The best quality camel yarn is spun on drop spindles by women in nomadic households of Mongolia and Inner Mongolia, China
The two-humped Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus) is native to the steppes of Eastern and Central Asia. The current herd size is estimated at 1.4 million animals. The camel's fine inner down is combed away, shorn or collected during the 6-8 weeks moulting season. An adult camel yields about 5 to 10 kg of fleece per year.
The fine down fibre of the Bactrian camel averages around 20 microns in diameter and varies in length from 2.5 to 12.5 cm. Baby camel hair, which can measure as little as 16 microns (on a par with fine cashmere), is the softest and most prized. Owing to its quality and scarcity, camel hair is used in luxury textiles.
CNR-ISMAC, Biella, Italy
The best quality camel yarn is produced by nomadic households in Mongolia (above) and Inner Mongolia, China, where women spin the collected hair on drop spindles. Other significant producers are Afghanistan and Iran. Owing to lack of infrastructure, only very limited quantities of camel hair reach international markets.
Production and trade
Statistics on world production of camel hair are very limited. In the 1990s, production in China was estimated at about 2 000 tonnes, more than half of it from Inner Mongolia, while exports totalled around 500 tonnes.
Uses of camel hair
In Mongolia, camel hair is used by nomadic herders to make yurts (at right), winter clothing and carpets.
Exported yarns are used for production of a wide range of garments - overcoats, suits, coats, blazers, jackets and sweaters - and winter accessories such as gloves, caps and scarves.
Since it is a premium fibre, camel hair is usually blended with wool to make it more economical. Nylon is sometimes used with virgin quality camel hair in hosiery and other knitted products, while camel/cashmere blends are targeted at the luxury market.