A Hoppy Easter Yarn!

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Ever wondered what rabbits and eggs have to do with Easter?

According to the University of Florida’s Center for Children’s Literature and Culture, the origin of the celebration — and the origin of the Easter bunny — can be traced back to 13th-century. Easter eggs and the Easter bunny both were featured in the spring festivals of Ostara.

According to history.com the egg is an ancient symbol of new life. From a Christian perspective, Easter eggs are said to represent Jesus’ emergence from the tomb and resurrection. Eggs are symbols of fertility, and the newborn chicks an adorable representation of new growth. Brightly coloured eggs, chicks, and bunnies were all used at festival time to express appreciation for the gift of abundance.

I love the symbolism and the link between both the egg and the rabbit for Easter. From a yarn enthusiast’s perspective I have always wanted to crochet or knit something made from bunny hair or ‘angora’ as it’s called. I had the privilege of chatting to Yolande from Angora Creations in KwaZulu Natal.

Did you know that angora yarn is from a bunny and mohair yarn from an angora goat?

Yolande kindly answered some questions I’ve always had about angora wool…

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What makes angora wool special?

 Angora is 7 times warmer than sheep wool, it has an incredibly fine micron (lambswool has a micron – think thickness – of 16, angora has a micron of 10), so it spins very fine, tips lift above the garment to give it the characteristic halo, and it comes in a gorgeous range of complimentary natural colours.  The wool is soft and light, and is believed to have properties that relieve arthritis.  Garments made from rabbit wool NEVER scratch, no matter how hot or muggy the environment, and the wool also has an insulating quality, so one seldom perspires when clad in angora.

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How does one care for the angora rabbits?

 The angora rabbit is a mutation of the normal coated rabbit which appeared in England in the 1700’s. There is no wild angora rabbit, and in fact it cannot survive without proper care.  Angora rabbits should be housed individually, in wire cages, in order to keep clean.  Rabbits have thick mats of hair on the bottom of their feet, instead of the more common fleshy pads of other animals, and if these get wet or dirty the rabbit can get sores and ulcers on the bottom of its feet, so the wire cage is preferable to a wooden or concrete base.

They eat normal rabbit pellets, as well as any treats such as apples, carrots, sweet potato etc.  Care must be taken with these sweets though, just as with any other animal, too much is not good for their teeth.  Fresh grass must also be given daily, or hay so that the rabbit has enough roughage in its diet.

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Do you have to groom the rabbits on a regular basis?

 Angora rabbits need a patient approach before their wool can be harvested. But the end-product is sought after by discerning consumers worldwide. Rabbits should not be groomed after wool harvest, as there is a condition called wool block which can be caused by handling.  The rabbit cannot regurgitate like a cat or dog, so any wool in the system has to go straight through.  If this wool becomes excessive it will start forming a ball in the stomach, and the rabbit will slowly starve to death.  Any handling or grooming of any rabbit causes it to clean itself. It is an incredibly clean animal and cannot bear sweat, strange perfumes etc on its coat. With a longhair, the amount of hair swallowed can become dangerous.

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Can you explain the process of harvesting angora wool and how much yarn does one rabbit produce in a year?

All of us breeders in South Africa keep show rabbits, ie, basically pet rabbits, so we tend to keep the English Type angora, which has three to four natural moults in the year.  We mostly spin moulted, not cut fibre.  They produce about 90 to 120 grams of wool every 4  months, so that is, say 380g per year, which can then be spun into yarn.  The spinning takes about 90 hours per kg of finished fine wool, which is then still mothproofed and dried before using.

As with longhair dogs, when they start moulting the hair simply all comes loose and starts falling out (or as we call it, slipping) like crazy.  This can be brushed out, although I do not prefer this method, as I worry about hurting their skin with repeated brushing.  I prefer simply putting the rabbit on my lap or a table, and taking all the loose hair between the fingers and removing it.  There are few things as funny as watching an angora who is having all the itchy wool removed, as it stretches out on a table having a hair job. They simply love it.

The only care one must take, is not to pull on the undercoat of new growth, as this would of course hurt them. You have about a 4cm buffer before you reach the top of the new coat. They sort of go from filling a cage to filling half a cage in 20 minutes.  I have sat at shows, with a rabbit on the table next to me, literally spinning the wool off her back.  They nibble away at a treat, and enjoy the attention.

Cutting an English angora can have far reaching effects, as one cuts the tips of the new wool off, while leaving the roots of the old wool behind.  This forms a sort of webbing of matted wool in the coat, which can be very irritating to the rabbit, and which it grooms off and eats during its normal activities.  The tips are also the guard or thick hairs, which are supposed to give the coat structure, and prevent it from becoming matted and unhealthy.

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Angora yarn is a luxury and as a result expensive, what is your view on this?

Angora yarn would not be affordable to the general public, and fellow artists, if it was priced as a business.  This is why I say that the first rule is that one keeps angoras for love of the rabbits.  It is not a business in the true sense of the word, even though I employ three to four people to help me at any given time.  The rabbits are individually cared for. If one cages them together they tend to eat each others hair during dominance play, with the wool block spectre rearing it’s head as a result.  This is very expensive in terms of caging, feeding, watering etc. I have full time help to care for my menagerie.

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I have also taught a few local ladies to spin for me.  The rest of the processing must fit in where it can.  Most of my staff end up learning some form of craft or another, be it spinning, weaving, crochet, knitting – whatever they show an interest in.  You may ask, what has this to do with price, well I will just say I sell my angora goods below cost, so long as I cover the food bill, that is the main thing I am trying to do.  Wool unspun sells at around R1000 per kg, spun wool at R2500 per kg and garments start at R450 for a woven shawl. The pricing depends on the work gone into larger items.

Of course I also buy in merino (I love our SA merino), alpaca, occasional bamboo and silk to spin as well.  So this sells at R1600 per kg hand spun, and woven throws and ponchos are from R800 to R1500.

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Where can we purchase your products from?

I mostly sell via my webpage www.angorarabbits.co.za, although I do participate in a few local shows as well.  When you farm with cows, you find it very difficult to up and walk off, because milking cows is simply a 24/7 job.  But who knows, I see Hobbytex is in Durban this year, so just maybe I can man a stall…

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If you have croched or knitted something using Angora Yarn please post it on our Facebook page!

Angora Yarn Blessings to you all over this Easter period!

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