A bunny way to make wool
HOPPING TO IT: They’re big and fluffy and they just happen to produce some of the finest fabrics available, so why is their just one commercial producer in the this part of the world? Lynn Leadbeatter meets Sarah Paul. Pictures by Bruce Rollinson.
HERE are famously more sheep than people in the Yorkshire Dales – 30 times as many by one estimate. That’s an awful lot of wool – but not one of those 600,000 fleeces wandering the fellsides will produce fibres as warm and light as the Angora rabbit.
This luxury yarn is much prized by hand knitters and textile artists for its lustrous sheen, extreme softness and outstanding heat retention. But harvesting the coats commercially is fraught with difficulty – so much so that Littondale farmer’s wife Sarah Paul is the county’s only commercial producer of Angora wool.
The bright and airy purpose-built shed next to her Arncliffe farmhouse is home to an extended family of 97 rabbits. At first sight they all seem enormous – but that’s until you spot the most recently shorn individuals, their fluffy heads looking oddly out of proportion with their newly slimmed-down bodies. Angoras really are nearly all hair.
With the exception of a recent import from Holland to diversify the gene pool, all are descended from one female matriarch but their coats range from shining white through cream and gold to agouti, grey and chocolate. But building up the colony has not been easy because Angoras don’t breed like, well, rabbits.
“They can be temperamental,” admits Sarah, “and at first I wanted as many