Spinning and Weaving
Because of its silky nature and the absense of hooklets on each fibre (as found on wool fibres), mohair slides very easily and is not an easy fibre for beginners to spin. However, once you are used to handling it, you will fall in love with the feel of it.
As a spun yarn it has a beautiful lustre that will accept synthetic dyes and produce brilliant lasting colours. Blending mohair and wool together makes spinning easier though some of the mohair’s lustre will be lost. Coloured mohair is in demand from hand spinners.
For centuries, doll makers have used mohair to create flowing ringlets for their dolls’ hair. With its soft handle, beautiful lustre, natural curl, and ability to accept both natural and synthetic dyes, mohair is the traditional fibre for making luxury wefts. Large dolls require wefts made from mohair up the 30cm (12 inches) in length. To produce a hair growth length of around 30cm necessitates the goats to be shedded. The animals must be housed indoors on a mesh floor and only allowed out to graze on short grass in good weather.
Wefted mohair is made by sewing pieces of shorn fleece along a length of tape or special soluble adhesive strip. Staples of fibre are hand-picked for length and quality-consistency and machined to the strip or binding. Once the hair is secured, the weft can be washed gently and dyed using human hair dyes or synthetics. Approximately 1m to 1.5m is required to fit a large doll. This is sewn in circles onto a mesh on the doll’s head (see more below in ‘breeder’s story’).
Wigs vary in length from a little over a centimetre on a small boy doll’s head up to 30cm on the large fashion dolls. Not all dolls have long or curly hair. Sometimes doll makers straighten the hair or cut it short for fringes. Soft fly-away fine diameter kid mohair is popular for fairy dolls.
Whatever the choice, be it white or black, long or short, colour-dyed or natural, a mohair wig will provide a doll of any size with its crowning glory – a beautiful head of lustrous curls.
A breeder’s story
For several years, one stud breeder handcrafted lengths of wefted mohair and sold these to doll-makers at home and overseas
The producer had been involved with mohair for 25 years. During this time she had classed most of the stud’s mohair clip and selected the best fleeces for competitions. Because the stud showed a lot of animals, there were plenty to choose from.
Goats are selected for those carrying free flowing blocky staples. Dry and fine mohair is more likely to develop crossed fibres as the hair grows. “Some style (the twisted ringlet) and character (the crimp or waviness of each lock) are important but if it has too much of either, it is not suitable for wig wefts.”
Dolls’ wigs vary in length from half and inch on the small boy dolls to 12 inches (30 centimetres) on the large traditional French style dolls. But to produce a 12 inch fleece takes 12 months growth of mohair on the goat’s back.
To achieve this, the animals considered suitable are selected when they are carrying a 6-month fleece. From them on, the Angoras are kept in the farm shed for a further six months, housed on a raised mesh floor and only allowed out to graze on short grass in good weather.
This is necessary to avoid vegetable matter contaminating the fleece. During the second six months the goats are given a wash or dip. Despite being shedded the breeder was surprised how dirty the fleece became.
When preparing the wefts, the producer works with the shorn-end of the mohair. She hand picks each staple and machines it into a long weft over a meter in length.
The wefts are then washed and dyed. Human hair dyes are mainly used but synthetic dyes have also been used to produce vibrant colours. Doll-makers require a weft of up to 1.5 meters to make a wig for a large doll. This is sewn in circles onto a mesh on the doll’s head.
But not all dolls are created with long or curled hair. Sometimes doll-makers straighten the hair or cut it short for fringes. Craftspeople want short hair for baby dolls. Kid fleece is popular for fairy dolls as it offers ultra-soft fly-away hair with a nice lustre. Some doll-makers want hair on tanned skin in order to cut a round pate which can be glued to a porcelain head.
The skin of unwanted new-born soot-black kids with tight curly astrakhan-like curls is in great demand for boys’ wigs.
Long white mohair is in demand in December for Father Christmas’ beards. The various demands of wig-makers are constant.
Goat skins - Tanned skins from Angora goats
No farmer wants to retain a lot of young bucks therefore the male kids are usually killed for the table or sold for meat. Capretto, or kid goat, is a healthy and popular gastronomic commodity.
Tanned skins from young or old animals have their uses.
Coloured goat skins in their natural shades are ideal for making natural grey or brown teddy bears. And for anyone prepared to experiment with synthetic dyes on natural grey fleeces, the resulting colours are amazingly rich and warm.
Over the years I have tanned many hides and made numerous bears and soft toys.
Part of this article was first published in The Goat Farmer magazine in NZ.
Several years ago the author was inspired to write a short story about a beautiful French Bru doll.
This was later expanded to a full length adult novel (Through Glass Eyes available from Amazon.com).