Some time back, I posted a photo of some fibre and asked folk if they could guess what it was... well a few spotted that it was dog hair (Chiengora), yet no-one got the breed. It was, infact Husky.
A lady contacted me through my website a while back asking (rather tentatively) if I would be able to spin her dog hair and make a Hat from it? Want I wanted to say was "Yes! Oh yes! Pleeeease let me do it! I'd love to make you a super furry funky Hat from your dog's fuzz!" Instead, professionalism kicked in and gave an idea of time, cost, asked about style etc etc and hinted that these unusual jobs were right up my street. I was a tad excited when I received an email back for the go ahead.
Spinning cat and dog hair is no new thing to me. I actually taught myself to spin with these fibres when I was doing my main degree at Goldsmiths. I soon learnt which fibres needed blending, how much they moult (because nearly all pet hairs do, bit like Angora) Did all the research and practice necessary, and for my degree show hand spun and knitted a 6 foot square patchwork blanket of pet hair, which was then draped over an armchair that was wired up to 'purr' on speakers.
My customer had already collected a fair amount of hair through grooming, and that soon arrived in the post. I hadn't actually spun Husky before, and so checked it out in my book. They said that Husky hair was short and fine and fly-away, a bit like a blown dandelion. They weren't kidding. And there was me wondering why I kept getting fibres up my nose.
I started the job as you would any raw fibre, by washing. The joy of washing non-sheep is that you don't have any lanolin to shift, just regular dirt, and so it washed up pretty quick. Which was good, as I think Spook would have started sulking big time should she have been able to smell 'dog' for too long. I did wash it in mesh laundry bags, as I didn't want to lose too much of it. After drying, it carded up quickly and was ready to spin. I weighed it first though, and found there wasn't quite enough, and so my customer (and her dog) groomed some more.
Now, Husky is one of the shorter spinnable fibres, about 2cm in staple length? Some breeds you can't spin, as they are too short or course. I have actually put a whole load of info on a page on the website about which breeds are spinnable. When I sat down to start spinning, Hitch had a bit of a grumble, so I went with the wheels' natural gauge and added extra twist to prevent excessive moulting and keep those fibres in locked in. I didn't want to fight with the wheel too much, especially as I knew I might need to spin some more at a later date and would need to match gauge. It produced a slightly chunky yarn with a lovely texture, which would (hopefully) make for a quick(ish) knit. (never a bad thing, when your customer is paying for your knitting time)
After plying, setting and drying, it was ready to knit. I started working top-down in the round, as it's the best way to go about a project if you're not sure you have enough yarn. Unlike wool, chiengora yarn has little or no give, so it will behave differently. My customer had sent a picture of a simple ribbed beanie to give me an indication of style desired. Perfect, as a simple style allows the beauty of the yarn to show through, and of course this kind of Hat isn't heavy on the yardage.
I don't know if you can tell from the picture above, but the ribbing wasn't turning out as neat and as even as I'd like. True, hand-spun has a gauge unto itself and won't look the same as a milled yarn. But I was getting saggy edges as I was turning between the knit and purl stitches on the rib, and that just wasn't good enough. It bugged me. It's the lack of elasticity causing this, y'see. Not wanting to keep ripping it out and start again 'cos the yarn would moult too much, I sat and pondered the best way to go about it.
I then had to give meself a swift slap around the head, as one good way of dealing with this problem is actually a technique I've been perfecting these last couple of months. Knit it sideways. When you knit a rib sideways, there's no changing between knit and purl stitches in any single row. It's instead a combination of knit and purl rows, and thus you get no saggy stitches. Hoorah! Having got that sorted, it knitted up in a few hours and was mightily chuffed with the finished result.
Doesn't it have a lovely soft glow? Pet hairs do this, hence the name - Chiengora. I'm afraid I won't be giving the lowdown on exactly how this was knitted sideways, as all will be revealed another time.
And here's Nanuk, the dog from which the hair came. Isn't she beautiful? All the more poignant to see her, to know who's hair I was spinning.
I can't deny I loved working on this project, working with unusual fibres to produce a personal Hat was just ideal for me. My customer has been a delight to work with, friendly and helpful, and you can't ask more than that. Well, except that she likes the end result!