep
This Wool refers to the hair of the domestic sheep/lamb. The hair of sheep is the most commonly used animal fiber. It is long, thin and curly. Merino wool make a particularly soft and warm fiber. Australia, China and New Zealand produce most of the wool fibers of the world.Learn more about wool here.
Silk is an animal fiber made from the secretion of silkworms and it is the strongest of all natural fibers. There are many different varieties of silkworms. The mulberry leaf eating silk worms gives the softest silk fibers. Wild silk worms fed with other leaves like oak tree leaves give out silk fibers which are rougher.
Leather is not a typical animal fabrics made of animal fibers but it is made of the hides of animals, so it is an animal fabric. Animal hides are processed and tanned to create the textile we know as leather – there are many types of leather, depending on the texture, from where it is taken etc.
This is the fiber obtained from the wool of alpaca, a variety of camel native to South America (Peru). It’s wool is soft, and very warm. It can be blended with wool and silk to create beautifully soft textiles.The fabric made from these fibers is greatly valued for its softness and warmth.
This is made from the hair of the North African Angora goat. Mohair is very soft and lightweight. South Africa is the biggest producer of Mohair fibers. It smooth, glossy, and wiry and is a much in demand fabric for dressmaking, hatmaking and for upholstery purposes.
This fiber is made from the hair of the Indian Cashmere goat. It is found in India, Tibet, Iran, Iraq, China, Persia, Turkestan and Mongolia. The original color of this soft and silky fiber can be white, black, brown or gray but they are then dyed into different appealing colors and woven and knitted into the softest most exquisite fabric. It is also delicate on its own and very expensive so it is blended with wool. More on Cashmere fabric here
Camel hair is a very soft fiber and because of its rarity, a very expensive fiber. It is usually blended with wool to reduce the prize. You also can be duped into buying wool that dupes the look of camel hair. The two-humped Bactrian camels of Mongolia gives the softest of camel hairs. China, Afghanistan and Iran produce the most camel fibers in the world.
The color of the fur varies from a light tan to a brownish-black colour and comes with a flat surface or with a nap. The quality also varies.
Angora is the soft white hair of Angora Rabbit. It is used to make very high quality knitwear. China is the biggest producer of this fiber.
This refers to fur from young Karakul lambs from Astrakhan, Russia. The wool is very soft, lustrous and curly.
This is an animal found mostly in America and Europe. The fur of the animal is very soft and silky and has a good shine.
You get fox hair in colors ranging from black to red, silver, silver-gray and white.
It is taken from an animal in Argentina. The resultant fabric is very soft and has a natural honey beige color.
Hair has a wooly texture and it is used for felting
Llama wool is obtained from llama, a domesticated South American camel variety. It is very similar to alpaca wool. Llama fibers are lightweight strong, durable, lanolin-free and hypoallergenic but not as fine as alpaca fibers. The color ranges from white to brown and black.
Muskrat is an animal found in North America with a very fine and thick blue-gray hair resembling that of the beaver’s.
This is very silky and soft fibers taken from an animal found in South America
Opossum is an animal found in the USA, Australia and Argentina. The fur is loose, grayish and white-tipped.
This is the underwool of the domesticated Musk Ox. It is taken when the fibers are shed naturally during spring and is one of the rarest of animal fibers. It is luxurious, stronger and warmer than most other wool.
Wild rabbits have brownish or gray colours. Tame ones range in colour from white to black.
Raccoon is found in America and it has a fur that is grayish-brown and black.
Wikipedia says that Vicuna is the most expensive of all wool. It is obtained from a variety of camel found in Peru and makes the finest and softest fabric in the world.
There are many varieties of Weasels. Some Weasels have a yellowish brown fur, some have white fur (Ermine). It is extensively used in the fur industry.
Yak is a very soft wool and is obtained from coat hair of yaks found mainly in Mongolia. It is hypoallergenic; The undercoat of the yak is especially soft, even considered as soft as Cashmere.
This is originally wool from a small mammal, sable. Today it is a very rare animal, almost extinct
You can easily make fabric from the animal fibers – read more about converting fibers to fabric with felting here.
If you like the patterns seen on the skin of animals but do not want anything related to the living being you can buy fabric with animal prints. Here are the top 10 animal prints that are popularly used in fabrics.
Why are production of fabrics from animal fibers considered more sustainable and eco-friendly compared to synthetic alternatives?
Animal fibers such as wool, silk, and leather have been used for making fabrics and then into clothing for centuries. These natural fibers are biodegradable, renewable, and often require less energy and resources to produce compared to synthetic materials, when sourced ethically and sustainably. For eg. shearing the sheep and turning their fleece into wool fabric requires relatively low energy consumption.
If you are not convinced about the ethicality of the source of your animal fibers you can use alternatives like faux fur, faux leather, polyester, or nylon.
How are animal fibers made into fabric?
Animal fibers are transformed into fabric through a series of processes starting from harvesting, cleaning, spinning, and then weaving or knitting into textiles. The specific processes and the final products depend on the type of animal fiber used. Read about how wool is made and How silk is made
Harvesting involves collecting the fibers. They ought to be ethically sourced and devoid of animal cruelty.
Cleaning involves the removal of impurities, dirt, and oils by washing and scouring.
Carding may be done to align the fibers into uniform size and smooth texture.
Spinning involves twisting the fibers to form the yarn.
Then the yarn is used to make different types of fabrics. They may undergo different fabric finishes.