Mama Cupcake is a fluffy white Angora rabbit who lives in Cooper Landing.
On Tuesday afternoon, she was snuggled up with three of her newborns in a big blue bucket.
“I left most of her babies at home, because we’re in the process of weening,” said Rachel Sullivan. She’s the owner of these bunnies and of Hibernation Textiles, a Cooper Landing-based small business.
“But this black one here is Solstice, and then this brown one is Frankincense,” Sullivan said, pointing to the babies. “And this little guy is Miracle, and he has the satinized, grey tips on him.”
You may have seen Hibernation Textile’s hats in Soldotna, at The Goods, Sugar Magnolias or Artzy Junkin, or in Girdwood or Seward. Sullivan makes her hats from a combination of store-bought colored yarn and rabbit hair, crocheted into trees and stars and waves.
Harvesting the fur is a gentle process — like brushing hair from a cat or dog. Angora rabbits are bred for their long, silky smooth coat.
Sullivan is not the only Angora owner in Alaska. There are over 140 members in the Facebook group “Alaska Angora Rabbit Fanciers.”
“I got my first rabbit from a woman in Kenai named Linda Price and she sold me my first bunny, Uno,” Sullivan said. “And my second bunny, Tupac. And then I ordered another guy named Cecil, from Sitka, Raven Frog Fibers. And then another breeder up in Wasilla I’ve bought from, as well. So Alaska has a healthy bunny population of Angoras.”
Some Angora owners will bring their rabbits to shows. Sullivan sticks to the fiber arts side of things.
“Angora yarn is eight times warmer than wool, and it’s so soft, but it’s very expensive,” she said. “And so I thought I should just figure out how to make this myself. And it is a labor of love, I can definitely understand why it’s so expensive now.”
She also doesn’t have to process the yarn like she might another variety. Instead, she hooks it into a handheld spinner and turns a tufty cloud of white or brown or black rabbit fur into a thick thread.
It takes about three or four hours to make a hat. She charges between $45 and $60.
Angora rabbits produce hair three times a year. It gets to be about two or three inches long before it’s plucked.
“Plucking is what they say, but it’s a little more gentle than that,” Sullivan said.
No Angoras are hurt in the making of this yarn. To make sure potential customers know that, she attaches cards with the bunnies’ faces on them to each hat.
“And especially if you time it right, like when the weather warms up, it almost falls out,” she said. “And if you don’t collect it at the right time, it can actually be bad — it can get into their lungs, it can get all over their cage.”
She also keeps an eye out for matted fur.
“And then, obviously, there’s a lot of poop,” she said. “But it’s great for the garden. So there's that.”
Animal maintenance comes naturally to Sullivan. She grew up with goats and chickens on Fox Island, Wash.
When she came to Alaska, she took a job as a river guide at Alaska Rivers Company. Co-owner Cory Route taught her her first crochet stitches.
Now, she’s part of the Fireweed Fiber Guild — a group of Kenai Peninsula fiber artists who, in non-COVID times, meet monthly in Soldotna.
Sullivan said being a mom is her full-time job. But her business is a supplemental income for her family. She likes that it’s creative.
“And I think I’m at the point now where the bunnies are paying for themselves. So that’s good.” she said. “’Cause they do cost a lot to take care of and keep up with.”
They double as pets for Sullivan and her 8-, 6- and 3-year-old kids. They have movie nights with the bunnies.
And she has 19 rabbits now — more than she’s ever had. They live in a barn that’s bordered by an electric fence so that bears can’t get in.
That hasn’t been a problem yet.
“I’ve been very lucky,” she said, looking around. “I’m watching today for eagles because we’re in a nice open area but so far, so good.”
Sullivan said she’d love to have more Angora animals some day, like Angora goats or alpacas. She would send that wool up to the Coyote Trail Farm and Fiber Mill in Fairbanks, Alaska’s only commercial fiber mill.
But that would require more time and land. For now, the bunnies are still the stars of the show.