I got started spinning yarn about two years ago, and it quickly became one of my favourite pastimes. I’d started knitting a few years earlier and I’ve always loved making things as much from total scratch as I can, so making my own yarn was the obvious next step for me. I bought a drop spindle and a couple ounces of fibre off of Etsy, and spun some very inconsistent yarn from it. 

I didn’t really know about plying yet, so I made a skein on a PVC pipe niddy-noddy that I had just made and knit it into a hat for my girlfriend. It still gets worn sometimes, and she insists that she loves it, but it makes me a little bit embarrassed now when I compare it to some of the yarn I’ve made lately.

After gifting knitted garments made from handspun yarn to every person I could think of, I found myself not sure what I wanted to do with all the yarn I was spinning faster than I could knit it up.

It was around that time that my mom got herself a puppy named Luni. As a lifelong knitter herself, she was interested by the craft of spinning and asked me if I would be able to make yarn from Luni’s hair. I knew that making yarn from dog hair was possible, but I had to do some research to see if it could be made from just any dog hair.

The short answer is yes, but the long answer is that not all dogs are going to work the same when they are spun. Ideally, you want a dog that sheds a lot for spinning “chiengora”, or dog yarn. Hair that has been brushed out works better than cut hair, especially if the hairs are more than an inch long on average. Unfortunately, Luni doesn’t fit that profile, and the hairs I had were short hairs that had been cut. On their own, this was going to make a yarn that was not going to spin easily or be very strong when it was finished. This meant I had to get blending.

I’m going to do my next blog post on colour blends and we’ll get more into the ins and outs of blending then, but this process is similar to carding: I lay the fibre out on a large flat board covered in tiny bent teeth of metal wire, brush it into the teeth with a curved brush covered in similar teeth going the opposite way, and then layer or stripe more fabric onto it until the desired blend is achieved. It is then rolled off the board with dowels and spun.

I had to ask what would make the best base fibre for this yarn: something that could add strength to allow the shorter hairs to hold strong, but wouldn’t be so rough that it cancels out the lovely softness of the dog hair. The first fleece I ever tried to prepare from scratch was an alpaca fleece, and it was an experiment that I learned a lot from. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an experiment that produced a lot of usable yarn. I made some rookie mistakes in the washing process and I only had a little bit left that I could use, but I thought this would be a good application for it.

It certainly took a bit of time to get the rhythm of spinning with the shorter hairs in the blend. For a while, my yarn was breaking every time I got to a section that was primarily dog hair, and I started to wonder if it would ever work. With enough practice though, I figured out how much twist worked for the dog hair and how to draft it in a way that would allow that twist to travel evenly and hold it all together. It sounds like basic spinning stuff, but the introduction of the dog hairs really changed the whole feel of the spin.

I blended the last of the alpaca with Luni’s hair, as well as the hair of Luni’s best friend Mich. This created a really nice yarn that has a tweedy look to it, but is very soft and warm. This yarn can be seen in one of the February hats in our gallery. When the alpaca ran out but I had more of Luni and Mich’s fur, I switched to a bamboo blend.

Even though it was another white fibre blended in the same ratios with the dog hair, this yarn turned out really different. The bamboo fibres added a brightness and sheen that wasn’t present as much in the alpaca blend, but it doesn’t have the same soft halo as the alpaca yarn. Every fibre has their pros and cons, and that’s why I want to work with every customer on a case-by-case basis to figure out what the best way to spin up your fibre will be.

I hope you’ve got a bit of an impression of who I am and what the store is going for from these last two posts. I’ll be back in a couple weeks to talk about colour blending and the different effects that can be achieved.

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