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Angora wool is an extraordinarily soft knitting fiber produced from the fur of the Angora rabbit. It can only be spun from the hair of rabbits, while the product of angora goats is called mohair. The fibers have a very soft, silky texture and are usually 10 to 13 microns thick. They are also hollow, which gives them loft and a characteristic floating feel. In addition, angora fibers are very short, which can effect stitch density when the knitter is using wool with a high percentage of angora.
Pure angora wool is impossible to make, because the fibers are too fine and the wool will simply unravel. The fibers are usually mixed with other soft fibers, such as cashmere and lambswool. Wool made of it tends to be very warm and is frequently used to trim sweaters or to knit hats and scarves. Angora is generally viewed as a luxury fiber, and most products made from it are very expensive, reflecting the laborious harvesting process and the small number of producers.
Angora rabbits can be combed or gently sheared for their fur, and they have been used for that purpose in Turkey for centuries. The wool first became popular in Europe in the late 18th century, when it was popularized by the French. In the Americas, it didn't touch the popular imagination until the 20th century, when small cottage breeders began raising Angora rabbits and spinning their fiber.
There are four breeds of Angora rabbits, beginning with the English breed, which weighs 5 to 7.5 pounds (2 to 3.5 kg). This breed produces a very large amount of fur and must be combed regularly to keep the hair free of tangles and debris. The good natured rabbits are popular in show, and their fiber wraps very tightly when spun, making an even and strong wool.
The French breed ranges from 7.5 to 10.5 pounds (3.5 to 4.5 kilograms) and has a higher proportion of guard hair to wool. Guard hairs take color better, and many colored angora wool products come from the French breed. These rabbits require less grooming than other breeds and are recommended for novice breeders.
The Satin breed has very shiny, soft fur with a satiny appearance. The hair is easy to collect and spin, and the 6.5 to 9.5 pound (3 to 4 kg) rabbits are favored by fiber collectors because their fur spins quickly and easily. The breed also tends to be richly colored, producing wool with high color saturation, although the all white Satins produce fur that takes dye very well.
The Giant breed is significantly larger than the other breeds, often weighing more than 20 pounds (9 kg). The breed most often appears in white, and its wool must be harvested by shearing, because the rabbits do not naturally molt or shed. For sheer volume of collection, Giants are an excellent choice for breeders attempting to produce angora fiber for commercial use.
Angora wool can be harvested year round, although it requires careful handwork, as most rabbits are combed. Most Angora rabbits are amenable, but nervous, and it is important to be gentle with them. The wool produced can be used in a wide variety of applications in which insulation, comfort, and warmth are needed, and the fibers are pleasurable to work with because of their luxurious look and feel.