A skein of Mohair Magic
Mohair Magic once knitted up
click each image to enlarge

Yarn Profile: Mohair Magic

First Impressions
A little while ago I read a captivating article in Wild Fibers magazine. It told the history of angora goats in northern Tajikistan—how the Soviets first imported them in the 1930s from Texas, hoping to establish a textiles industry to supply Soviet soldiers with heavy coats. The article also discussed the fall of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent collapse of the mohair industry in northern Tajikistan. And it detailed current efforts to import more angora goats from Texas to improve the quality of the local flocks.

Throughout, images showed healthy goats and lovely smiling women spinning mohair into yarn as part of an international development project. I wanted to reach into the pictures and touch the fibers for myself.

Lucky for us, the yarns they were spinning are now available in North America. This week I finally got my hands on a skein.

Knitting Up
Mohair Magic comes in two colors, both of which are natural shades of brown. If you've been to fiber festivals you've probably seen angora goats with bright white curly coats of fiber. White is the most prized color for mohair because it can be dyed a wider variety of colors. But colored angora goats do exist, and Tajikistan has the largest flock of them.

Mohair Magic is a lace-weight yarn composed of two plies that have been twisted at a medium angle. The consistency in thickness and twist is impressive—it's steady enough to produce even results while still conveying the nuanced surface texture of a handspun yarn.

Yardage on these skeins is quite generous. The minimum is 392 yards, but some go up to 632 yards—making this a great option, quite literally, for one-skein projects. My skein had no knots in it.

When I began winding my skein into a ball, the end kept getting wrapped in other strands of the skein and needed to be pulled through. If this happens to you, don't despair. Put that end aside and start winding from the other end. As soon as I did so, everything went smoothly.

Mohair is known as the poor-man's silk for its high luster and drape. In knitting terms, this fiber translates into a low-bounce yarn that requires a little tension adjustment with your hands. After several rows my hands had figured it out and knitting was smooth and easy.

The Wild Fibers article had mentioned the presence of kemp—longer, slightly scratchier, dark fibers—among the fine kid mohair fibers. For that reason they're reintroducing Texas angora goats into the equation, since they don't grow as much kemp in their fleeces. While they wait for the generations to work their genetic magic, they're combing the fibers by hand to remove the kemp—but a few bits got in. Also present were tiny white flecks. I didn't bother to pluck them out, but when I sat back and studied my swatch it rather looked like I'd been eating popcorn over my knitting.

Blocking / Washing
My swatch relaxed quickly in its warm soapy bath. I expected to see a faint cloud of brown in the water, a little poof of color from that Tajik soil, but I saw nothing. The fibers have already been well-washed prior to spinning.

I'd hoped the little white flecks would fall out in the wash, but they did not.

A note of caution: If you're knitting lace with this yarn (which I highly recommend you do) and you hope to do any significant blocking of your fabric, be sure to bind off your stitches extra loose. The yarn's lack of elasticity means that you won't be able to stretch a tight bind-off very far.

Wearing
Most people's impression of mohair is based on brushed yarns such as Kidsilk Haze. Brushing is a popular way to add loft and bounce to a fiber that normally wants to be fairly dense and fluid.

The few commercially spun mohair yarns I've tried have lacked sufficient twist to hold the fibers in the yarn. They have tended to shed pretty badly.

Here's where the handspun nature of this yarn works to its advantage: These fibers have been given enough twist. My swatch still shed a little but not nearly as much as others. With the abrasion and slight shedding came a gradual softening and blooming of the fabric's surface.

In terms of durability, most people will use this yarn for lace, where general durability won't really be a concern. On its own, the yarn doesn't have nearly enough elasticity for socks—although I can imagine a pretty cool pair of wool socks with this yarn stranded along in the footbed. You'd have to work out the gauge issues, but the payoff would be a luxuriously plush foot.

In terms of touch, this yarn contains "kid" mohair, which is a finer grade of fiber than standard adult mohair. Kemp notwithstanding, my fabric was quite soft and relatively prickle free. I tucked my swatch under my shirt and completely forgot it was there (leading to a relatively embarrassing incident with the letter carrier).

Conclusion
Call me jaded, but I'm always a little skeptical of organizations that claim to help the impoverished. Who's in charge? And how much of my money actually reaches the people who need it? Here's the fine print for Mohair Magic.

The yarn label reads "Adventure Yarns," which is the business component of the international development project that's coordinating the Tajik farmers, spinners, and knitters. This organization is also working with women's groups in Kyrgyzstan. For every skein sold, the spinner receives approximately 22% of the retail price.

In the United States, the yarn is distributed by a relatively new company called Cloth Roads. You'll want to remember that name, because the company was founded by several of the early Interweave Press executives. They know fiber and textiles, they've traveled extensively, and they've got big plans.

I like that this yarn tells a story, and that it lets us travel to a faraway place on our needles. In a yarn world that is increasingly homogenized, it's harder and harder to find the truly special.

No, it doesn't have the refinement of, say, one of the qiviut yarns from Windy Valley Muskox. It's handspun, which definitely adds a personal dimension to the knitting experience. And no, the yarn doesn't have many colors or any pattern support.

But even with the kemp and those occasional little white flecks, $30-$46 for 392-692 yards of handspun is a steal. (Anyone who's ever spun 600 yards of two-ply lace-weight yarn will back me up on this.) It's simply a good product with a great story.

 
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