Date of this Version
Textiles as Cultural Expressions: Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–27, 2008, Honolulu, Hawaii
It is well known that mohair, derived from the Angora goat, was long unique to Turkey, and only successfully reared outside of that region in the 150 years. The term Angora is an archaic spelling of the city now known as Ankara, now Turkey’s capital, but in the Ottoman era it was a sleepy town known as a center for weaving and selling the mohair raised in the region.
As the ambassador from Emperor Ferdinand of Austria to Constantinople, Ogier Ghiselin de Busbeq made a journey into Anatolia to Amasya in 1556, where Sultan Suleyman was encamped, one of the first official visitors to the Ottoman Empire allowed to travel so deep into Anatolia. He encountered herds of the mohair goats, and wrote that: “We saw also the famous goats from whose fleece or hair...is made the well-known cloth, known as camlet or watered cloth. The hair of these goats is very fine and wonderfully glossy, and hangs right down to the ground. The goat-herds do not shear it, but comb it out, and it is hardly less beautiful than silk.... Their food, which is the thin, dry grass of the district, is supposed to contribute to the fineness of their wool; for it is certain that, if they are removed to other pastures, their coats change with the change of food, and their species is scarcely recognizable."
The luxury cloth was known as camlet to English merchants and sof to Ottomans in the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries. The fiber was known in Ottoman Turkish as tiftik, as it still is in modern Turkish. The term camlet was apparently derived from the erroneous assumption by early traders that this cloth was made from camel hair. The English term mohair apparently is derived from an Arabic term mukhayyar, meaning “chosen” or “preferred.” Since the mohair goat does not thrive in the southern deserts of the Arab Middle East, it is likely that this term came to English merchants via Ottoman Turkish, which contained many Arabic words; indeed a similar term can be found in a modern Turkish dictionary: mukayyet, meaning “registered”, or “restricted”– also implying a select status for the object in question. In a further turn of vocabulary, the English term mohair is identified as the source from which the French term moiré is derived; the watered finish characteristic of the imported mohair cloth being closely associated with the fiber content initially, although moiré finishing was later applied by Europeans to silks as well.