An angora rabbit for sustainable textiles

Angora rabbit for yarn

Jul 27, 2010 by Asphyxia

Angora rabbit for yarn

Now that I’ve proved my mettle by knitting an entire pair of leggings, I reckon I’m allowed to make my secret dream come true. My dream started years and years ago, as I conceived of this idea that I’d like to spend a year growing fibres (like cotton, hemp etc), spinning and weaving them into fabric, and sewing them into garments, and then spend another year wearing ONLY clothing I’ve completely produced myself, from scratch. Why does this appeal? I can’t quite say, but it does. I’ve never done it though – I’ve been too busy doing other things with my years. However, I’ve become more and more interested in the idea of keeping rabbits, which can be both for yarn and, err, dinner. Paula and Jesse are both totally against the dinner idea, so that’s on hold for the moment. I’m going to start just with a very fluffy angora rabbit that will give me fur to spin into yarn. The nice thing about this is that you don’t have to hurt, or kill, the rabbit to get the fur – you can give the bunny’s coat a trim, leaving enough to keep her quite warm, or else you can “pluck” it when she moults anyway – no pain for the rabbit. One rabbit can give enough fur, so I’m told, for several balls of wool in a single year, maybe even enough for a jumper. Frankly that sounds like about as much as I could possibly spin and knit in a year anyway, but we’ll see.

I’ve wanted to do this for a long time but a few things have been holding me back. One of them is how often we go away, though I’ve now got a friend who is happy to be mama to my rabbit while we’re on tour. The next is how utterly exhausted and busy I get when my work is full on, and I already find my garden a bit much to maintain when I’m unbearably busy. I’ve extended my garden this winter so I’ll have even more to manage next summer, and now I’ll have the rabbit too. The rabbit will need me to sit down and groom it for an hour, every week, as well as daily feeding, cage cleaning and bunny love. The final thing holding me back is decisions – which kind of Angora rabbit should I get? Satin Angora have potential to be good for meat as well as fur (see, I’m thinking down the track), but I couldn’t find anyone selling them in Australia. German and Giant Angoras are huge, and have heaps of fur, but you can’t pluck it, you HAVE to shear it – does that matter to me? And I couldn’t find a seller for either of these, though I think they do exist in Australia. English Angoras seem the most readily available, but mixed reports seem to show they are more maintenance (or less, depending on who you listen to). Add to that is the colour. Now I don’t really wear white knitted stuff. If I knitted white stuff I’d have to dye it, probably black, which means investigating a sustainable dye, and another environmental impact. By getting a rabbit of a colour I would wear, I could bypass the dyeing of the yarn.

I used my week at the beach to do a heap of research, and settled on a black smoke (that’s grey, for the uninitiated) English Angora, and I’ve even put a down payment on her. I can’t pick her up for several weeks yet, as she’s too young to be separated from her mama. But you can see her in the very blurry photo her owner sent me. I’ll snap a better one when she moves in.

Click here to see someone else who keeps Angora rabbits and knits up gorgeous things from their yarn. Such a source of inspiration! I’m going to start with socks, since mine are worn through at the holes, but as you can imagine, I’ll be waiting a while before they’re ready. First the fur has to grow!

Gosh, am I up for this? I may regret it, next summer, when I’m drowning under garden maintenance and surviving a full on touring schedule. But I’ve gotta try it.

 

 

Spinning Angora Rabbit Yarn

Sep 22, 2010 by Asphyxia

I’m so excited – after dreaming of producing my own yarn from scratch for years, it’s finally happening!

Here’s my angora rabbit. She’s still a baby and I haven’t clipped any of her fur yet, but apparently once she’s grown up, as of Nov, I’ll be able to trim her fur 3-4 times a year, leaving her a centimetre of fur for warmth. Then I can spin her fur. Pardon the dodgy photo – she’s very hard to photograph since in almost every pic she basically looks like a grey fluffball. Here you can actually make out some semblance of ears and a face – but that’s rather rare in my brief career as a rabbit-photographer. She loves hopping around the house and finding things like baskets and boxes to climb into.

Spinning Angora Rabbit Yarn 1

Although I can’t start spinning her fur for a few more months, I have been very keen to learn to spin, so that when she’s grown, I am ready to go. Lucky for me, the lovely Joy from the Handweavers and Spinner’s Guild was prepared to show me the secrets. She lent me her spindle and helped me to buy some second hand carders, and got me going. I can’t believe how beside myself with excitement I am. I haven’t had much time this week as I’m heading off on tour shortly, but whenever I can squeeze a few minutes I’ve been practising my spinning.

Spinning Angora Rabbit Yarn 2

In this photo, on the left you can see rabbit fur. This is from a bag of white fluff given to me by the people I bought my Angora rabbit from. They weren’t using it, so I’ve got something to practise with. The fluff in the bag is fairly lumpy, so I use the carders – the wooden paddles on the right – to comb the fibres and unknot them. Then I wind them into a kind of tube, which you can see on the left. When I pull on this, the fibres come out nice and straight – easy for spinning. I wind them onto the spindle and there’s my first thread.

If I knitted with that thread though, because it’s all twisted, my knitting would come out twisted, so I need to make two separate threads, and then ply them together. The ball of wool next to the carders – that’s my very first ever ball of wool – two ply. It’s lovely, exquisitely soft and has a lot of, err, “character”. Ie, as you can see it’s lumpy as hell. I don’t mind the lumps, but I’m a bit disappointed that the yarn turned out so thick. It’s definitely too thick for knitting a singlet or a pair of socks, which are the two things I’m burning to make with my angora fur.

Spinning Angora Rabbit Yarn 3

I spent the next couple of days thinking about it, and reckoned I had some ideas for how to make my thread finer. As you can see in the photo above, the thread on my spindle is WAY finer than my first attempt. I’m pretty excited about this. Hopefully two threads of this very fine yarn is going to be thin enough for my socks or singlet. It’s still got heaps of lumps but they are kind of small lumps.

I truly can’t wait to try knitting with this!

 

 

Handspun Angora Rabbit Yarn

Oct 22, 2010 by Asphyxia

Handspun Angora Rabbit Yarn

Here’s some progress on my spinning. I’ve spun two balls of angora thread as fine as I possibly could, and now am in the middle of plying them together with the spindle. I’m not sure how fine this will translate when I’m knitting, but hopefully fine enough. This thread is very uneven though – the bit in the photo looks quite good, but wound on that spindle are all sorts of fat lumpy sections.

I’ve been looking up on the net how to knit lacey stitches, and have decided to start with a test square of rabbit tracks pattern. If it goes well, I’ll try making up a pattern based on that for a singlet. I know this is pretty ambitious for a rather inexperienced knitter like myself, but I reckon I’ve nothing to lose by giving it a go. If it doesn’t work I’ll unravel and make something else.

Everyone tells me Angora is far too warm to use it by itself. It should be mixed with something less warm, like wool. But I have yet to meet a garment that is too warm for me, and with our efforts to keep the heater off in winter, and the amount of time I spend outside in the garden on freezing cold days, I am DYING to meet the garment that is too warm. Bring on the Angora socks, the Angora singlet under my top!

 

 

Angora Rabbit Tracks Spinning and Knitting

Oct 25, 2010 by Asphyxia

Angora Rabbit Tracks Spinning and Knitting

Finally – I have spun enough yarn, and plied enough together, to try knitting something. Here’s my sample, using “rabbit tracks” lace pattern. I’ve never done any lace knitting before so am very proud of myself for figuring out how to do this. I tried the bottom half of my sample with the recommended needle size – 5.5mm, and then went up to 7.5mm for the top half of the sample. I’m liking the openness of the top half, though I’m biased towards that because bigger needles mean it will knit up faster and I’ll use up less wool!

I’ve already unravelled this sample and started knitting what will become a thermal singlet to wear under my clothes in winter. Wish me luck!

 

 

Handspun Angora Scarf

Nov 15, 2010 by Asphyxia

I was absolutely dying to post progress on my angora singlet, when I had what to me felt like a tragedy. I was on the train, with my bike, and a very overloaded bike basket, and as I bumped my bike off the train, my spinning/knitting bag fell out of my bike basket. It had no phone number – no way for anyone finding it to contact me. But it felt like it had a piece of my soul in it. To be more specific, it had all the yarn I’ve spun since I first started. It had half a beautiful rabbit tracks singlet I’d knitted, and some spare yarn to keep on knitting. It had the spindle Joy lent me, which I’d become remarkably bonded with.

I rang lost property a few times, but no avail. All that love and learning is gone.

So, ok, time for a positive attitude. To quell my heartbreak, I told myself there was a flip side: I now had enough of my own rabbit’s fur that came off naturally each time I brushed her. Joy lent me two spindles, so I put the other one into action. I spun my rabbit’s fur into a very pretty yarn, and knitted it into a scarf. I worked like a maniac and did it in a single weekend.

Handspun Angora Scarf 1

And oh, I can’t tell you what that scarf feels like. The picture just doesn’t do it justice. It is the softest, velvetiest thing I have ever touched. When I wear it, instead of feeling bulky around my neck, it’s like it isn’t even there – and yet magically, I’m gorgeously warm.

The scarf is knitted using the Rabbit Tracks lace pattern on 8mm needles.

Handspun Angora Scarf 2

So, now that the scarf is done, time to start that singlet again…

 

 

Hanspun Angora Singlet

Nov 21, 2010 by Asphyxia

Hanspun Angora Singlet

I reckon I’ve knitted as much of this singlet as I was up to with my previous draft of the singlet – the one I lost on the train. I’m posting a photo here and now, before anything nasty happens to it! Fingers crossed I can finish this off, turn it into gorgeous thermal underwear, and discover for myself that angora yarn really is seven times warmer than wool (and a gazillion times softer).

I’m really loving the rabbit tracks pattern.

 

Hanspun Angora Singlet 2

 

 

Shearing my Angora Rabbit

Nov 24, 2010 by Asphyxia

My rabbit is four months old and her fur was 3 inches long – just the right length to trim it off and spin it. I decided I’d better do it before going on tour, so that brushing her wouldn’t be too much of an ordeal for our housesitter. She doesn’t like being brushed – has been known to bite me as I brush. Yikes.

Here she is just before the trim:

Shearing my Angora Rabbit

(And no, I didn’t wash her – it was just a convenient place to put her – in our outdoor washroom sink! It looks like she’s settling in for a good old fashioned shampoo and blow-dry.)

Here’s me, half way through cutting her fur:

Shearing my Angora Rabbit 2

Now you might think, from that photo, that she sat there like an angel, teeth tucked away delicately, while I worked my way across her fur. Alas – it was not to be. This photo was probably snapped at the only moment I was able to work alone. The rest of the time she struggled, kicked, bit, flipped somersaults, and generally did everything in her power to get rid of me and my vile scissors.

Paula held her down while I worked, and we had to do it in several sessions over two days, since the poor bunny was so traumatised – hell I think I was almost as traumatised as the bunny by the end.

Shearing my Angora Rabbit 3

Finally, at LONG last, the job was done, and as a reward, we let bunny have a big hop around in my food forest. Normally she’s not allowed outside as all that straw and dirt gets very badly caught in her fur, but this time her fur was too short to worry. She looks strange, doesn’t she? I don’t recognise her at all.

I feel a sinking feeling in my stomach, looking at her all shorn like that. It was so awful, and I felt so cruel. What to do? The rabbit people assure me she’ll settle down – just needs good training. I asked a vet for a sedative to help with the regular brushing, and the vet also suggested training. I’m doing everything by the book.. but it’s not going too well.

I’m not sure how much of a future my rabbit and I are going to have. And yet, I have taken on responsibility for the life of a small creature. It’s not a small thing to do, and I genuinely want the best for her. Angora rabbits get sick if they aren’t groomed. It’s got to happen. If she went back to live with the rabbit people she’d be in a very small cage 24/7, not hopping around the house for hours on end, no diet of lush green vegies. But is this a good enough life, the one I can give her? I’m running out of friends who’ll look after her when I go away, she’s such a handful. What to do….?

 

 

Handspun Angora Singlet

Nov 30, 2010 by Asphyxia

Handspun Angora Singlet 1

Well – I did it! Finished my angora singlet. I’m mighty proud of this piece. It represents the first of my attempts to create a fully sustainable practical garment. The fur came from the Rabbit People, from whom I bought my rabbit. They gave it to me when I told them I was planning to spin the fur of my bunny – something to practise on while I waited for my bunny’s fur to grow. I’m not really into wearing white, but I thought this could work as thermal underwear.

I’m stunned, absolutely stunned, at how beautifully the neckline and shoulderline turned out. The front is just as lovely, but I’m not showing you a photo of that because this singlet is totally see-through! I made up this pattern myself, since I couldn’t find a singlet pattern light and airy enough, knitted on big enough needles, to suit my purposes. It’s my very first knitting pattern, and I was ready for all sorts of failures.

The cast on did fail though – it was too tight. Luckily the same day I finished knitting the singlet, I was going to my aunt’s place for dinner. She’s a whiz-bang knitter, and knew just the trick for unpicking my cast-on and knitting down from there. When I cast off, it turned out to have a pretty scalloped edge, thanks to the rabbit tracks lace pattern I used in the body of the garment.

I finished this just in time for a cold snap, and got to test it out. Yes, it’s toasty warm under my clothes, and silky smooth against my skin. Mmmmm…

My arms got cold though. So now, onto the next part of this project… to knit some sleeves. Yes, ultimately I want this to be a spencer, not a singlet, but the idea of embarking on a spencer from scratch was just too much for me, so I decided to pretend to myself it was a singlet first! There’s been about four weeks of work in this – spinning the yarn took three, and the knitting was whipped up in just one week, thanks to the lovely big needles I used.

Handspun Angora Singlet

 

 

Bunny Love

Jan 4, 2011 by Asphyxia

Bunny Love 1

Since we came home from our tour, things have been much better with our bunny. I was having doubts, while I was away, that this whole thing was going to work. She must have felt it, because when we came back she set about showing me that she adores me. Perhaps it’s because our housesitter was allergic to her, and she couldn’t come in the house the whole time we were away. This was an unplanned last minute disaster – as I showed my housesitter how to brush her, and she started sneezing badly. I had a plane to catch and no time to make other arrangements for her. So I left her, locked in her cage for two weeks. Ouch – I felt so bad for her. But if she lived with the rabbit people, that’d be her life. As it happened, my housesitter’s boyfriend did let her out for a brief hop each morning, so it wasn’t as bad as I feared.

Still, when we got home, she showed her appreciation for me big time. When I bring her into the house, she hops around happily, frisking and twisting in the air, and she follows me everywhere. When I work at my computer she sits at my feet. When I sit on the floor she hops over to me, and when I stroke her, she snuggles up to my leg and stares at me adoringly.

I read an ebook about rabbit business, and while the book was exceptionally badly written and overall quite disappointing, it did have a few tips that have helped me, and I’ve made a few changes to what I’ve been doing, with good results.

The book points out that in the wild, rabbits are at the bottom of the food chain, the hunted, not the hunters. They have evolved to survive by escaping any form of entrapment, fearing and bolting from other creatures. No wonder she doesn’t like to be held. These days rather than picking her up, I wait till she hops over to me, and then brush her while she’s sitting on the floor. She feels free, and guess what, she loves it! She so enjoys being petted and cuddled by me, that I’ve been gradually training her to hop up onto my knee to receive this goodness. Bit by bit, she’s becoming more comfortable on my lap. I sitll have to pick her up each day to brush her tummy, but it’s for a much shorter time, and when she’s all blissed out from cuddle-love she seems to tolerate it ok.

Another thing I learnt from the book is that socially, rabbits have dominant bunnies and subordinate bunnies. The dominant bunnies boss others around and get them to do certain things by nipping them. I have been totally perplexed that I’ll be petting and loving up my rabbit, who is obviously enjoying it, and then when I pause she nips me on the arm. Huh? But now this is explained – she’s telling me in her bossy way to continue. The answer, says the book, is to show her I’m the dominant one, not her, by gently pushing her head down towards the floor each time she nips me. She does still occasionally nip me but she does it far less than before, and generally these days it’s only when I’ve put her on my lap.

Jesse snapped this pic of the bunny sitting happily on my knee for a cuddle. The training is going well so far!

Bunny Love 2

 

 

Headwarmer

Jan 21, 2011 by Asphyxia

Headwarmer 1

I just finished knitting this “head warmer” – my substitute for a hat. A spun this yarn from angora rabbit fur. Not fur from MY rabbit, since I started this before I trimmed her fur last Nov. This fur is from her daddy, given to me by the rabbit people. I don’t know what the rabbit’s name is, but we’ve been calling him “Fluffy King” – since my bunny was named Fluffy Queen by my son! Anyway, so this is my Fluffy King head warmer, hand spun and hand knitted.

With my dreadlocks, I have a problem that when I wear a hat, it jams my dreadlocks against my neck, where they scratch, and prevent me from turning my head properly. I hate wearing hats because of this, but my head gets so cold! This is my solution. I made up the pattern myself and I’m very pleased with how it tucks away under my dreadlocks, but sits right over my forehead and ears and warms a goodly portion of my head. I particularly like the band around the face, which rolls up.

I can’t believe how smooth the knitting looks. Fluffy King was full of knots, and so the yarn was lumpy as anything. But somehow it’s all evened out and looks like regular yarn. Wow.

This should be really warm, since Angora is 7 times warmer than wool. I reckon I’ll live in it next winter! Best thing is it fits snugly under my bike helmet so I’ll have warmth while I’m riding, too!

Headwarmer 2

Headwarmer 3

 

 

Bunny

Mar 6, 2011 by Asphyxia

Bunny 1

My angora rabbit looks so gorgeous here I just HAD to post this pic…

Right after this photo was taken I trimmed her fur again and I’ve already started spinning it. I’m planning to knit it into a skirt/belly warmer for winter!

 

 

Bunny Girl

May 11, 2012 by Asphyxia

Bunny Girl 1

I made this using real fur from my angora rabbit.  Yes, I really spun it on the miniature spindle, knitted it with a pair of tiny skewers for knitting needles, and glued actual fur onto the rabbit.  It’s a bit hard to see all the texture and detail from this photo, but it’s very 3D… It’s actually so fat I had to take it out of my journal.  I think I’ll glue it to a piece of wood and hang it on the wall.