It Started With A Question

About a year ago, while I was visiting the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg, I talked to a good friend, Jamie Nast (who taught me the most valuable skill of IdeaMapping.) I told her I was watching the Sheep-To-Shawl competition and explained how the teams shear a sheep, spin yarn, and weave a shawl, all within 2 1/2 hours. She knew that I was a Spinner, because I had made her a scarf from handspun yarn.img_0275

Out of the blue she asked: “Could you spin yarn from dog fur?”

And so a marvelous journey began, with a simple question. I told her that it was quite possible to spin dog fur into yarn. She was interested in knitting something for her husband for their 25th anniversary later in the year. What seemed like a simple question became a series of questions by both of us:  What size yarn would you like? Should we mix the fur with any other fiber? How much yarn would the fur make? And many more.

She sent me a box full of plastic zipper bags, labeled with the name of two dogs. IMG_1737It weighed about 4 pounds. She told me that the dogs were nicknamed “The Black Dogs” because they were black Chow Chow Newfoundlands and she therefore  invisioned a black yarn. IMG_1717But the fur that arrived was really more brown than black. So, that raised more questions about how to make the yarn black.

I began by washing the fur, which was free of grass or burrs, but did smell rather “doggy”. Once washed, it was fluffy and soft, but still quite brown.IMG_1714.jpg

Something different about this dog fur from sheep wool, is that it doesn’t have any crimp or “memory”. That means that it is not elastic, and won’t bounce back into shape if knitted into a garment. So, we would have to be careful about the kind of yarn and what she would make with it. She said she wanted to make an afghan, a good choice for this because it didn’t need to fit a body (no memory needed).

The next step for me was to try and calculate how many yards I could spin given the size yarn she wanted (DK weight). I got out my calculator and a digital scale and started to make some estimates. I spun very small samples in 2 and 3 ply and weighed them, extrapolating to larger numbers that fit the amount of fur we had to work with.  IMG_1719.jpgI had also spoken with Tom Knisely, formerly of the Mannings School of Handweaving, and MC for the sheep-to-shawl competition about how to accomplish this project. He suggested blending the dog fur 50/50 with a sheep’s wool like Merino.

So, some of the initial samples were made with some black Merino fiber that I bought. I made a sample with one ply of dog, one ply of Merino. I made a sample blending the dog and the Merino.IMG_1733.jpg

Then came an idea about how much yarn would be needed for the afghan she wanted to knit, and how to make the fur “black” and it became a concern that I would need to blend a lot of non-dog fiber in to achieve the black color. Buying black Merino (which was dyed that color) would be very expensive because we’d need so much. Then I got to thinking about Alpaca. There is a lady very near me who has Alpacas, and I have black fiber from her. So off I went experimenting with blending this into the dog fur and spinning up samples.

Then I realized that there might not be enough dog fiber to give her the yardage she would need to knit the afghan. This was because the dog fur is quite heavy compared to sheep’s wool. My sampling was very important, but the results were a bit disturbing.

In the next post, I’ll continue the journey.

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