Book Review: In Search of the World’s Finest Wools

What’s your favorite luxury fiber? Cashmere? Qiviut? Taewit? What?

I received a review copy of this beautiful book, In Search of the World’s Finest Wools by Dominic Dormeuil, photography by Jean-Baptiste Rabouan. It’s a tribute to the growers and producers of the world’s finest fibers. Dormeuil is the Chairman of the House of Dormeuil, a fabric house that was founded in 1842.

My first instinct was to page through the book, just to enjoy the stunningly beautiful pictures. We are treated to travel through Greenland, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Ladakh, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, and Peru.

I knew Qiviut came from the arctic musk ox, but what does that really mean? I didn’t realize that the musk oxen in Alaska came there via a 1954 breeding and conservation program in Canada and Alaska. I’d heard the romantic tales of plucking the tufts of fiber from the shrubbery that the musk oxen rub against in an effort to shed their double fleece in the spring.

What I didn’t know is that there are wild musk ox in the Kangerlussaq tundra of Greenland, which was the focus of the qiviut chapter. There, the musk ox are hunted as game for food, and the the fiber brings additional revenue to the hunters. (The climate does not support agriculture.) Before the opening of a wool production workshop in 1997, the skins were discarded; now there are several workshops that process the skins for the wool. Food and luxury fiber from the same animals, excellent.

The book focuses on eight luxury fibers. Two come from wild sources (qiviut and vicuña), and six from domesticated animals: two from sheep (Shetland and Merino), and four(!) from goats (cashmere, pashmina, taewit, mohair). I’m especially in awe of the goats; the luxury of their fiber is a direct result of the inhospitable climate in which these small hardy animals live.

The existence of these luxury fibers is dependent on a way of life that is threatened by industrial progress. The book is a beautiful celebration of both the animals and the people who bring us their wool.

Shetland Sheep with moorit bronget markings
We’re more familiar with sheep’s wool, such as this Shetland sheep of Scotland,

and this half shorn merino sheep in Tasmania.

The book closes with a chapter on the vicuña of Peru. Vicuña were hunted almost to extinction in the 1960’s, and have made a tremendous comeback due to a protection program initiated by the Peruvian government, and newer techniques for shearing without killing. The wild vicuña featured in this chapter are protected, and gently corralled for shearing via a 300 person human chain. How nice is that?

From wild to nomadic to farms to wild again, this book is a beautiful celebration of the source of the luxury fibers of the world. I enjoyed the visual tour, and learning about the people and the animals. I highly recommend it!

A teaser: Have you heard of Taewit goat wool from Kyrgyzstan? I hadn’t. It’s most likely a cross between the Kyrgyz goat and the Orenburg cashmere goat. I’ll let you imagine just how wonderful that must be.

I received this book in exchange for review. All opinions about it are my own. All pictures are my photographs of the book, so they’re not as nice as the book! Thank you to Firefly Books for the opportunity.

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