Throughout human history, camels have been an integral part of numerous cultures, playing vital roles in transportation, trade, and agriculture.
With their ability to withstand harsh conditions and travel long distances without water, camels have been essential in connecting civilizations, fostering the exchange of ideas, and the development of commerce.
From the ancient Silk Road that connected the East and the West to the daily lives of nomadic tribes, camels have been a symbol of endurance, adaptability, and resilience.
Camel Wool, commonly called Camel Hair, is a category of fabric derived from camel coat. This unique fabric is usually derived from the Bactrian camel subspecies. These camels are mostly found at the Mongolian Steppes region across areas like China, Siberia and Turkey. Bactrian camels have long lustrous hair, unlike most camels with their short hair.
The Bactrian camel hair comes in two different forms: the undercoat and the guard hair. The guard hair is coarse and hard. It is not a good material for fabric unless mixed with materials like sheep wool. The guard hair is the part of the Bactrian camel coat that protects it from those harsh Steppes winters, giving it a fuzzy and thick appearance during the winters.
The undercoat, on the other hand, is quite soft. Bactrian camels use it to provide insulation, much like fiberglass insulation between the outer and inner walls of houses. Unlike the guard coat used for making certain textiles, the Bactrian camel hair undercoat is mostly used for making apparel.
Camel Hair became famous for textile fabric making towards the end of the British Empire. However, the use of camel hair for garment making has experienced a recent resurgence, especially amongst the “conscious” consumer population.
Unlike other wool production methods that typically involve shearing off the animals’ hairs, camel wool is harvested when the Bactrian camels shed their winter coats during the spring, which makes this harvesting system not only sustainable but cruelty-free
Dromedary camel (Camelus dromedarius): The Dromedary camel, also known as the Arabian camel, is the most common species and has a single hump. Found predominantly in the Middle East and North Africa, dromedary camels have hair that is generally lighter and finer than their Bactrian counterparts.
The fiber from dromedary camels is used to make lightweight, soft, and comfortable textiles suitable for warmer climates.
Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus): The Bactrian camel, native to Central Asia, has two humps and is well-adapted to the cold and harsh environments of the region.
Bactrian camels produce a denser and heavier fiber that is typically warmer, stronger, and more luxurious than dromedary camel hair. This type of hair is ideal for producing warm clothing and textiles suitable for colder climates.
Outer guard hairs: The outer guard hairs of a camel are long, coarse, and water-resistant. These hairs protect the animal from the elements and are usually not used for textile production due to their rough texture.
Inner down fibers: The inner down fibers, also known as the undercoat, are soft, fine, and provide excellent insulation. This is the hair that is primarily used in the production of textiles, as it is not only warm but also lightweight and breathable.
Blending and processing: Camel hair is often blended with other natural fibers, such as wool or cashmere, to enhance its properties and create a more affordable product. The blending process involves cleaning, carding, and spinning the fibers together, resulting in a fabric with the combined characteristics of the different fibers used.
Insulation properties: Camel hair is renowned for its remarkable insulation properties, providing warmth in cold weather and breathability in warmer conditions. This makes it an ideal material for clothing and textiles that need to adapt to varying temperatures.
Lightweight and breathable: Despite its warmth, camel hair is surprisingly lightweight and breathable, making it comfortable to wear and easy to layer with other fabrics. This feature is particularly useful in the production of outerwear and blankets.
Hypoallergenic: Camel hair is naturally hypoallergenic, making it a suitable choice for individuals with allergies or sensitivities to other natural fibers, such as wool.
Durability and resilience: Camel hair is known for its durability and resilience, with the ability to maintain its shape and appearance over time. This makes it a popular choice for high-quality clothing and home textiles that are designed to last for years.
Only about 30% of the raw fiber derived from camel hair is suitable for apparel. Camel wool comes in three grades: the high-grade fibers, the medium fibers and the low-grade fibers.
The color and level of fineness of the fiber are what determines the camel hair grade. The high-grade fibers are those derived from the camel undercoat. They are soft and fine, with a light tan in color. And for it to be genuinely considered high-grade, it mostly comes from the best of the undercoat fibers. These high-grade fibers are primarily used for producing consumer textiles.
The medium-grade category comprises those undercoat fibers that are not considered high enough to be high-grade. They are longer and coarser than their high-grade counterpart. These fibers are used to produce apparel, though the end products are usually rougher to the touch.
While low-grade camel fibers are derived from guard coat. These fibers are long and coarse, with a brownish-black color. They are inflexible and rough, so they’re only suitable for carpets and other rigid textiles. They’re also used within interfacing and interlinings in apparel to make the garments stiffer.
On a closer look, camel hair fibers appear very similar to those sheep wool fibers; the difference is that their scales are not as pronounced. And like other wool fibers, the camel hair has air-filled and hollow matrices, which makes them great insulators.
One camel can produce about 5 pounds (2.25kg) of hair in one year. Camel Hair is collected by combing or shearing or hand gathering the fiber during the molting season in the latter half of the spring.
The fine and coarse hairs are then separated after the collection. Next, the fiber is washed to remove possible debris or dirt before it is spun into yarn for knitting or weaving.
The Bactrian camel grows a thick coat of hair every year towards the end of summer. The thickness of this coat continues to grow until the midwinter when it becomes full and robust.
This coat protects the Bactrian camel from the chilly winter. This attribute is a product of its genetic parent, Camelus bactranus. Camelus bactranus is a camel species found in Siberia and other cold regions in Asia. Camelus bactranus was once bred with the Camelus dromedarius, known for its lustrous hair; this happened centuries ago. The Bactrian camel with its parents’ attributes is the result of this breeding exercise, which means its soft and beautiful hair can be grown in the coldest climates.
The Bactrian camel usually sheds its coat during the spring as the frost prepares to thaw. People who breed this kind of camel are very good at predicting when the camel hair will begin to fall off in their caravans.
Back when Bactrian camel breeders were still nomadic, a person often called the “trailer” was usually assigned to follow the camels in a caravan in other to pick the hair fibers as they fell. However, you’ll hardly find nomadic Bactrian camel breeders these days, and it’s not unusual to see them shearing the camel’s hair if it is not entirely ready for harvesting at the same time.
Bactrian breeders hardly shear their camels, they just wait for one of the animals to shed off all of its hair, and when they do shear them, they don’t touch the area around the hump because the hair in that area has excellent disease resistance properties.
After the hair is shorn off or fallen, the next step is to clean it to remove impurities then have it carded. Carding involves separating the hair fibers into different strands.
Once the carding is done, the next step is to start spinning the wool into yarn. An industrial spinning machine can be used to spin the wool into yarn, but not in all cases. The indigenes of Mongolian Steppes mostly employ traditional tools for this particular job.
After the yarn is spun, it is rewashed before it is worked into textiles. While it is not unusual for some breeders to create their finished textiles, most finished yarns are usually shipped off to major textile factories around the area or abroad.
Nomadic tribes and camel hair: Camel hair has been an essential material for nomadic tribes throughout history, particularly in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia. These tribes relied on camels for transportation, food, and the production of various goods.
Camel hair was utilized for making tents, rugs, and clothing that provided protection from the harsh desert climates, offering warmth in the cold nights and shade during the scorching days.
Camel hair in trade: Camel hair has long been a valuable commodity in trade, especially along the Silk Road, where it was exchanged for other luxury goods like silk, spices, and precious metals.
The demand for camel hair products, such as clothing and textiles, led to the development of specialized markets and trade centers dedicated to the sale and distribution of these items.
Tents and rugs: Camel hair has been a popular material for making tents and rugs due to its durability, insulation properties, and resistance to the elements.
The black tents, or “beit al-sha’ar,” used by Bedouin tribes in the Arabian Peninsula, were made from woven camel hair, providing shelter and protection from the sun, wind, and sand. Camel hair rugs, often adorned with intricate patterns and designs, were used not only for their warmth and comfort but also as a symbol of wealth and status.
Clothing and accessories: Camel hair has been used to create various clothing items and accessories, such as robes, shawls, scarves, and hats, offering warmth, comfort, and style.
These items were often adorned with intricate embroidery or other decorative elements, reflecting the wearer’s social standing and cultural identity.
For generations, camel hair has been an integral element in the age-old art of Persian rug weaving. Renowned for their elaborate designs, vivid hues, and outstanding workmanship, these remarkable rugs have been esteemed and appreciated across centuries.
Camel hair, characterized by its innate suppleness, resilience, and luxurious feel, is an ideal material for crafting premium-quality rugs that endure for years. In certain areas, camel hair is employed in its raw, uncolored form, enabling the rug to display the fiber’s intrinsic allure and understated color variations, which span from cozy beige to rich brown.
Alternatively, camel hair is sometimes dyed with organic colorants, resulting in a well-balanced fusion of shades that enhance the rug’s overall appearance.
Incorporating camel hair into Persian rugs not only elevates their visual charm but also imparts a sense of historical and cultural depth, transforming them into revered pieces of art that embody the abundant legacy of the regions where they originate.
The fashion industry: Camel hair has retained its popularity and appeal in the modern fashion industry, with designers using this luxurious and versatile fiber to create high-quality garments and accessories.
From elegant coats and jackets to soft and warm scarves and shawls, camel hair continues to be a sought-after material for its unique combination of warmth, softness, and durability.
The Art World: Camel hair has also found its place in the world of art, as it is commonly used for making high-quality paintbrushes.The soft and flexible nature of camel hair makes it ideal for creating brushes that can hold a large amount of paint and produce smooth and even strokes.
This has contributed to the ongoing demand for camel hair in the art supply market and has further cemented its status as a versatile and valuable material.
Mongolia produces a large percentage of the world’s camel wool. Textile exportation is a large part of the country’s economy.
Breeders do most of the camel wool production in Mongolia. These breeders have been raising Bactrian camels for thousands of years and are mostly nomads. Their method of harvesting camel wool is the same as that used by their ancestors. However, other breeders in other locations have started to employ modernized techniques to harvest animal hair and care for the animals.
Tibet, China, Iran, Afghanistan and Iran, also produce semi-processed or raw camel wool. These countries are within Mongolia’s general region, and some of the nomadic tribes involved in camel wool production at the Mongolian Steppes also come from these regions.
New Zealand and Australia are the only regions that actively breed Bactrian camels despite the British Empire’s repeated efforts to facilitate the production of camel wool within their colonies.
Several other nations like South Africa and the USA also produce this fiber in small quantities.
The Bactrian camel hair fabric is one of the priciest wools out thea luxury textile, which re. It is considered is why it is in the same price bracket as other luxury wools like cashmere and mohair.
The fact that they barely produce it in factory settings is one factor that makes the camel wool so expensive. Despite its brief popularity surge between 1880 and 1930, the popularity of this fabric has been waning for some time, which is why many international textile manufacturers don’t even bother to produce it in large quantities.
The cost of camel hair can vary depending on the quantity purchased, with larger quantities generally offering a more cost-effective price per kilogram.
For a blend of 80% camel wool and 20% virgin wool, the price can range from $35.10 per kilogram for a 0.1 kg purchase to $28.80 per kilogram for a bulk purchase of 5 kg.
As the quantity increases, the price per kilogram decreases, with 0.5 kg available at $33.60 per kg and 1 kg at $30.80 per kg.
These prices reflect the premium nature of camel hair and its unique properties, making it a valuable investment for those seeking the finest fibers for their textiles and clothing.
There are two types of camel wool, they include:
Camel wool is probably the most environmentally friendly animal fiber out there. The odds of the animals being mistreated during the harvesting of camel wool are improbable, unlike what is obtainable with other wool animals. Among all the wool sources, it is only the Bactrian camel that sheds its hair naturally every year.
What makes the use of restraint unnecessary during harvesting, significantly reducing the chances of animal trauma or injury during collection. Though shearing is sometimes necessary, it is not a common occurrence as shearing an entire camel is hardly economically expedient. Restraining an entire Bactrian camel for complete shearing would be quite tricky considering their large size.
Though a few dedicated farms are into the business of raiding such animals to harvest their wool, Bactrian camel wool is mostly harvested by families and individuals in remote parts of Asia. A large chunk of this fiber is produced in Mongolia, so the odds of the production – causing any significant impact on the environment is very low.
Mongolia’s GDP is about $12 billion; it implies that the country’s industrial might is not big enough to cause any significant damage to the environment regardless of its manufacturing process.
Producers hardly ever dye this substance. When they do, they make use of natural dyes and even when they make use of harmful dyes, the quantity of fabric produced is so minute that the chances of it potentially harming the environment are slim to none. Also, the harvesting process does not involve the use of any toxic or caustic chemicals. Camel wool is completely biodegradable, so it does not harm the environment when discarded.
There are textile certification organizations that certify camel hair for textile purposes. The certification offered by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is recognized internationally as an authority on organic and sustainable fabric manufacturing standards. It is one of the most respected in the industry.
OEKO-TEX, which is an independent testing organization, also provides certification for this fabric in addition to providing essential information on different types of raw, finished or semi-finished textile products. Woolmark, a product brand, offers a licensing program that determines the quality of certain fabrics like camel hair.
Proper cleaning and maintenance of camel hair products are essential for preserving their quality, appearance, and longevity.
For clothing and accessories, it is recommended to follow the care instructions provided by the manufacturer. Generally, hand washing in cold water with a mild detergent is preferred, followed by laying the item flat to dry.
Avoid wringing or twisting the fabric, as this can cause damage to the fibers. For larger items like rugs and blankets, professional cleaning is advised to ensure the best results and prevent potential damage.
Storing camel hair products appropriately is crucial for maintaining their condition over time.
Items should be stored in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated area, away from direct sunlight, which can cause fading and deterioration. Clothing and accessories should be folded carefully and placed in breathable storage bags or containers to prevent the accumulation of dust and moisture.
Moth repellents, such as cedar or lavender, can be used to protect against potential damage from insects. For rugs, it is best to roll them with the pile facing inward and wrap them in a protective cover, such as cotton or canvas, to ensure they remain in excellent condition during storage.
In the event of damage or wear to camel hair products, timely repair and restoration can help prolong their lifespan and maintain their value.
Small holes or tears in clothing can often be mended by hand or with the assistance of a professional tailor. For more extensive damage or the restoration of vintage camel hair items, it is advisable to consult a specialist who has experience working with this unique material.
In the case of rugs, professional rug repair services can address issues such as fraying, fading, or worn areas, ensuring the rug’s beauty and structural integrity are preserved for years to come.
Camel hair has proven itself to be an exceptional and versatile material that offers a wide array of benefits and applications.
As we continue to appreciate the unique qualities of camel hair and its rich history, it is essential to promote responsible consumption and support ethical practices within the industry.
By doing so, we contribute to the preservation of the cultural heritage and sustainable future of this valuable natural resource.
Embracing camel hair products not only allows us to enjoy their beauty and functionality, but it also serves as a reminder of the remarkable interdependence between humans, animals, and the environment.
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