What Is Angora Fabric & Where Does Angora Wool Come From?

What is Angora?

It’s silky soft, it’s fluffy, your grandma knitted you your first beanie out of it when you were born and now it’s on the head of a teddy bear somewhere at your parent’s place. Recently, you found a pink angora/wool blend turtleneck jumper at your local op shop and it’s made you open your browser and google ‘what is angora wool?’

What is Angora?

Written by Gabi Goddard.

It’s silky soft, it’s fluffy, your grandma knitted you your first beanie out of it when you were born and now it’s on the head of a teddy bear somewhere at your parent’s place. Recently, you found a pink angora/wool blend turtleneck jumper at your local op shop and it’s made you open your browser and google ‘what is angora wool?’

Well, we have good news for you. If you’ve been following along with our ‘what is __’ fabric series, you’ll know that our previous articles on viscose, modal, Tencel & polar fleece have made us want to make the switch to wearing truly natural fibres more often, and with angora, we’ve made it to the first truly natural fabric of our series. Alright, we’ve left you waiting long enough…

Where does angora wool come from?

Angora, believe it or not, is made from the fur of the angora rabbit. It sounds super bougie, and it is. If you find it in an op shop, grab it. You’ll know it by the silky halo of fur that surrounds each string of yarn. 

‘Angora’ is an old word for Ankara, the capital of Turkey. Fun fact, there’s also an Angora Goat, and its wool is used to make the fabric we know today as ‘mohair’. Both the angora rabbit and the angora goat were named after Ankara, where they were first farmed. 

How is angora wool harvested?

There are two methods of angora rabbit fur removal. You can pluck the rabbit, or you can shear the rabbit.

In the composition of almost any fabric at all, longer fibres create a more silky, less scratchy finished product. This is because the fibres must be spun into yarn, and the shorter the pieces, the more tips there will be poking out of the yarn. Think of it like when you got your hair super layered in highschool, and then when you tried to braid it lots of pieces would stick out of the braid everywhere. If you’d just left it well enough alone, you’d have longer, thicker braids without pieces poking out all the way down. Your hand wouldn’t catch running up or down the braid. 

For this reason, plucking the rabbit yields a higher quality yarn. You get the longer hairs without mixing in the shorter ‘guard’ hairs. The guard hairs exist on the rabbit all the time. When the rabbit naturally moults, those guard hairs don’t. To give you another analogy (almost not an analogy at all it so closely resembles the actual process), when your cat loses a bunch of fur in summer, it doesn’t lose all  its fur. Honestly we’re not actually sure how cat fur works, but we assume that it loses its outer coat and then its inner coat is still there, and that’s good enough to explain guard hair to you, we think. 

All angora rabbits must have human help removing their coat at moulting time (they moult 3-4 times a year). Otherwise, they’ll lick their fur to remove it. It’s way too long and gets stuck in the rabbits’ stomachs, and this is often deadly for angoras, who can’t vomit up hairballs like cats. 

What are the properties of angora?

Besides being soft and silky, angora is super warm and light. This is because the hairs are hollow, which works as added insulation. Like any other house pet hair you’ve come into contact with (besides maybe a poodle), angora hairs have no stretch to them. For this reason you’re more likely to find an angora wool blend than you are a 100% angora garment. Wool is much less rigid than angora, and it helps that angora sweater pull over your head more easily. 

Another plus is rabbits are non-allergenic, so if you get itchy eyes around certain animals, angora won’t be problematic for you. 

Is angora ethical?

Largely, angora farming happens in China (90%), and based on claims by PETA, chinese angora is basically never ethical. In fact, commercial farming of angora is probably never ethical, if you’re wanting your angora to come from free-range bunnies. Angora rabbits typically need to be groomed at least weekly to stop their fur matting, but if you want your rabbits to be able to roam around outside, they need to be groomed individually, daily. It’s too time-consuming to be a money-maker. There are horror stories about angora farms keeping rabbits in isolated, dirty cages, and ripping out their wool violently, leaving the rabbits bloody. 

However, there are hobbyists who keep angora bunnies for the joy of it, and who often spin yarn themselves from their own, home-grown rabbits. They help maintain the hobby by selling the yarn or garments knitted from their own yarn. There are videos of contented rabbits on youtube, both being hand-shorn or plucked by their gentle owners. So yes, you can buy angora wool cruelty -free!

How can I find ethical angora?

We found ethical angora yarn and other angora wool products by searching on etsy, and reading the descriptions of the products. Often the sellers will mention their bunnies by name, and talk about their angoras’ lifestyle. You can also look up the little farms from the youtube videos that show happy, well loved rabbits. If you can’t find angora rabbit wool clothes that you’re excited to wear, why not buy some yarn and learn to knit something yourself, or find a pattern you love and pass it on to your gran to make you your next birthday pressie! 

Is angora sustainable?

Absolutely. It’s natural, and rabbits have a very low footprint- they’re herbivores! Plus, angora breaks down easily when your garment reaches end of life (you can just plant it in your garden). 

If we were you though, whatever angora garments we owned we’d be looking after like that teddy-bear looks after your old baby beanie. We’d want it in prime-condition to pass on to our own (or a close friend’s) baby one day, and hopefully for them to pass onto theirs. After all, that kind of luxury doesn’t grow on trees ;). 

Image by ALPACA MEADOWS (left) PETER DRURY/FAIRFAX NZ (right)

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