The quality and characteristics of wool, mohair and alpaca can be changed and enhanced by blending with other natural fibres like silk, bamboo, linen and hemp. Over our years of experience, all sorts of combinations have been used, and we have a reputation for being highly innovative.
We have developed a light weight, summer yarn using linen for Blacker Yarn's Lyonesse range, and are currently working with with cotton for a customer making knitwear from a rare animal fibre.
Yarns made of silk are another option. It is made by moths and presents no production problems. The cocoon is either unwound by hand, which is expensive, or cut open so that the filament is in smaller lengths.
We mainly use tussah silk to blend with natural fibre; tussah silk is wildcrafted, which means that the worms live naturally in tropical or semi tropical forests. There are various species of tussah silk moths in China, India, Japan, Africa and North America. The moths are large and have a prominent eye marking on their wings.
Most commercial tussah silk comes from the Chinese Tussah Moth which is reared on Chinese oak. The moths have a wingspan of between 10-15 cm and are fawn coloured. The natural colour of tussah silk is a warm, honey beige. Although there are many different varieties, Tussah silk is rich in tannin and ranges from beige to brown in colour. The Wikipedia has a useful summary regarding silk. Other options are the more expensive and whiter Mulberry silk or Ahimsa silk when the moths are allowed to escape from the cocoons naturally.
There are environmental disadvantages when using vegetable fibre because the original production demands more water and the addition of chemicals to soften the material. Cotton is particularly problematic in that the fibre is short and will not easily pass through traditional wool spinning machinery, though we can blend using long staple pima cotton. Cotton and linen also require large amounts of dyestuff to colour them compared to wool, nylon and silk.
There are many pro's and con's about fibre: some people consider wool unethical as sheep are also bred for meat; artificial fibres may be from oil-based chemicals which are depleting our world environment unsustainably, or from re-cycled fibres and viscosed vegetable fibre such as bamboo and timber. The viscosing processes are energy and chemical intensive ... which is why we prefer wool, which has all the super high performance fibre qualities as well!