Saturday, October 5, 2013

Protein Fibers - Speciality Hair Fibers[1-3]
Art Resource

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

This is the twentieth post in the "Art Resource" series, specifically aimed to construct an appropriate knowledge base in order to develop an artistic voice in ArtCloth.

Other posts in this series are:
Glossary of Cultural and Architectural Terms
Units Used in Dyeing and Printing of Fabrics
Occupational, Health & Safety
A Brief History of Color
The Nature of Color
Psychology of Color
Color Schemes
The Naming of Colors
The Munsell Color Classification System
Methuen Color Index and Classification System
The CIE System
Pantone - A Modern Color Classification System
Optical Properties of Fiber Materials
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part I
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part II
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part III
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part IV
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part V
Protein Fibers - Wool
Protein Fibers - Speciality Hair Fibers
Protein Fibers - Silk
Protein Fibers - Wool versus Silk
Timelines of Fabrics, Dyes and Other Stuff
Cellulosic Fibers (Natural) - Cotton
Cellulosic Fibers (Natural) - Linen
Other Natural Cellulosic Fibers
General Overview of Man-Made Fibers
Man-Made Cellulosic Fibers - Viscose
Man-Made Cellulosic Fibers - Esters
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Nylon
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Polyester
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Acrylic and Modacrylic
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Olefins
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Elastomers
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Mineral Fibers
Man Made Fibers - Other Textile Fibers
Fiber Blends
From Fiber to Yarn: Overview - Part I
From Fiber to Yarn: Overview - Part II
Melt-Spun Fibers
Characteristics of Filament Yarn
Yarn Classification
Direct Spun Yarns
Textured Filament Yarns
Fabric Construction - Felt
Fabric Construction - Nonwoven fabrics
A Fashion Data Base
Fabric Construction - Leather
Fabric Construction - Films
Glossary of Colors, Dyes, Inks, Pigments and Resins
Fabric Construction – Foams and Poromeric Material
Glossary of Fabrics, Fibers, Finishes, Garments and Yarns
Weaving and the Loom
Similarities and Differences in Woven Fabrics
The Three Basic Weaves - Plain Weave (Part I)
The Three Basic Weaves - Plain Weave (Part II)
The Three Basic Weaves - Twill Weave
The Three Basic Weaves - Satin Weave
Figured Weaves - Leno Weave
Figured Weaves – Piqué Weave
Figured Fabrics
Glossary of Art, Artists, Art Motifs and Art Movements
Crêpe Fabrics
Crêpe Effect Fabrics
Pile Fabrics - General
Woven Pile Fabrics
Chenille Yarn and Tufted Pile Fabrics
Knit-Pile Fabrics
Flocked Pile Fabrics and Other Pile Construction Processes
Glossary of Paper, Photography, Printing, Prints and Publication Terms
Napped Fabrics – Part I
Napped Fabrics – Part II
Double Cloth
Multicomponent Fabrics
Knit-Sew or Stitch Through Fabrics
Finishes - Overview
Finishes - Initial Fabric Cleaning
Mechanical Finishes - Part I
Mechanical Finishes - Part II
Additive Finishes
Chemical Finishes - Bleaching
Glossary of Scientific Terms
Chemical Finishes - Acid Finishes
Finishes: Mercerization
Finishes: Waterproof and Water-Repellent Fabrics
Finishes: Flame-Proofed Fabrics
Finishes to Prevent Attack by Insects and Micro-Organisms
Other Finishes
Shrinkage - Part I
Shrinkage - Part II
Progressive Shrinkage and Methods of Control

There are currently eight data bases on this blogspot, namely, the Glossary of Cultural and Architectural Terms, Timelines of Fabrics, Dyes and Other Stuff, A Fashion Data Base, the Glossary of Colors, Dyes, Inks, Pigments and Resins, the Glossary of Fabrics, Fibers, Finishes, Garments and Yarns, Glossary of Art, Artists, Art Motifs and Art Movements, Glossary of Paper, Photography, Printing, Prints and Publication Terms and the Glossary of Scientific Terms, which has been updated to Version 3.5. All data bases will be updated from time-to-time in the future.

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The introduction of synthetic fibers that have a range of characteristics, implies that wool has become a speciality fiber. In particular by 1968 man-made fibers topped natural fibers with respect to USA consumption. This was the very first time that this had occurred. Five billion pounds in weight (man-made) compared to 4.6 billion pounds (natural). Of the man-made fibers the use of polyester was growing the most quickly.

Lenmark’s chart shows the trends in prices for cotton, polyester, acrylic and wool. As can be seen from this chart, in spite of the sharper falls in prices in the first quarter, wool prices are still relatively better than the price for the competing fibers. As a result, wool’s price competitiveness remains relatively weak. The wool to cotton price ratio in October of 2012 stands at 6.2 while the wool to synthetics price ratio is at 4.8. Both are well above the ten-year average.

Trends in prices for cotton, polyester, acrylic and for wool.

It is comparatively expensive but it features high on the lists of most desirable fibers – from fine soft lambs wool sweaters to rugged resilient carpets. It may be considered a luxury item but when used in blends it offers a cheaper alternative.

In another sense, wool is the cheapest and most common hair fiber. To put this in perspective, the gross value of Australian wool alone (which includes the value of dead wool and wool on skins) is $1.9 billion according to Australian Bureau of Statistics. However, with respect to alpaca fiber in 2006–07, an estimated 108 tonnes of alpaca fibre was produced in Australia with a worth of only $1.25 million. The unit price was low compared with indicator prices because a significant part of the clip (14 per cent in 2006–07) had no commercial value. In the same year, the Australian industry exported 2.7 tonnes of alpaca fleece to Peru for processing and imported 37 tonnes of alpaca products including re-export of fiber to Australia as processed products.

In general, these speciality fibers such as alpaca, camel and rabbit are softer, finer, warmer, and lighter and far more expensive when compared to the finest wool. Usually they are blended with wool to yield special, desired characteristics to the appearance and feel of the blended fabric.

The Camel Family
The hair of many members of the camel family is used for exclusive textile fibers. These animals in general have a coarse outer coat, and a soft, fine, downy undercoat of fur.

Camel hair is obtained from the Bactrain camel of Asia. The stocky, two-humped camel is well adapted to the cold deserts of central Asia, and has a dense fur, which it moults regularly.

Bactrain camel of Asia.

Camels hair is said to have the best insulation of the wool fibers, since it keeps the camel comfortable under extreme climatic conditions: during a day journey through cold mountain passes and through hot valleys.

Most camels used for hair production are hand sheared. However, the traditional collection was by a “trailer”, who follows the camel caravan and picks up the hair as it is shed, and places it in a basket carried by the last camel. He also gathers the hair in the morning at the spot where camels lay down for the night.

Camel hair, Camel down.

Due to its warmth the finer fibers of camel hair are much prized for clothing fabrics. They are often used in blends with sheep’s wool, which is dyed the tan color of the camel’s hair.

A camel hair blazer from the American fashion label Bill Blass, 2009.

The principle countries of origin of camel’s hair are China, Soviet Union and Afghanistan. The yield of hair per animal per year is approximately 2.5 kg. The fiber diameter is of the order of 5 – 40 micron and its length 4 – 12 cm. The fiber strength is similar to wool, but warmer and lighter. The scales of the fiber are not that distinct.

The llama and its smaller cousin the alpaca have been domesticated for centuries by the Andean Indians of South America. They were the beast of burden in the Inca Empire, and they still perform that function for the Indians today. Their fur is shorn on an average every two years. As the animals grazing conditions in the traditional practices may vary over the two-year interval between shearings, each fiber in the fleece can vary in thickness from its tip to its root.

Australian Alpacas.

Peru did not allow the export of Alpacas until 1991. Chilean alpacas were the first alpacas to be imported into Australia and the USA. They were of all colors, including grays, blacks, browns, fawns, pintos, whites, and more. 

The first Peruvian alpacas arrived in Australia and the USA in 1993. They were primarily white, with a few fawns, as many Peruvians had been selectively breeding alpacas for the white color preferred by the larger fiber mills.

Face of an Llama.

Alpaca hair is finer than llama hair, but both make lightweight and warm textiles. The yields per animal per year for both animals are similar being of the order of 1.5 to 2 kg. The alpaca has a fiber diameter of 22 – 30 micron, whereas the Llama is between 10 – 20 microns. The fiber lengths for both animals is of the order of 8 – 25 cm. Generally the alpaca fiber is stiffer but lighter than wool, with less tendency to felt. The fibers are weakened by bleaching. The Llama fiber is lighter than wool. Both fibers have a high proportion of medullated fibers. The hollow central canal acts as an insulator by resisting the transfer of heat from one side of the fiber to the other, and also reduces the weight of the fiber.

Both fibers are noted for their softness, fineness and luster. The natural colors are white, light fawn, light brown, dark brown, grey, black and piebald. Due to the slightly superior properties of the alpaca fibers, Western production has centred on this animal. There are a number of web sites devoted to educating the public at large about this fiber, the most notable being Delphi Alpacas.

The vicuña and guanaco are wild animals of the South American camel family. They are not common and moreover, because they are wild, the animal must be killed to obtain the fiber. Both are smaller in size than the alpaca.

The vicuña or vicugna is one of two wild South American camelids, which live in the high alpine areas of the Andes.

The overall color of the soft wooly coat is ochre, light cinnamon, or reddish brown, with the under-parts, insides of the legs, and underside of the head being dirty white. On the chest, at the base of the neck, is a peculiar, pompon-like “mane” of silky white hairs which may be 20 - 30 cm / 8 - 12 inches in length. The vicuña is extremely slender, with long skinny limbs and neck. The head is small and wedge shaped, with small, triangular ears. Unique among living artiodactyls, the incisors of the vicuña are constantly growing, with enamel on only one side, to keep up with the wear caused by the tough grasses on which they feed.

The vicuña, which lives in the dry grasslands of the Andes, is highly valued for its fine, soft, silky fleece, which was once reserved for Inca royalty. Today it is protected by strict hunting quotas.

The animal is found in Bolivia, Peru, and Chile. The average yield per animal per year is 0.08 – 0.5 kg per year. It’s fiber diameter and length is of the order of 7 – 14 micron and 1 – 6 cm, respectively. Its fiber is very soft, strong, lusterous and resilient. Nevertheless, it is sensitive to chemicals.

The guanaco is a camelid native to South America that stands between 1 and 1.2 meters at the shoulder and weighs about 90 kg. The color varies very little, ranging from a light brown to dark cinnamon and shading to white underneath.

Most guanacos live in herds composed of family groups or “bachelor” males and females, but some males are solitary. They graze on grasses, leaves and buds, and, as the largest native herbivore in Patagonia, played a key role in structuring native vegetation communities. Their quivery, sensitive lips help them select tender food among thorny and woody vegetation, and their softly padded feet do not damage the soil and vegetation as do the hard hooves of livestock.

Guanacos have been reduced by nearly 95 percent of their original number, which may have been as much as 50 million. Early explorers described long-distance migrations by huge herds, but now guanacos are mostly sedentary, confined by fences, livestock, and hunting. Nevertheless, WCS has discovered three wild sites where thousands of guanacos still make seasonal migrations. Protecting these migrations will simultaneously conserve the last large intact highland areas of South America.

They are hunted for their pelts. The principal country of origin is Argentina. Their fiber diameter and length is of the order of 18 – 24 micron and 5 cm in length, respectively. The fiber is finer than alpaca but coarser than vicuña. Fifty per cent of their fibers are medullated fibers.

The Goat Family
Goats were probably the first animals whose long hairs were used as a textile fiber. Today, two kinds of goats supply speciality hair fibers – the silky, long-haired mohair (angora) and the soft, downy Cashmere goat from Kashmir on the Indian-Pakistan border.

Angora goat farm in Itawamba county, USA.

Mohair was produced in Turkey for thousands of years. Its name derives from the Arabic word mukhayyar meaning “goat hair fabric”, and the goat that supplies the fiber is called angora, after the district of Ankara in Turkey. Mohair is a silky fiber – it has fewer, flatter scales than wool – and it has little tendency to felt. It is the most resilient fiber and has none of the crimp found in sheep’s wool, giving it a smoother surface that is more resistant to dust and more lusterous than wool. Mohair is very strong and has a good affinity for dye, The washed fleece is lusterous white. Hence, Mohair suitings have a characteristic lusterous appearance.

Hot mohair sweaters from Sweden.

Cashmere is obtained, by plucking or combing, from the downy undercoat of Kashmire goats that graze the dry mountains of Asia. It is a weak and sensitive fiber, but prized because of its fineness and softness. The fibers vary in color from white to grey to brownish-grey. Traditionally, the hair is combed by hand from the animal during the moulting season. Only a small part of the fleece is the very fine fiber, probably not more than one-half a pound per goat. In Europe it first became known through superb hand woven and embroidered shawls, which were later imitated for the European market by mechanized industry based in Paisley, Scotland. It is from here that the popular oriental paisley designs took its name.

An Australian cashmere goat.

A top quality cashmere sweater contains less than one per cent of coarse guard hairs, and requires the yearly yield of 4-6 goats. An overcoat may have five per cent coarse hair content, but nevertheless will need the supply of the yearly fiber of 30 – 40 animals.

Striking new red fur trim hood cape coat jacket shawl wrap. Stunning cashmere mix.

Fine cashmere fibers have no medulla, and are weaker and more easily damaged than wool, but they have outstanding qualities of drape and texture. If natural dark cashmere is bleached, the fiber may be seriously weakened.

The yield per animal per year for Mohair is of the order of 10 kg per year, whereas for cashmere it is of the order of 0.1 – 0.5 kg per year. The fiber diameter and length for (Mohair, Cashmere) is (10 – 90 micron, 15 -20 micron) and (10 – 15 cm, 2.5 – 10 cm) respectively.

In summary, Mohair fiber is lusterous, strong and does not felt, whereas Cashmere fiber possesses scales that are less distinctive than wool, but more pronounced than mohair. The principal countries that export Mohair are South Africa, Turkey, USA, South America and Australia, whereas in the case of Cashmere it is China, Soviet Union and Iran.

Using rabbit fur for producing felted products has a long history. In 1874 Benjamin Dunkerley arrived in Tasmania from England and decided to start a hat making business in Hobart. In the early 1900's Dunkerley moved the business to Crown Street, Surry Hills, an inner suburb of Sydney, setting up a small hat making factory. In 1911, the business became Dunkerley Hat Mills Ltd, and had a mere nineteen employees. The trade name - "Akubra" - came into use in 1912. The Akubra Hat Factory is now based on the mid north coast of New South Wales in the town of Kempsey, having relocated from Sydney in 1974.

The ionic Akubra hat.

There are eleven essential steps in making an Akubra hat. The fur used in manufacturing felt hats is the downy-under-fur of these animals, not the long, coarse hair commonly called fur. This under-fur has tiny barb-like projections on the surface of each fiber and these barbs lock the fibers to make strong felt.

The fur is graded (cheeks, flanks, sides, centre-backs or entire) and then packed into different bags for storage. Fur from the centre-back is the choicest fur, the fur from the sides is the poorer quality. A good blend is a proper combination of furs, skillfully selected by the hat maker.

Another source for textiles is the fur from the Angora rabbit. These are domesticated varieties, of wither French or English origin, bred for their long, silky fur and their excellent meat. The fur is usually collected by combing the animals, but the rabbits may be clipped or shorn instead. Due to their high cost, the soft, silky angora fibers are often blended with other fibers.

The face of a shorn Angora rabbit.

The yield per animal is approximately 0.4 kg per year collected four times a year. The principle countries of production are France, USA, UK and Canada. The fiber length is 8 – 9 cm. In summary it is a silky, lightweight, warm and medullated fiber. It is very fine, fluffy, soft, slippery and fairly long. It is pure white in color.

Super soft Angora hat.

Hair and fur are chemically indistinguishable, having the same chemical composition, and are made of keratin. The primary difference between hair and fur is the word usage. The hair of non-human mammals is referred to as “fur,” while humans are said to have hair. So, basically, hair is a characteristic of all mammals. Fur is a reference to the hair of animals. But there are a few exceptions: when an animal has very coarse or sparse fur, as in the case of a pig or elephant, we usually call it hair.

Due to ecological considerations, the hunting of many fur animals has been outlawed by law in most countries: for example, tigers, leopards, cheetahs are now generally protected. In Australia, possums, koalas and most kangaroos are legally protected.

In the Western world the appetite for furs in fashion has markedly declined. Minks, nutrias, Persian lambs, chinchilla furs are very seldom seen on the catwalks in Europe. If they are still sold, inevitably these animals are specifically bred for the color and quality of their fur.

Minks used to be a prized fur, but not all minks have the same quality fur. In the winter season male animals always have a lusher coat than females or those skinned in the warmer summer months. The health of the animal can also affects its fur.

Mink coat.

The manufacture of fur garments requires a great deal of skill. The art of the furrier is in matching the natural pelts so that furs of different color or size are perfectly positioned within the garment to make it fashionably appealing. For example, for the most expensive minks the furrier would cut the skins into 1 cm wide strips and then positioning them in order to yield a required pattern and shape prior to sewing them together. In this way a mink pelt can be made narrower and longer, until it stretches the entire length of the coat. This process is called “letting out” and it emphasizes the central guard hairs on the pelt.

The humble sheep skin is of course a fur that is used for covers, ugg boots, rugged garments and floor rugs. Medical sheepskins are placed under bed-ridden patients to reduce the risk of bedsores (pressure sores).

Sheepskin open medical boot.

With the greater awareness to provide a sustainable biosphere, more and more emphasis is being placed on the welfare of the mammal kingdom. We are placing so many mammals at risk, due to our rapid increase in population - nine billion by ca. 2050. Not only are we clearing their habitat at a ferocious rate, but due to our quintuple needs of energy, minerals, shelter, clothing and food we are also altering the climate and the biosphere to suit our immediate requirements. As thinking reeds we are now looking for more sustainable options with respect to pelts. The pelts of rabbits are easily obtainable and inexpensive. They can be dyed, cropped and printed to resemble other furs and in the past have been sold under names such as lapin, chinchillette, marmink, Australian seal, Baltic leopard and Belgian beaver. Such ambiguous names have now been outlawed, because the fur of rabbits cannot be expected to have the warmth or durability of the pelts it seeks to imitate.

Rex Rabbit Fur Jacket with Fox fur Collar.

[1] E.P.G. Gohl and L.D. Vilensky, Textile Science, Longman Cheshire, Melbourne (1989).
[2] A Fritz and J. Cant, Consumer Textiles, Oxford University Press, Melbourne (1986).
[3] N. Hollen and J. Saddler, Textiles, 3rd edition, Collier-Macmillan Ltd, London (1968).

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