I own -- my clothes, my furniture, and a good
part of my respiratory tract -- is made with
angora. That's because I share my home with
a 4-pound angora rabbit. He was originally purchased
in a fit of misplaced longing for my kids, who'd
gone off to college, and a conviction that I'd
one day learn to spin. Why not get a utility
pet, I figured -- someone to love, and to make
sweaters out of? What could be bad?
I picked the handsomest lilac
puffball of the litter, brought him home, and
named him Benzo [short for benzodiazepines,
a class of tranquilizers] because he calmed
me down. My husband nicknamed him TLC, for Tastes
Like Chicken. [Can you say gender gap?]
"Sure he's cute," Don said, "but what does he
It's true, he doesn't greet
you at the front door, doesn't come when he's
called, doesn't play Frisbee. He has two expressions
-- blank, and terror. It's probably fair
to say that Benzo is dumber than a carrot. But
I don't care. He's a prince of a bunny. He's
the bunny by which all other bunnies are measured.
I adore him.
worry -- no bunnies are harmed in the
harvesting of angora fiber. When a rabbit's
coat is ripe for harvesting, you can pluck
it by the handful without causing any
pain -- there's a new coat coming in underneath,
so it's ready to release. Bagging it is
another story. The fiber is charged with
enough static electricity to power a lawnmower.
It clings to the sides of the bag and
suspends itself in midair until it lands
on the closest pair of eyebrows...or corneas.
Once captured, however, it's ready to
be spun without cleaning or carding.
angora is not for beginners, I've learned.
The fiber is fine and slippery and requires
a practiced hand to feed into the spinning
wheel at just the right tension. Held
too loose, the yarn twists around
on itself, creating hopeless knots that
gum up the works. Held too tightly, the
yarn spins thin and breakable. What you're
really aiming for is a gentle twist that
brings out the soft, airy quality of the
fiber and allows plenty of loft.
the hands control the tension, the feet
are busy pedaling, determining the speed
with which the yarn is twisted. An experienced
spinner can get a lovely rhythm going,
hands and feet working together in hypnotic
angora is so fine, the fiber traps pockets
of air, making it many times warmer than
sheep's wool. It's so warm, in fact, that
a garment of 100% angora would be too
stifling to wear. To compensate, many
knitters reserve angora for decorative
accents, or knit it loosely to give it
room to breathe. Loose knitting also allows
the fibers to blossom into that signature
angora "halo," which becomes more pronounced
with wear [no need for fancy stitches
here -- they won't show!]
has a nice crimp, but no spring or memory.
In this regard, it is more like working
with cotton or silk. Or clouds, really.
If it were any softer, you would hardly
know it's there.
Really, he's better than any
plush toy I ever had as a kid. He eats, he poops
[they're dry and odorless!], and he licks my
nose when I pet him. Nobody can touch him when
it comes to shredding newspaper. And when he
runs out of food he picks up his bowl and scrapes
it along the side of his cage, like a prisoner
calling the warden. What more could you ask?
I have to admit he's
high maintenance. Even though he's litter
trained and very good about not chewing the
furniture [unlike some other animals who will
remain nameless], I spend a ridiculous amount
of time taking care of him. It takes 2 hours
to harvest his coat, which happens every month
or two, and he needs brushing daily.
Sometimes Don helps. One day when we were busy
combing out knots – I took the head, he
took the tail – I asked, “Do you
think other couples do this together?”
“I'm sure they do,” he assured
me, “in institutions.”
Benzo doesn't mind the sarcasm. He doesn't
even seem to mind the marathon grooming sessions,
or at least he tolerates them in good humor.
Against all instincts, he's learned to
trust me. He still hyperventilates every time
I pick him up, and if his coat is short I can
see his little heart beating right through his
paper-thin skin. But once he's caught,
he surrenders to my hand, the brush. He nuzzles
up against me and tucks his head under my chin.
He makes a little tooth-clicking purr, and eventually
even kicks his hind legs out behind him, relaxed
and sprawled out like a furry sphinx.
Even my husband has succumbed
to his charms. Benzo knows Don's the go-to
guy for a game of chase-tag [initiated by nudging
Don's ankle], a handout of raisins or
an extended session of pet-the-bunny.
Do I need to tell you that
I still haven't learned to spin? I've
long since lost interest in collecting fiber,
and the one scarf I knit from Benzo hair sheds
and gets up my nose and makes me sneeze. My
fantasies of small-scale shepherding must have
gotten sucked up the vacuum cleaner along with
the hairballs that routinely clog its motor.
So with any luck I'm looking at another
6 or 7 years of fruitless grooming and epic
lint. And I wouldn't have it any other
way. What's a few hairballs when you're