When we think of “luxury” fibres, we tend to think of animal fibres that are not as readily available as wool or cotton. These fibres come from animals that are not farmed as widely as sheep and are sometime not farmed at all. It is their rarity and high price that makes them a luxury, but they also have a luxurious feel to them; all of these fibres are very fine and soft, and the yarns and cloth we make from them retain those characteristics.
Though they come from different animals and places all around the globe, the one factor that all of these fibres have in common, aside from their softness, is warmth. Wool is warming and insulating, but every one of these luxury fibres is warmer. While the warmth of a particular yarn or garment is influenced by several factors besides the fibre itself, pound for pound, alpaca fibre, for example, can be three times as warming as wool. Cashmere (from cashmere goats) and qiviut (from muskox) lay claim to being even more warming: Cashmere is seven times as warm to wear as wool and qiviut is eight times as warm.
The animals that produce these fibres all originated in cold climates where they have developed dense, fine hair coats to protect them from extremes of temperature. That dense coat may be a single fleece, like that of the alpaca, or a fine undercoat growing under a heavier coat of waterproof hair, in the case of the muskox. That soft, short, downy layer is some of the warmest and most valued fibre in the world.
All photos by Michelle Boyd.