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Animal Based Fibres (Protein Fibres)

Sheep Wool
A fiber is a hairlike unit of raw material of which cloths are made. For example, cotton linen, rayon, silk, wool, nylon, and polyesters. Fibers that are used in textiles can be classified under two main categories: Natural fibers and Man-made fibers.

Natural Fibers
The 'natural' classification is subdivided into fibers of vegetable, mineral, and animal origins.

Animal fibers
The animal fibers that are most used in consumers' goods are wool, which is the protective covering of the sheep, and silk, cultivated or wild, which is the product of the silkworm and is obtained from its cocoon. Less important fibers include hair fibers from camels, rabbits, goats, cats, horses, and cattle. They differ microscopically from wool and, as a rule, are stiffer and more wiry than wool and do not felt well. Cashmere, a goat fiber, vicuna and alpaca, and camel's hair, however, are quite soft and may be classified as wool. Cat hair and cow hair can be used as textile fibers, but they are used mostly for fur felts. Cow hair, although harsh and coarse, can be made into blankets. »»More information

Wool is normally defined as the fleece of sheep. Wool is a protein called keratin, which has a main polypeptide chain with amino acid side chains. It is an outgrowth of the epidermis (skin) of the sheep and the surface of the fiber has minute overlapping scales extending lengthwise and pointing to the end remote from the root or cuticle. The root is embedded in the epidermis. Wool grows in tufts, in or near the follicles in the skin of the animal; however, the useful, outermost portions of the fibers on the animal are no longer growing. Growth occurs by multiplication of the soft cells of the papilla, which exist at the base of the follicle. The papilla is a vascular arrangement of connective tissue extending into and nourishing the root of a hair. The useful part of the fiber is displaced from the cuticle as new cells are added and the fiber gets longer.  

Silk is extruded by the silkworm into a cocoon and the silk has to be reeled from that cocoon before it can be used. Silkworms are of the Lepidoptera family, and of the Bombyx species, which feed only on mulberry leaves. Cultivated species are often B. mori, but there are also other species such as B. textor and B. sinensis. Indian Tasar silkworms are Antherea proylei and A. mylitta, which feed on leaves other than mulberry. A. assamensis (Mugar) silkworms and others are also used for fiber harvesting. 

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Animal fibers are natural fibers that consist largely of particular proteins. Instances are silk, hair/fur (including wool) and feathers. The animal fibers used most commonly both in the manufacturing world as well as by the hand spinners are wool from domestic sheep and silk. Also very popular are alpaca fiber and mohair from Angora goats. Unusual fibers such as Angora wool from rabbits and Chiengora from dogs also exist, but are rarely used for mass production.

Not all animal fibers have the same properties, and even within a species the fiber is not consistent. Merino is a very soft, fine wool, while Cotswold is coarser, and yet both merino and Cotswold are types of sheep. This comparison can be continued on the microscopic level, comparing the diameter and structure of the fiber. With animal fibers, and natural fibers in general, the individual fibers look different, whereas all synthetic fibers look the same. This provides an easy way to differentiate between natural and synthetic fibers under a microscope.

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