Kazakh nomads wore vests made from local goat hair to keep warm during severe winters on the Orenburg steppes. The goat hair was among the softest and finest in the world. When Russian settlers arrived in the 17th century, they used it to knit shawls in traditional patterns. Diaphanous and virtually weightless, these shawls are remarkably warm and durable.

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What is it about the yarn used to make Orenburg shawls that makes them so warm, light and transparent?

responded: Apr 2, 2013

Posted by Lisa

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This handmade lacy shawl was made in Orenburg, Russia around 100 years ago and has over 1000 stitches across its length. The hair that forms the yarn was was combed from a goat that spends its time on the freezing steppes of south-central Russia, producing a downy undercoat with the thinnest strands of any goat in the world: only 16-18 microns in width. This down is hand-washed, hand-spun, and then hand-knit into the style of shawl you see here. For a single shawl, the entire process can take upwards of 300 hours. Lace patterns are passed down from mother to daughter, and are traditionally complex geometric designs. Throughout use, the shawl will get progressively fuzzier and softer. This shawl is so old that it has actually lost much of the fuzz or ‘halo’ that a younger shawl would have. It may have been worn folded into a triangle with one end tucked around the neck and the other two laying across the chest and back.

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