our mohair journey
November 28, 2018
Piper is one of our absolute favorites. A blend of wool and mohair, our little laceweight bird is distinctive among Quince’s offerings—a fine-gauge yarn that is capable of being worked up into an impressive array of beautiful knits (and crochet!). The qualities that we know and love about mohair, with its warm and irresistible fuzzy halo, make Piper a wonderful transitional yarn, handling the shifts of the seasons with its weightless yet insulating qualities. Not to mention how soft and lovely it is to work with.
When introducing Piper for the first time in June of 2014, founder and then Creative Director Pam Allen proudly wrote on this blog: “Piper is a TEXAS yarn, quite literally born and bred there. Can I tell you how that makes my heart beat faster?”
You see, Piper represents, for us, a wonderful feat. Once the “Mohair Capital of the World”, Texas, which in its heyday exported 35 million pounds of mohair every year, produces barely 1 million these days. And, almost all this fiber is exported to South Africa for cleaning and combing. We managed to get our hands on some of the best super kid mohair fiber grown in Texas and equally luxurious Texas superfine merino. Even better, we convinced a reluctant Texas scourer to wash the fiber, and a mill to comb and spin Piper for us.
We fell in love with the fiber, the yarn, and the process of making it. As evidenced in Pam’s quote at the top, Piper is thrilling—start to finish.
But it has always come with its own challenges: The scouring plant was set up for scouring large quantities of wool, not small quantities of mohair. They agreed to scour the fiber, but only when blended with the merino wool, and only when their schedule allowed. We were small fry, so this was unpredictable and sometimes delayed up to six months without warning, making it difficult for us to keep up with the enthusiastic demand for the yarn, and creating too many intermittent spots on our shelves for comfort.
The Pennsylvania mill that combed the fiber and spun Piper presented even bigger challenges. Its combing equipment was not set up to comb fiber as fine as the mohair and merino that Piper was made from. Despite best efforts with their old equipment, the mill struggled to make the yarn. The first few times they managed; the last time was a disaster. We lost over 40% of the fiber in the combing process. We were devastated.
After this experience we began to seek alternatives to make Piper to our exacting standards, consistently and on time. We wanted to keep production in America. Again, and again, we struck out. Lackluster samples and lukewarm responses from mills unsure of whether they could do it brought home the reality we faced. They were willing to give it a try—for a large fee, and only with reliably processed mohair combed in South Africa of unknown origin.
We were left with three options: 1) Discontinue Piper; 2) Keep taking a gamble with our same process and increase the price of the yarn to cover the inevitable losses, while crossing our fingers that the production would go smoothly enough; or 3) Broaden our search to beyond the US.
We love Piper, and we know you share our love for the yarn, too. We didn’t want to have to give it up. In the end, we decided that it was too risky to continue making it in the way we had been.
After much thought and exploration, and with the help of our Texas mohair broker, who has been in the industry for decades, we finally found the solution: A sixth generation, family-owned mill in South Africa. This mill has been working with natural fibers for over 150 years, with an extensive history in mohair processing and spinning. Initially quite reluctant to give up the notion of producing this yarn in America, we talked extensively with the mill. The more we talked with them, the less it felt like we were moving away from our ideals and aspirations for this yarn. When the first samples began to arrive, they blew our hand-knit socks off. Our wonderful Piper is possible, after all.
Since nearly all of the mohair from Texas is already shipped to South Africa—fiber we adored for the unique crimp and luster of that Texas source—we fought to keep using it. We worked with the mill to develop a unique mix of roughly half Texas and half South African mohair fiber, taking advantage of the best properties of each.
As for the wool, the “mulesing-free” South African-grown fiber that we found exceeded our quality and responsibility standards, and made a yarn every bit as soft and springy as the Texas wool that we had used in previous rounds of Piper. To minimize our carbon footprint, we decided to use this South African wool and avoid the wasteful practice of shipping vast quantities of wool from Texas to South Africa and back again to the US.
the journey continues
The resulting yarn is exquisite. What a journey our little Piper has been on! We are glad to be able to continue this yarn, and we know you’ll love it every bit as much as we do. While it’s not always possible to achieve our goals of working 100% within the American textiles industry, we steadfastly strive to do so whenever possible—and when it isn’t, we work to find alternatives to make the yarns our hearts envision, without compromising on our ideals.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
An additional note about our stock transition: As our new shipment arrives from South Africa onto our shelves, we'll be transitioning all of our shades of Piper to this new blend of 50% super kid mohair, 50% South African superfine merino. You may see both fiber contents on your yarn tags if you are ordering multiple colors of Piper during this time. This new Piper knits up perfectly with the original, allowing you to use them together to achieve identical gauge and fabric. As always, orders containing multiple skeins of a single color will be filled from the same dye lot.