Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Method to the Mohair

"Sweet Pea Shawl" crocheted with Moda Vera 'Sentiments Sparkle'
(12% mohair, 12% wool, 72% acrylic, 4% metallic)
Pattern designed by Amie Hirtes (www.nexstitch.com)
Mohair.

Natural fibre,
Ethereal drape,
Mysterious halo,
Adds texture to shape.

Warming wisps,
Catching the air,
Perfectly light*,
But cosy to wear.

Fuzzy and warm,
Bulky or fine,
Soft but not scratchy,
Such blends are divine.


"Spring Shawl" crocheted with Moda Vera 'Sentiments'
(50% mohair, 50% acrylic)
Pattern from Get Creative magazine (2006).
But should you allow
It’s mystique to entice,
Your hook ever closer
to craft something nice,
Be wary, my friend,
For its beauty belies,
Those very same properties,

May antagonise.

Vexation, frustration,
A knotted skein spurned.
Let me share with you,
The tricks I have learned.
"Long Wave Scarf" crocheted with Alchemy 'Haiku'
(60% silk, 40% mohair)

To master the mohair,
Whatever the blend,
Merino or silk,

Time you must spend;

Patience and practice,
with hook and yarn,
Lead you to discover

Sweet mohair’s charm. 











After crocheting a number of silk-mohair scarves and other projects using mohair blends, I've learned some techniques for crochet success. 

This is a detailed description of the lessons learned, followed by a quick list of practical tips for working with mohair, and ending with a broad reference list on all aspects of mohair from the technical information about the fibre itself to raising goats, crafting with mohair and the experiences of others as shared in their blog posts.

What is mohair?


Mohair is an animal fibre sourced from Angora goats.

A collection of silk mohair scarves
(Alchemy 'Haiku')

Properties of mohair


As a natural fibre, mohair ‘breathes’ and has moisture wicking properties similar to wool.

Different qualities of mohair can be fine or coarse, soft or scratchy.

The rougher varieties can be itchy against the skin. These are best used for outer garments that won’t come into direct skin contact; e.g. cardigans and coats. The very coarse types are used in carpets and rugs.

The softer varieties are heavenly to touch and suitable for hats and scarves.

*While I described mohair as ‘light’ in my verse above, that is in relation to the mohair blends I have used.  Mohair fibre itself is quite heavy when used on its own.  

"Hinterland" silk mohair scarf
(Alchemy 'Haiku')
If it were made into a garment with a solid stitch pattern, it would soon stretch out of shape under its own weight, especially when wet.  That is why mohair is mainly used in blends to add warmth to light, lacy shawls, scarves and smaller accessories.

Mohair is a strong fibre when longer but can be weakened when wet.  I would not recommend mohair for the wear and tear of mitts or socks where they are likely to come into contact with extra moisture and stay wet for extended periods of time.

Yarns with shorter mohair fibres are not as strong as other fibres like wool.  These are often blended with longer, stronger, loftier fibres like merino.

Garments made from mohair have a slight tendency to shed their fibres, especially those with shorter fibres.

This is the first silk mohair scarf I ever made.
This photo shows the fuzzy halo which adds a softness to the stitches.
The mohair fibres provide a ‘halo’ which traps air between the filaments.  The trapped air acts as an insulating layer which is how garments with mohair provide extra warmth.

The fuzzy ‘halo’ can cause the fibres in the yarn to tangle together when subjected to friction.  The act of pulling the yarn through a loop with a crochet hook is enough to cause the fibres to matt and knot together. Once a stitch is made, it is extremely difficult to undo it, often impossible.

Even though mohair fibres can stick together, it does not felt well like wool but it can be felted onto the surface of felted fabrics.

"Lotus Flower", "Hinterland"
and "Heartland" scarves.
Mohair is often blended with other fibres because of its many benefits.  When choosing a mohair fibre for a yarn project, it is very important to examine the particular facets of each individual yarn as the quality of mohair can vary according to type (coarse/soft), fibre length, and amount blended (e.g. 75% mohair, 25% silk). 

Sirdar 'Mignon'
(59% acrylic, 12.5% nylon, 17.5% mohair, 11% wool)

Mohair blends


I have worked with mohair-synthetic blends and, of course, the silk-mohair of my Autumn scarves.  The methods of managing both were the same.

Acrylic & mohair
Acrylic & mohair is an affordable blend which was perfect for shawls, including the pink shawl which appears in my Blogger profile and my Ravelry ‘Ravatar’.  The acrylic fibre, combined with the halo of mohair produced a light but surprisingly warm shawl, despite the wide lacy holes of the design.

Alchemy 'Haiku'
(60% silk 40% mohair)
Silk mohair
Mohair blends perfectly with silk – both fibres are strong and they both have a sheen to them.  

This combination creates an interesting depth of colour as both fibres take the dye slightly differently.  The silk is iridescent and rich with colour, providing glimmering highlights against the solid, even tones of the mohair as it catches the sunlight.

Silk is one of the strongest fibres in the world and will not break with a tug like other threads.

Silk is shiny and slippery. Bamboo hooks worked very well.  They gripped the stitches and held them in place on the hook, preventing them from slipping off or rubbing together too much while working. 


Method to the Mohair


I will discuss the methods of working in relation to my project experience.

The scarves could be painstaking at times because of the tangle factor. Mohair is impossible to rip back if you make counting mistakes unless you catch it very quickly – within 1-2 stitches.  

"Heartland" scarf crocheted with Alchemy 'Haiku' (60% silk 40% mohair)
Generous use of locking stitch markers can prevent heartache!
To manage this, I used lots and lots of stitch markers at frequent intervals to aid my counting and mark pattern repeats.  If a mistake was made, it became obvious at the marked stitches with few stitches to undo.

Choose a pattern which allows you to work into spaces rather than stitches. The fuzziness of mohair can make it difficult to see individual stitches, especially with heavier blends. My Sweet Pea Shawl had large spaces, which also is helpful should it need to be frogged.

When frogging, do not yank or tug. Be gentle; lift off to slowly undo each section of the stitch instead of pulling. A good working knowledge of stitch anatomy is essential.

"Fantasy Flame" scarf, softly swaying in a gentle breeze;
crocheted with Alchemy 'Haiku' (60% silk, 40% mohair)
The silk mohair was a fine lace weight yarn, so light and airy that the slightest breeze would make it sway.  This made it impractical for working outdoors because the source yarn would come into contact with the project or working yarn and get tangled.

The fuzziness of mohair can pick up particles of dust or other matter, a bit like ‘hook and loop’ tape (you may know it as a brand name starting with ‘v’).  This doesn’t seem to be a problem once the scarves and shawls are complete, but you don’t want to accidentally pick up a strand of hair or other particle and have that incorporated into your stitches.  This is also more likely when working outdoors.

It is always a good idea to have a clean work environment regardless of your yarn choice but especially so with fuzzy fibres.

When working the scarves, my tension was very loose – the loops looked very big compared with the thin strands. 

I used my eyes to judge the height of each stitch and adjusted the tension accordingly. I used tension more than hook size to achieve the correct stitch heights.  I call it crocheting ‘to tension’ where the hook size is only a guide. Sometimes my stitches were wider than my hook and sometimes they were tightly worked on the hook.


I have since read articles by other crocheters who describe this as ‘eyeballing’ each stitch or  ‘crocheting with air’.  That can be a topic for another day.

A Summary of Practical Tips

  • Bamboo hooks have more grip and thus more control
  • As soon as the fibres rub together, they will stick to each other
  • A loose tension reduces friction and makes the yarn easier to undo
  • Avoid working outdoors or in windy places; under fans etc.
  • Work surfaces must be clean
  • Use stitch markers generously to catch errors quickly
  • Do not tug; be gentle; lift off rather than pull
  • Do not try to break silk mohair with your hands because it is too strong and you will hurt yourself!
  • Crochet with tension as well as your hook size
  • Freezing the mohair for 10 minutes might make it easier to undo (see note below)*
*9 May 2014 (edited to add new information):
I have just received my Spring 2014 issue of Interweave Crochet magazine which contains a mohair tip that I hadn't come across before.

The pattern notes for the Lantana Scarf (designed by Theresa Schabes) advise, "If you need to rip out sts [sic], first put the scarf in your freezer for 10 minutes. The cold will calm the sticky mohair and make stitches easier to undo."


Links and References

Pattern & Yarn Details

  • Alchemy Yarns of Transformation, ‘Haiku’ 40% silk, 60% mohair, made in USA. <http://www.alchemyyarns.com/>
  • Get Creative magazine, “Spring Shawl” Volume 2, Issue 12, September 2006, Brooke Hannaford Publishing.
  • Hirtes, Amie, crochet designer, Nexstitch, <http://www.nexstitch.com/>
  • Hirtes, Amie, “Sweet Pea Shawl”, page 106 of Stoller, 2006.
  • Pearce, Jodie, “Long Wave Scarf” unpublished, 2012.
  • Moda Vera ‘Sentiments’ (discontinued) 50% mohair 50% acrylic, 50g/100m per ball, colour #19 blue/aqua, ball band recommended knit tension: 16 sts x 20 rows over 10 cm x 10 cm with 5.5 mm needles, made in Turkey.
  • Moda Vera ‘Sentiments Sparkle’ (discontinued) 17% mohair, 12% wool, 72% acrylic, 4% metallic, 50g/100m per ball, colour #28 pink, ball band recommended knit tension: 16 sts x 20 rows over 10 cm x 10 cm with 5.5 mm needles, made in Turkey.
  • Schabes, Theresa, "Lantana Scarf". This scarf would be another great project for the Alchemy Haiku yarn.Print: page 13, Interweave Crochet Spring 2014, Interweave, F+W Media Inc., Loveland CO, USA.
  • Online at Crochet Me: <http://www.crochetme.com/media/p/148261.aspx>
    Online at Ravelry: <http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/lantana-scarf>
  • Sirdar ‘Mignon’ (discontinued) 59% acrylic, 12.5% nylon, 17.5% mohair, 11% wool, 50g per skein, colour #866 blue, ball band recommended knit tension: 17 sts to 10 cm with 5 mm needles, made in Australia. This yarn was donated to my stash by a friend.
  • Stoller, Debbie, Stitch’n’bitch Crochet: The Happy Hooker, Workman Publishing, New York, USA, 2006.

2 comments:

  1. Wow, you've really done your homework with this one! It's quite interesting too. I love all these wonderful yarns but I am so sensitive to itching that I can really only use acrylics if they are going to be touching my skin. I have to agree with the tangle factor with some yarns and the only way to frog them is a stitch at a time. I remember one exceedingly frustrating project having to be frogged with a pair of scissors. I've learned a bit since and now take the softly, softly approach to frogging.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for the compliment - I appreciate your comments so much.

      The aim was to have as much information about mohair in one place for future reference, with a focus on websites from Australia and the southern hemisphere, but that doesn't exclude sites from elsewhere if the information is practical, relevant and accessible.

      It's a shame that your skin is so sensitive to so many yarns. Does it frustrate you? My skin is sensitive because of autoimmune problems. Many fuzzy yarns do make me itch too but this particular silk mohair is so soft that it is not a problem. It really is trial and error sometimes. I am glad that you have found acrylic to be a solution for you. I am very interested to know which yarns are notorious for irritation and those which are kind.

      Oh No! Not the scissors! I can relate: the sense of horror upon the realisation that there is no way that section of yarn will frog and the only way out is to cut and discard it. Fortunately, a lot of those lessons were learned with the acrylic blend but there was one occasion during the swatching stage where I lost a small amount of the silk mohair. It wasn't a lot, but it might as well have been a quarter of a skein because it is such an expensive yarn.

      Wishing you a tangle- and itch-free time ;-)

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