Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Spinning wheels

Have rabbit wool on them now too!

Express Staff Writer

“It sure pays if you are a spinner. And once you’re established and creating really good wool, it more than pays for itself.” Keren Brown, owner, Puffy Mundaes craft emporium in Nampa.

It may sound like splitting hairs, but when you start talking to people who are passionate about their threads, you find out quickly that there are the right terms and the way off.

Sheep, we know, make wool. But one might assume that the hair of an Angora rabbit is hair. It is also wool. The furry stuff of an Angora goat is neither angora nor hair but mohair.

These things matter when you want to create a wearable warm thing, whether it be baby bunting or underpants.

Arctic explorers are said to have worn woven wool boxer shorts made of angora to stay warm, and while that certainly will do the trick, they probably had droopy drawers pretty quickly as angora wool is very drapey. And while it's tempting to want your baby to be as warm as humanly possible, too much of a good thing like angora wool can be suffocating.

"Angora wool is seven times warmer than sheep," said Keren Brown, owner of Puffy Mondaes, a craft emporium in Nampa, who will be here this weekend to give a class on working with Angora rabbit fibers as part of the Second Annual Fiber Festival in conjunction with the Trailing of the Sheep Festival.

"You can make something with inch-long holes through it and you will still be warm. It's good for baby shoes but you don't want to make a wrap out of it. It's too warm and it has very fine fibers that aren't good for little respiratory systems, but it's incredibly low allergen and there's nothing itchy about it."

Many weavers these days are adding angora to larger wool items to up the warmth quotient and capture some of the halo effect created by the fine fibers.

Those deep into the fiber arts are getting Angora rabbits of their own because they are cheap to care for and require little maintenance other than relief by shearing when it gets too hot. Some, like the German Angora, require shearing every 90 days, providing more wool than an alpaca, a member of the llama-family, does in one year.

"It sure pays if you are a spinner," Brown said. "And once you're established and creating really good wool, it more than pays for itself."

Kids who've spent any time at Bellevue's Mountain School have seen the process in action and made items from the school's rabbits.

It's even called the wool industry's pride and joy. Angora rabbits are naturally calm and docile and have been used in fiber harvest for hundreds of years. They are thought to have originated in Turkey, where the Angora goat and the luxurious Persian cat hail from, and breeds of Angora rabbits include English, French, giant, German and satin.

The North American angora market started in the U.S. in 1920 and is still considered a "cottage market," but with the advent of so much hobby farming and interest in sustainability, more and more Angora rabbit farmers are pushing the demand for the animals. The trend in training on how to use them is hot as an unsheared bunny in July.

Brown's is just one of the offerings led by likewise cream-of-the-crop teachers headed for the second annual Fiber Fest.

"Learning about the world of fiber and having seen the Fiber Fest expand like it has is so much fun," said sheep festival Executive Director Mary Austin Crofts. "Creating beautiful clothing and blankets from natural fibers is good for the earth and the people inspire me."

And they are looking to attract even more generations to the art with special events like free kids arts and crafts as well as special classes. No pre-registration is required and fees are only $5 for 5 and older.

These events are held Saturday, Oct. 8, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. in Roberta McKercher Park during the Sheep Folklife Fair.

For "Star Weaving with Heidi Mikitish," budding fiber enthusiasts start with primitive star weaving, making "God's eyes" at 11 a.m.

Kids will enjoy "Weaving the Rainbow with Holly Holbrook," who will read the children's book by the same name and go on an adventure to nature to find materials to make their own branch loom at noon.

"Burlap Gone Wild with Debbie Dehoney" will show kids what happens when you mix art, history and science at 1 p.m.

"Explore Simple Spinning with Joan Holloway" will show how to spin by prehistoric methods at 2 p.m.

"Painting without a Brush with Priscilla Sisson" means "painting" a picture with yarn at 3 p.m.

All adult classes require pre-enrollment by contacting The College of Southern Idaho or by calling Becky Ross at 788-2033. For a fully detailed list, visit

Jennifer Liebrum:

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