I'm not sure how to start this post. I woke up one morning to see a bunch of tweets on my tweetdeck (a free program that makes following lots of people on Twitter easier) mentioning me, @vtknitboy! It seems that two of my tweeps (twitter friends, ala "peeps" = online friends) were kind of having a little online back and forth about which fiber was softer: alpaca or angora bunny (can be confusing--prior name for mohair goat was angora goat).
I'm like, ut oh! They wanted me to be an objective judge and help them decide which one was softer. Yikes! The pressure! The conflict! The tension mounted.
The participants and their owners:
Kathryn in Colorado (@alpacamundo on twitter) raises alpacas. Lynn in Ohio (@sheepmama on twitter) raises angora bunnies. They decided to send each other, and me, 1/4 oz of fiber from one of their animals. The task was to spin it (and perhaps knit a swatch with it) and come to a conclusion as to which was softer. I noted that Kathryn's blog had a post about the smackdown where she used the term "better". To me, this was beyond what the purpose of the smackdown was, because the term could include everything from fiber strength, usage, wearability, etc. In my mind, I am just judging these two fibers based on softness. And, before I hear rumblings from the "losing" side, the results here are just for these fiber samples--they are not blanket statements about the entire breed of angora bunnies or alpacas!
Lynn (bunny sample) sent a lovely 1/4 oz of Nougat, a gorgeous chocolate agouti. Dark brown tips fade to caramel with a steel stripe and silver roots. Nougat is a Satin angora. Lynn's blog is here -->blog.
Kathryn sent a sample of Kocoa Moon. Kocoa is a lovely medium brown alpaca. Info and pics are on this blog: click here. Kathryn's blog is here.
Another involved party is @alpacafarmgirl, also known as Katy. Katy raises alpacas in Alabama and I have been lucky to receive some of the finest fleece from her 'pacas. Very nice. She has been involved in this smackdown by organizing little yarn/fiber giveaways all week! You can read about her and enter the contest for a free skein of alpaca yarn here.
So, we have lovely fiber, lovely people. Based on this test, and softness alone, the winner is...
Before I get to that, here are some pics of the fiber, spinning, skeined and a knit swatch.
Alpaca pre-washing. Washed, air dried & lightly carded. Spinning sample.
Bunny precarding (no washing). Lightly carded on handcarder. Spinning sample.
Alpaca spun sample (top), Bunny sample (bottom). Same. One strand of each.
Knit sample 'paca on bottom, bunny top. Close-up of 'paca. Close-up of 'paca w/ bunny halo.
Close-up of bunny. Closer close-up. Sample wraps per inch, showing bunny halo.
Technically, from a micron count perspective, angora bunny wool is softer than alpaca.The alpaca sampled was Huacaya, which runs from 14-27 microns; with Royal alpaca 14-20.9, and Strong being 27.7. Angora bunnies rate a 13. I pulled this info from the Internet, so if you, the reader, has more updated information, please pass it on to me. Now, had the sample been Suri alpaca, things might be different. They rate 10-15.
Vicuna 6-10, Suri alpaca 10-15, qiviut 11-13, angora bunny 13, Huacaya royal 14-20.9, cashmere 15-19, yak down 15-19, Quanaco 16-18, merino sheep 17-23 (but i saw one reference of 12-20), Baby Huacaya 21-22.9, Strong Huacaya 27.
So, as you see, micron count varies quite a bit in alpaca breeds, but I am under the impression that bunnies are pretty consistent. I am not sure which section of Huacaya this sample was from.
As an aside, I'm not an expert on either of these breeds, so please let me know if any of this information is inaccurate or needs updating.
Bunny wool needs LOTS of twist to it! It's so dang slippery, even a slightly over-plied sample can slide right out of the twist! I highly recommend really overplying the singles, then ply with about 20% more twist than you think you need. Really. I plied this sample maybe 10% overplied and it ended up relaxing to about 20-30% less twist in the ply. I ended up adding more twist to the sample later on.
More twist and the spinning technique will affect how much the angora yarn will halo. My sample has a good 1/2" halo already! Now, I did spin both sample supported longdraw, which means that it's lighter and airier than shortdraw spun, which would be tighter and more fiber ends would be caught up in the twist. I prefer longdraw because I feel for the most part that the yarn is bouncier, lighter and has more character--but that's just one perspective.
Angora yarn ended up at 22-24 WPI (wraps per inch=see the photo of the bunny yarn wrapped around the yarn needle.), the alpaca 22 WPI. The beauty of both of these fibers is that they can be spun even thinner than this without losing softness.
Alpaca is much stronger than angora. Possibly 3-4 times more. So from a usage perspective, blending some angora with alpaca would be lovely, and I'd add in 20% merino or other soft wool to give the resulting yarn more elasticity and stretch.
One aspect of this particular alpaca sample was it had a lot of VM (vegetation matter) in it; ie., lots of pieces of hay, etc. I don't have a drum carder, so it took a lot of effort to remove as much of the VM as I could. This affected the softness factor somewhat.
I did learn through the 'paca grapevine, that breeders are now focusing on getting more elasticity in the fiber through breeding. Sometimes garments made from 100% alpaca yarn can "grow" on you. However, this can be reduced by utilizing stitch patterns that break up the vertical lines. For example, a basketweave stitch, or a ribbed stitch would pull the garment back to the original shape better.
So, the result...
Angora "wins" by a hare! However, both fibers could be worn against the skin if needed. One plus is both fibers are incredibly warm, anywhere from 2-6 times warmer than wool. (But seriously, once you get past twice as warm, I couldn't tell the difference.) Both fibers are absolutely divine! A little angora goes a long way. One would need only 10% to feel the softness of the angora, and would easily contribute more warmth. I would love a garment made from 60% alpaca, 20% angora, and 20% merino. That would be ideal for socks. For me, a sweater would only need 20% angora, 80% soft wool to make it incredibly warmer than a wool sweater, and with either fiber, a lightweight sweater made out of sockweight yarn would be far warmer than a heavy wool sweater.
As far as the sample/smackdown, these are just my observations, feelings, and reaction.
I would like to thank Lynn (@sheepmama) and Kathryn (@alpacamundo) for thinking this up, and Katy (@alpacafarmgirl) for promoting it on her blog, and organizing the giveaway contests!
Cheers to all! And a special thanks to Kocoa Moon and Nougat! You guys (gals) rock!