February 24, 2022

Fibers That Are Exotic For Knitters

exotic,fiber,knitters,sheep to shawl
exotic,fiber,knitters,sheep to shawl

Humankind’s fascination with the rare and beautiful is one that transcends time and culture. Since ancient times, people around the world have used fiber and skins from local animals to create garments and blankets rich with warmth and comfort. Then, when European explorers visited faraway lands, they returned home with treasures: luxurious fabrics and yarns were piled into chests along with jewels, butterfly specimens, and spices. As transportation improved and international trade increased, more and more unusual fibers became available in Europe and North America.

Fascination with exotic fibers persists today. Perhaps modern handknitters, like the early explorers, are drawn in by the mystique of the faraway and rare—not to mention the sumptuous knitting experience these fibers provide. A few luxury fibers like cashmere, silk, mohair, and alpaca, which are highly prized for their fine, rich feel and histories in distant lands—are commonly found on local yarn-shop shelves. Other fibers are seen less frequently, and some are downright rare. Their limited availability, unique qualities, and unlikely sources – camel, yak, musk ox, vicuña, and guanaco earn them the moniker exotic.


A seemingly unrelated assortment of animals—some of which you may never have heard about, and whose origins span the globe—share one common trait: all grow a double coat of hair to protect them from harsh conditions in their habitats. The outer coat of coarse guard hairs acts as a barrier to keep out debris and moisture. The undercoat, or down, insulates the animals from extreme heat and cold. Because down evolved as a protection against harsh environments, the fibers from many species living in different parts of the world have similar properties: they are lightweight, warm, soft, slightly crimped, and generally not lustrous. As yarns, these fibers are irresistibly soft, splendidly silky, and dreamy to work with—like knitting clouds or spinning warm air. Like cashmere, the yarns made from the down of two-coated animals are among the most luxurious available.

Acquiring this down—the first step in the transformation from fur to yarn—is a tedious, labor-intensive process. First, workers must round up the animals to harvest the fiber. Experienced handlers comb or shear the fleece, gingerly removing the fiber without damaging it or hurting the animals. Sorter separate the fleece according to fiber quality and length, then the fibers are scoured, or washed. Finally, the fiber is “dehaired” so only the soft down remains for spinning yarn.

exotic,fiber,knitters,sheep to shawl


Mongolian herdsmen have used the camel’s long, thick winter fleece in yurts (tents) and coats for many centuries, today’s hand knitting world prizes the camel’s down. When spun into yarn, camel down rivals fine wool and cashmere in softness—and it’s readily available, typically in blends, from commercial yarn sources.

Both the one-humped dromedary (of the Middle East, northern India, and the Sahara Desert) and the two-humped Bactrian camel (found in northern China and Mongolia) produce down, but the double-humped Bactrian camel is, by far, the main source of fiber. Camel fiber is harvested in three different ways: by handcombing the animal, shearing it, or collecting the hair during the molting season, which begins in late spring. Camel fiber ranges in color from the typical reddish-brown to brown, gray, and even white. The fineness of the fiber varies from 15 to 24 microns in diameter (a micron equals 1/1000 of a meter); cashmere, in comparison, measures 14 to 19 microns—about a third the thickness of a human hair.

exotic,fiber,knitters,sheep to shawlYAK

Yak fur, another fairly common fiber, has traditionally been woven into coverings for huts, blankets, mats, and sacks by people of Asia; today, it often appears in the United States in Santa Claus beards. For handknitters, the yak’s down spins up into a soft, lofty, slightly lustrous yarn that felts beautifully.

Members of the cattle family, and seemingly unlikely candidates for a fine fiber (20 to 22 microns), these huge, shaggy beasts exist in large domestic and small wild populations in Central Asia and India. The wild yak, once widespread on the Tibetan plateau north of the Himalayas, is endangered today, its range vastly reduced, and its numbers diminished to a few hundred. The fiber used in knitting yarns comes from domestic yak, which number about 12 million in the high plateaus and mountains of Central Asia.

Living above the snowline in harsh highlands, the yak has developed a thick coat of long hair that reaches almost to the ground. Most wild yaks have black or very dark brown hair, but domestic yaks may also be golden-colored and have white markings from crossbreeding with cattle. While yak yarn and fiber are available from several sources, garments made from yak fiber are not readily available through retail stores.

exotic,fiber,knitters,sheep to shawlMusk Ox

exotic,fiber,knitters,sheep to shawl

Qiviut, preferred over cashmere by certain knitters, and increasingly available in the United States, is the downy underhair of the arctic musk ox. Known as “oomingmak” (the bearded one) to the Alaskan Yupiit peoples, the musk ox lives in remote areas of Greenland, Alaska, and Canada, where it grows an underwool that is incredibly soft and fine (11 to 13 microns) and eight times warmer than sheep’s wool. This layer of qiviut protects the animals in -100°F weather; in fact, captive herds must be protected from overheating when temperatures rise to just 70°F.

Historically, the Inuit used not the down but the hide of the muskox for moccasins, trousers, bedding, and robes. In 1708, a French trader collected qiviut and made a pair of stockings “finer than silk.” Most European visitors to Alaska, however, favored robes made from musk ox skins, and by the 1860s, the musk ox was hunted almost to extinction there. In the twentieth century, several herds were reintroduced on Nunivak Island in Alaska; today, large wild populations still inhabit Canada, and domestic herds are being raised there as well.

Qiviut is combed and collected during the spring molt from a few domestic and wild herds. In Canada, most qiviut is harvested from wild animals taken in Inuit hunts. The natural color of the fiber is dark taupe; it can be dyed into other colors, but it must be bleached first. With each animal producing just five to seven pounds of qiviut every year, the fiber remains rare and expensive.

exotic,fiber,knitters,sheep to shawlViculia

At the southern extreme of the Americas, a small, delicate creature provides fiber that has graced ancient Incan throne rooms, Paris runways, and the closets of Hollywood stars. Garments made from vicuna—a South American cousin of the camel, closely related to the alpaca, llama, and guanaco—have long been trademarks of the fashion elite.

Through adaptation to high altitudes, where drought and freezing nights are common, the dainty, cinnamon-colored vicuna has evolved a soft, fine down (10 to 14 microns)—a “golden fleece” treasured by the Inca. After the Spanish conquest in 1532, the number of vicuna declined dramatically through overhunting and competition for pasture with European livestock. In 1975, the vicuna was declared an endangered species, and all trade in its fiber was outlawed. Just last year, its status was raised to threatened, and the ban on importing vicuna fiber lifted. As a result, vicuna yarn is once again available in the United States, but still extremely difficult to find.

In the time of the Incas, vicuna fiber was collected in a chacu, a festival in which wild vicunas were corralled, sheared, and released. Today, Andean people are renewing this ancient tradition.

exotic,fiber,knitters,sheep to shawlGuanaco

Featured in finely woven shawls, fine suits, and $11,000 overcoats, guanaco is a coveted fiber favorite of the fashion-conscious, prized for its warmth (it’s three times warmer than wool); its silky, smooth hand (14 to 18 microns); and its pale, honey-beige color. A larger cousin of the vicuna, the guanaco is South America’s largest land mammal.

As with the vicuna, the Incas treasured the down of the guanaco. Unfortunately, the guanaco also shared the vicunas’ fate: As a result of hunting and habitat encroachment, guanaco populations dropped from nearly 35 million in the 1500s to a few hundred thousand by the 1970s. During recent decades, conservation organizations have achieved protection for the species; still, many wild herds fall victim to poachers who find it easier to collect the down by killing the animals than by capturing them. Guanaco fiber, too, has only recently become available in the United States.

Currently, three ranches in the United Kingdom and South America raise guanacos for commercial fiber processing. At the Chacay ranch in Argentina, ranchers capture a limited number of chulengos (young guanacos) from the wild and raise them in semicaptivity. Workers round up the animals for shearing during the spring, which allows their slow-growing coat to renew itself over the summer. In Britain, guanacos are housed in barns to protect them from the wet and chilly weather.


Several criteria determine the quality of down fibers and yams, including fiber diameter, average fiber length, and coarse hair content. Just because a fiber has a very small micron count does not mean that the yams made from it are the softest or the best available.

To make sure you have a wonderful experience using these pricey yarns and end up with a garment you will treasure, take the time to select your yarns carefully. The following criteria apply to all down yarns:

• Consider handspun as well as mill-spun yarns. Handspun yarns sometimes retain more of the fiber’s character, and some exotic fibers are available only in handspun form.
• Feel the yarn to make sure you like it. Some yarns contain a lower percentage of guard hairs than others; hence, they are softer.
• While these softer, “purer” down yarns are scrumptious, they are also more expensive than slightly coarser ones. Weigh softness against price when you are choosing yarn.
• Consider the amount of twist in the yarn you’re drawn to. While the short, fine nature of the fibers in these yarns makes them rather prone to pilling, yarns that are softly or loosely spun pill more.
• Buy one skein for swatching first.

Knitting , , ,
About Donna Druchunas
Donna is a Knitwear Designer featured in many publications over the years. Going on the 17th year as a business designer creating wonderful designs and contributing to the knitting community. Now semi-retired in upper Vermont USA. Read more about Donna on the about page.
  1. STELLAR article by STELLAR designer!!!!!! AND, not forgetting to mention that you and Dom are a STELLAR team!!! We fiber enthusiasts appreciate all you do to keep us encouraged and enthused about our craft!
    Blessings, Lee Anne Coffin

  2. Wow! Thank you Lee Anne for the wonderful comments. It’s what keeps us going from our great peeps that support us.

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Live Online Workshop Info

I’ve put together a knitting workshop per month for 2023.  These are live online knitting workshops that I’ve taught live and in person in the past and I’m making them available to all the wonderful knitters out there at a low cost, no traveling, no hotel stay needed. 🙂 – Donna Druchunas –

  • 3 hr class every 3rd Sunday of the month Jan – Oct 2023. 2nd Sunday in Nov – Dec, 2023. 1-4pm each day.
  • Full version of a knitting pattern is included in each class but they are for reference to a particular technique. These workshops are not knit alongs.
  • Live Q&A at the end of each workshop.
  • Workshops will be recorded with the exception of the live Q & A which will be transcribed. Your video is not required. You can listen in and participation is not required. We use Google meets which can be used with or without a google account.
  • Access to workshops will be available on our website AFTER your workshop concludes for future reference.

Please contact Donna on our contact form or direct email to Please specify which workshop you have questions about or just ask a general question about the workshops.

What is a KAL (Knit Along)

sherlock holmes g4cd5ebfc1 1280A mystery knit along (MKAL) is a type of knitting project in which a pattern is released in stages over a period of time, typically a few weeks or months. Each stage of the pattern is released at a specific date and time, and the final design is not revealed until the end of the project. This adds an element of surprise and excitement to the knitting process, as knitters do not know what the finished product will look like until it is complete.

MKALs are often hosted by designers or knitting groups, and participants typically purchase the pattern before the project begins. Some MKALs may also include optional clues or hints to help participants along the way. Knitters can follow along with the pattern at their own pace and share their progress with the knitting community on social media or online forums.

Mystery knit alongs can be a fun and engaging way to challenge yourself as a knitter and try new techniques or styles. They can also be a great way to connect with other knitters and share the experience of creating something beautiful and unique

Goddess Knits Video
Goddess Knits Book Illustrations

All illustrations created by Designer Donna Druchunas


Past Club Projects

Starting the border on a shawl


Brioche Cowl Online Workshop
Brioche Cowl Online Workshop
Nov 12th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Project Class

Materials: 2 balls of soft worsted weight yarn in different colors (approx 225 yards per ball), US size 101⁄2 (6.5mm) circular ndl approx 24″/60cm long or 2 circulars, basic knitting toolkit. This is enough yarn for the cowl and the December hat class.

Experience: Easy, need to know how to cast on, bind off, knit, and purl.

Description: I combined soft and squishy Brioche Stitch, also known as Fisherman’s Rib, with one skein of wool and one skein of wool-silk blend. You can 2 any soft yarns that you like. We will learn how to knit 2-color Brioche in the round with this simple, meditative pattern that will give you a quick gift for yourself or someone on your holiday list.

Nov 12th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

Brioche Hat Holiday Gift Workshop
Brioche Hat Online Workshop
Dec 10th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Project Class

Materials: 2 balls of soft worsted weight yarn in different colors (approx 225 yards per ball), US size 9 (5.5mm) circular ndl 16″/40cm long and dpns or 2 circulars, basic knitting toolkit. This is enough yarn to make the hat plus the cowl from the November class.

Experience: Easy, need to know how to cast on, bind off, knit, and purl.

Description: I combined soft and squishy Brioche Stitch, also known as Fisherman’s Rib, with one skein of wool and one skein of wool-silk blend. You can choose any soft yarns that you like. We will learn how to knit 1-color AND 2-color Brioche in the round to create a cozy hat that can be work separately or paired with the cowl from November’s class.


Dec 10th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

Colorwork Mittens Online Workshop
Colorwork Mittens Online Workshop
Oct 15th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Project Class

Materials: 3-4 balls of worsted weight yarn in different colors, set of 5 size 7 double-pointed needles (or 2 circulars or 1 long circular for magic loop), a crochet hook of the same size, basic knitting toolkit.

Experience: Intermediate, need to know how to knit with double-pointed needles (or 2 circulars or 1 long circular for magic loop)

Description: Learn to make fabulous colorwork mittens. Choose your own cuff style, thumb technique, and fingertip shaping from traditional options and decorate your mitten with Lithuanian colorwork motifs. A basic pattern is provided, but you’ll learn how to make custom-fitted mittens on the fly with just a few key measurements. In this class we will also learn how to embellish our mittens with knitted fringe, baltic braids, and a decorative cast on.

Oct 22nd, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

Amish Oval Rug Workshop
Amish Oval Rug Online Workshop
Sept 17th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Project Class

Materials: Size 10 1/2 needles, 5 skeins of Brown Sheep’s Burly Spun yarn, 1 skein color A, 2 skeins color B, 3 skeins color C or equivalent yarn, basic knitting tools.

Experience: Easy+ level. Students need to know to knit and purl, cast-on and bind-off, and have experience making 2-3 projects.

Description: Rugs provide a stress-free way to learn to knit. Even if you only know how to cast on and do the knit stitch, you can create stylish and functional rugs for your home. Since rugs are simple shapes, there are no armholes or necklines to shape, no buttonholes to remember, and no constant measuring to ensure proper fit. In this class, we will learn to make an oval knitted rug inspired by Early American braided rugs. Made from old rags, these early rugs represent frugality and parsimony, but their flamboyant colors speak of a love for beauty. This rug, made of alternating Garter and Stockinette Stitch strips, gives you the chance to bring the classic braided look into your own home.

Sept 17th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

Beaded Wrist Warmers Workshop
Beaded Wrist Warmers Online Workshop
Aug 20th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Project Class

Beginner Knitter: 1 skein of Cascade 220 (or equivalent worsted-weight wool) in a medium or dark color, size 5 straight or circular needles (see homework)

Intermediate Knitter: 1 skein of Koigu (or equivalent fingering-weight wool) in a medium or dark semi-solid color, or equivalent fingering weight wool yarn, size 1 straight or circular needles (see homework)
Advanced: 1 skein of a fairly heavy lace-weight wool yarn,
something that has some body and is NOT cobweb weight, size 000 needles (see homework)

Everyone: crochet hook same size as needles or close, basic knitting toolkit, needle nose pliers (optional)

Homework: CO 30 sts and work in garter stitch for about 3 inches and BO. Make sure your stitches are tight and the fabric is firm. If they are loose and the fabric is soft, try again with smaller needles. Bring the swatch to class.
Experience: Beginners welcome! If you can do the knit stitch, you can make these beaded wrist warmers.

Description: Beads add a fabulous touch! Knowing just the basics of knitting, you can easily create colorful designs with beads. Using only garter stitch and learning how to read and work from beading charts, in this workshop, we will make beautiful jeweled wrist warmer cuffs that are inspired by those popular in Lithuania. We will also learn beautiful crochet trim stitches – with and without beads, for trimming the wrist warmers.

Aug 20th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

Lithuanian Cuff Down Socks Workshop
Lithuanian Cuff Down Socks Online Workshop
July 16th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Project Class

Materials: 1 ball of worsted-weight yarn (approx 100 yards), two sets of 5 size 7 double- pointed needles (or 2 circulars or 1 long circular for magic loop), basic knitter’s toolkit.

Experience: Intermediate, need to know how to knit with double-pointed needles (or 2400 circulars or 1 long circular for magic loop)

Description: Working from instructions I have translated from vintage Lithuanian knitting books, we will knit several types of heels and toes that I have never seen used in contemporary American knitting patterns. We will also look at different types of sock construction used in Lithuania in the 19th century, and discuss the history and cultural development of Lithuania, with a focus on influences on knitting patterns and techniques used in the country. We will learn how to knit an unusual short row heel that also has a gusset, a stair-step heel, and several variations of heel stitches for heels with flaps. We will also look at several ways to shape toes including two unusual spiral designs with decorative decreases. I will have a selection of hand-knit socks from Lithuania to examine up close. Students will also receive a collection of colorwork and lace charts for sock stitches that are popular in Lithuania.

July 16th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

Grandma’s Knitting Workshop
Grandma’s Knitting Online Workshop
June 18th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Technique Class

Materials: About 50 yards of worsted-weight yarn, size 7 needles, basic knitting toolkit

Skill Level: All skill levels welcome.

Description: Learn the version of Continental knitting traditionally used in Lithuania and many other parts of Eastern Europe. This technique is sometimes called Combination or Eastern Uncrossed knitting in the west, but in Lithuania it’s known as Grandma’s Knitting. This is a fast way to knit and many knitters find it gives them the most even tension of any technique they’ve tried.

June 18th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

Successful Lace Knitting Workshop
Successful Lace Knitting Online Workshop
May 21st, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Technique Class

Materials: Size 5 and 3 straight needles, approx 50 yards of worsted-weight and sport-weight yarn in any animal fiber, light colors are best, stitch markers, sticky notes (recommended) or row counter, and basic knitting tools.

Skill Level: For the advanced-beginner to intermediate knitter. Students should know how to cast on, bind off, knit, and purl, and should have completed several projects.

Description: For years I tried to learn how to knit lace, and was frustrated as I failed each time. I finally gave up because I wanted to have fun knitting and enjoy my hobby. I was able to knit cables, fair isle, intarsia, and even entrelac with no problems, but lace stymied me over and over again. I thought I would never be able to knit lace, until I stumbled onto Dorothy Reade’s simple techniques.

Working from charts, understanding decreases, and knitting with worsted-weight yarn and larger needles gave me the confidence and practice I needed to ease into lace knitting. If I learned how to knit lace after years of frustration and failure, I know other knitters can, too!

In this workshop we will discuss the tools and yarns used to knit lace, learn how to follow lace charts, and make one swatch in worsted- weight yarn and one in sport-weight yarn. Students will then be ready to knit a lace-weight swatch on their own, and move on to making a simple project such as a lace scarf or hat.

May 21st, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

Bosnian Sock Class
Bosnian Toe Up Online Workshop
April 16th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Project Class

Materials: 2 balls of worsted-weight yarn in different colors (approx 100 yards each), set of 5 appropriately sized double- pointed needles (or 2 circulars or 1 long circular for magic loop), a crochet hook of the same size, basic knitting toolkit

Experience: Intermediate, need to know how to knit with double-pointed needles (or 2 circulars or 1 long circular for magic loop)

Description: In this class we will learn how to make a fascinating Bosnian toe-up sock that has a rectangular toe that is knitted flat, but without purls! The rest of the sock is knitted in-the-round with an “after thought” heel, and decorative finishing. I have several examples of hand-knit Bosnian slipper socks that we will examine closely. We will knit a complete mini sock to learn the techniques, and you’ll have a pattern to knit full-sized socks on your own.

April 16th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

Stories in Stitches Workshop
Stories in Stitches Online Workshop
March 19th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Technique Class

Materials: Approximately 2 skeins of approx 100 yards of worsted-weight yarn (each a different color) for knitting a sampler, size 7 (4.5mm) or 8 (5mm) knitting needles, basic knitting tools.

Experience: Intermediate. Knitters should have basic knitting skills plus experience with reading charts.

Description: In this workshop, we will learn about stories from knitters around the world, and we will learn to knit a pattern stitch from each region and knit a sampler. Stories and techniques will be different in this workshop.

We will go over topics as diverse as: Bavarian twisted-traveling stitches, Irish cables from the Aran Islands, two-color knitting from Norway, Danish texture patterns, Japanese bobbles, Ukrainian lace, Estonian nupps, Andean popcorn stitch, Lithuanian two-color braids, Latvian fringe cast-on, and Swedish twined knitting.

March 19th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

Victorian Knitting Online Workshop
Victorian Knitting Online Workshop
Feb 19th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Project Class

Materials: Any spare yarn for swatching and appropriately sized needles.

Experience: Intermediate. Knitters should have basic knitting skills plus experience with knitting lace and reading charts.

Description: Have you ever found a beautiful pattern in an antique knitting book with bewildering instructions that gave you a headache? In this class, we will look at several Victorian knitting patterns and discuss how to interpret the instructions for today’s knitters. We will discuss gauge, sizing and materials and will look at a glossary of knitting terms that compares those from Victorian times with modern terminology and techniques.

We will also learn how to chart lace and texture patterns to make them easier to work with. We will go over the basics of charting using graph paper and pencil, and we will also learn about a variety of charting fonts, spreadsheet tools, and software programs for Mac and Windows.

Feb 19th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

Pi Shawl Basics | Jan 2023
Pi Shawl Basics Online Workshop
Jan 22nd, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Technique Class

Materials: 1600 (XS, 54′′), 2000 (S, 60′′), or 2400 (L, 72′′) yards of sock yarn and size 4 double-pointed needles plus circular needles of varying lengths (interchangeables work great for this), or one long circular for magic loop. This is the yarn for a complete shawl. You can bring 1 skein of yarn with the appropriate needles for the class.

Experience: Intermediate. Knitters should have basic knitting skills plus some experience with circular knitting and reading charts.

Description: With the simple pi-shawl shaping pioneered by Elizabeth Zimmermann and the beautiful lace stitches designed by Dorothy Reade knit in fingering-weight yarn, and a knit-on border, you won’t get bored even though there is a lot of knitting! This pi shawl is made as a sampler using lace stitches with diamond and circle motifs. I made this up as I went and chose a pattern stitch that had the number of rows I needed for each section as well as a repeat that was close to what I needed.

You can copy my design exactly or choose whatever stitches you like for each section. We will discuss each chart in the workshop so you can see how I adapted Dorothy Reade’s original pattern stitches for use in this shawl. We will also learn how to begin a circular shawl on double-pointed needles or a long circular with magic loop, as well as using a crochet hook, how to work special stitches used in Dorothy Reade’s lace motifs, and how to work a knit-on border.

Jan 15th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

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Sun Goddess Pi-Shawl KAL Photos
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