Exotic fibers needed as gift for fiber artist.
March 27, 2009 5:01 AM   Subscribe

What kinds of exotic fibers should I get an expert weaver as a gift, and where can I buy them?

Mother's day is coming up and I wanted to get my mom a nice gift.

One of her big hobbies (verging on a part-time profession) is weaving. She spins her own thread from raw fiber material, then weaves it on one of several different looms she has around her house. Sometimes she knits or crochets too. I've seen her use cotton, sheep wool, alpaca wool, and she also once collected hair from brushing her cats and used that to knit part of a sweater, so pretty much any type of raw fiber you bring her, she can turn it into cloth.

I'd like to get her some really cool and unusual raw fiber as a mother's day gift. Something way beyond the ho-hum of normal animal hairs. Something unique and exotic. I don't really know enough about spinning and weaving to know what would be a cool and unique fiber to get her which would still be attainable. Bison hair? Lion's mane? Unicorn locks?

Furthermore, I would have no idea where to purchase it. I'd prefer to order it online, but any stores in the New York City area which sell raw fiber would be fine too.

Please help, hive mind.
posted by reticulatedspline to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I've never worked with it myself, but a lot of fiber artists consider qiviut to be the Bentley of animal fibers. You can buy both fiber and yarn via the link - though it is quite expensive.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:22 AM on March 27, 2009

Seconding qiviut.

If she does lace at all, she should check out Skaska Designs for their ridiculously fine fibers of many types.

Bison hair is also available. This stuff is pretty nice.

Baby camel yarn is ummmmmmmmmmm. Same with Malabrigo (brand) angora.

Since you're in New York, I'd definitely check out Habu. They've got stuff for both weavers and knitters, and they have all sorts of wacky combinations, such as stainless steel/silk, paper, etc. Even if your mom's not a huge fan, it's the kind of thing where it's so interesting you want to at least check it out.

You might just get her a gift card so she can figure out what she wants herself; even if you get her something she uses often, she might have a hard time using it because she doesn't have enough for a particular project or it's a slightly different color for what she needs.

Good luck!
posted by Madamina at 5:37 AM on March 27, 2009

There are some naturally-coloured cotton strains (did I learn about this in a post on the blue?). Really nice subtle earth tones. Apparently, the more you wash them the darker they get. Found a link as a starting point.
posted by Leon at 5:48 AM on March 27, 2009

Seconding Habu, and also the loveliness of baby camel fiber. Qiviut is amazing but getting enough to make anything substantial is pretty cost-prohibitive ...

I've had good experiences with ordering online from Paradise Fibers. They sell camel, bison and possum roving amongst other things, and some more unusual non-animal-hair fibers too: seacell (from seaweed), milk protein, soy silk.

A gift card might be a good idea, since some fibers aren't appropriate for different applications, and having enough raw material might be a problem, depending on what she'd like to do with it. (What kinds of things does she weave?)
posted by firefleet at 6:34 AM on March 27, 2009

seconding Habu - they have an amazing selection

lo, the wall of yarn
posted by jammy at 6:37 AM on March 27, 2009

Yak is beautiful and very, very soft and warm and not entirely unlike qiviut, though much cheaper. The only issue I have with it is that the yarn you can spin it into isn't particularly strong, so I don't know how it would work for weaving. (You can also buy it blended with silk, which makes it stronger and less fussy to spin, and it's still deliciously soft.) There are a couple of fibres from South American camelids that your mom also might enjoy; guanaco is softsoftsoft and not outrageously expensive, and I've never even touched vicuna in my life but daydream about it (the animals don't breed in captivity and there aren't very many of them, so their fibre is very dear). If you want to get her yarn instead of unspun fibre, Treenway Silks has many beautiful pure silk yarns and blends, which they will dye for you in whatever colour you want.

(I'm a spinner, too, and those are some splurge-type fibres that would do it for me.)
posted by bewilderbeast at 6:41 AM on March 27, 2009

I didn't even realize you're near Habu; nthing them - their stuff is really cool.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:52 AM on March 27, 2009

I was on a similar mission recently and, while I could see the sense in getting a gift card, I don't enjoy giving them to people - they seem like such a sterile present. I wanted to show that I'd put some care and attention into picking something out. So I bought a small quantity of some really lovely wool/silk mix (enough for a small item), plus a voucher so she could buy more of that stuff, or anything else that took her fancy. That way, I could give her an actual thing, which I had picked out, while not wasting too much money on something that she wouldn't use.
posted by tiny crocodile at 6:57 AM on March 27, 2009

bewilderbeast's links are awesome. I'm a spinner too and what I lust after lately is fiber from Tactile.
posted by clavicle at 8:12 AM on March 27, 2009

I knit and I had friends recently gift me with possum/merino yarn. They bought it as a souviner, but I'm sure it can be found online. Very soft, light and warm.

Tiny Crocodile's suggestion is good. It's hard (for me at least) to buy yarn without knowing what I'm going to do with it, because that'll tell me how much I need. And if you go back later and can't get the right dye lot....

Sounds like a great gift idea. Hope your mom loves it.
posted by Caravantea at 9:27 AM on March 27, 2009

Response by poster: Followup question: how many ounces of raw fiber should i get her? How much would be enough for, say, a scarf? I'd be tempted to get her one ounce of something at the higher end like like guanaco or qivuit, but would that be enough to do anything with?
posted by reticulatedspline at 10:19 AM on March 27, 2009

Habu is fabu, for sure, and I say this as a fiber artist/fiber book author/co-owner of a store that teaches spinning and the like. They have some great ready-spun stuff that would be BRILLIANT for weaving, as well as some neat project-based kits.

One ounce might not do you a hell of a lot of good unless you are spinning superultrafine laceweight (which would be great if she likes to knit lace shawls and the like, not so much for weaving, I don't think, it might not hold up as well). I'd get two or three if you can to be on the safe side.

Speaking personally, I'm kind of fond of the Seacell/wool blends that are out at the moment -- Seacell is a type of lyocell (the general of Tencel) fiber that's made from seaweed!

Feel free to MeMail me for more specifics if you like. :)
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:46 AM on March 27, 2009

Also also my friend Felicia's newish "Supernatural Sweet Georgia" line is amazing -- natural dyes on fantastic base fibers


they sell out superquick when she posts them but maybe you could do a gift card and let your mom pick, or ask Felicia to dye something in a meaningful colorway/etc for you!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:48 AM on March 27, 2009

I was just reading about huarizos, a cross between a llama and an alpaca.
posted by XMLicious at 12:01 PM on March 27, 2009

get some bison fibre from Jacques at Fibre Isle. www.bisonyarn.com

posted by dripped at 6:23 PM on March 27, 2009

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