Saturday, 8 January 2011

Spinning dog fur - progress report

I've now washed all of the dog fur in Unicorn Power Scour, it is dry and no longer smells of dog!  I took some photos of the fibre at different stages to show you how it balls up during washing:

Strange isn't it?   No other fibre I've worked with behaved like this.

Here's the fibre after I pulled the balls apart:

The fibre didn't felt at all and the balls came apart easily.

Once the fibre was dry, I ran it through my Ashford drum carder.  The drum carder has two spiked rollers, or drums, the small drum feeds the fibre onto the larger drum, the fibre is not supposed to get tangled on the small feeder  drum.  No matter what I did, the dog fur embedded itself into the teeth of the small drum and didn't transfer very well, as you can see in the picture below.  The drum carder is supposed to take 65g of fibre but the most dog fur I managed to get onto the main drum in one go was about 2g.  As you can imagine, carding this fur is a slow process!  

After struggling for a bit, I had a brain wave.  I originally bought my drum carder when I was working on a commission to spin a pet rabbit's fur.  Rabbit fur is one of the finest fibres you can spin.  The salesperson assured me a packer brush would help.  A packer brush is a bit like those draught excluders you put in the letterbox, it's a lot of soft bristles close together.  The packer brush is detachable, when fitted to the drum carder, its job is to push the fibre into the teeth of the large drum.  Here is a close up picture of the fitted packer brush:

The packer brush worked really well, I got 8g onto the drum instead of 2g! 

After carding the fibre I made rolags, since the dog fur doesn't hold together very well I rolled the fibre into rolags as I pulled it off the drum.  Here are two rolags of husky fur, they weigh between 1g and 2g each.

Here is a close up of the rolag, you can see the shorter darker guard hairs mixed in with the fluffy undercoat:

I spun two singles using the long draw technique.  This fibre is so unforgiving.  Wool pretty much spins itself, you can watch TV and spin no problem, but the dog fur needs full concentration, it untwists at any opportunity and the first single I spun broke frequently.  Here's the first bobbin: 

This yarn is a celebration of a much loved pet so I am spinning the fur as it comes rather than picking out all the odd hairs.  The fibre does vary, there are some coarser fibres even among the undercoat and there are patches which are full of very short black hair.  If I wanted the softest yarn possible I would need to pick these bits out, however, the aim of the project is to make a yarn which is true to Alaska the dog, so I am leaving in all but the coarsest fibres.

Plying is a fiddly job.  You need a lot of twist in the singles to keep the fibre together, also the yarn is slubbed with thicker and thinner places so when I ply the singles it is a difficult job to produce a balanced yarn.  The thinner parts of the singles have more twist than the slubs and thicker parts so I have to work at the plying to even out the twist.  However, I am proud to say the two skeins I have finished are well balanced yarns.  You can tell if a skein is balanced or not when you take it off the bobbin and let the skein hang, if the skein twists on itself it is not balanced, if it hangs in an open loop then you have a balanced yarn!  

Here is the first completed skein:

I have now completed two skeins and I feel like I'm getting the mastery of this unusual fibre.  Now all I've got to do is spin that pillow case full of remaining dog fur! 

To see more of my work and to buy handspun yarns please visit my online shop:

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