When Wisconsin-based sociologist Liba Brent started working on development projects in Central Asia ten years ago, little did she know how passionate and knowledgeable she would become about fiber and yarn. And not just the end product, she learned about the entire production and market chain including goat breeding, fiber collection, processing and marketing.
The Asht region of northern Tajikistan is the center of Angora goat production and many rural women in the region have been spinning mohair yarn for the Russians for decades. But the new challenge is to make a knitting yarn that is more beautiful than any other mohair yarn on the American market. This means producing better goats and mohair; doing a better job of preparing and cleaning fleeces; and setting high quality control standards for spinning consistent yarn.
This project is currently funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development with the objective to increase the incomes of goat farmers and fiber processors, especially women, by producing high quality, luxury yarns and products for export. Liba is in charge of quality control at this point, although she has begun training the local women to take this over. If the women are able to run this project well, it stands a better chance of receiving more funding.
The key to the success of the handspun project is based on how much yarn can be sold and what level of income can be earned. Mostly women do the spinning but some men are learning too. It’s important that the women are not breaking cultural boundaries by doing this and be able to earn money. They undergo business training where they learn about different business models but it’s up to them to define how they want to set up their groups. Their preference has been to select the best spinners and knitters and work together cooperatively.
They currently spin lace and sport weight yarns with plans to diversify into mohair and silk blends. Production of cashgora yarn in the Tajik Pamir’s region and cashmere yarns obtained through their Afghan partners is also underway.
Only the best quality Angora kid fleeces are used for spinning this high luster, strong yet soft, laceweight mohair yarn. When knit and washed, it is so warm and luxurious that just having a lace scarf or shawl made out of one skein would be enough to keep the chill away. You be the judge as to whether these artisans have made their goal of producing the most beautiful mohair in the market.
Thanks to Liba Brent for providing this information and the images. And to the Tajik handspinners for creating this beautiful yarn.