Friday, October 5, 2007

How and Why I learned to Spin

I mentioned in my profile that I also spin, yet I haven’t done much of it lately. I think the reason is because it reminds me of my beautiful Chow-Chow pet dog, Aires (pronounced Air-eeze), who passed away quietly May 5th of this year. This is not easy for me to write about, even now, but necessary to my healing process. Thanks for reading.

Knitting, at this time, has a soothing and comforting aspect of healing, so I have found comfort in this as I mourn the passing of my lovely dog and my favorite cousin.

Several years ago, as my two oldest sons were preparing for college careers and leaving home, I struggled with separation anxiety, as most menopausal mothers experience. For 11 years, I had been an at-home mom and spent these fun loving years focused on my children. Having them leave home was rather depressing for me. When my youngest was starting high school, I started a part-time job and suddenly my house was so quiet. I felt I now had time and should make time to pursue something for me, to keep me from being so depressed.
I joined a local knitting guild. During one of the meetings, the group was knitting on various projects. I was just starting to get to know some of the other ladies in the group and was somewhat intimidated by them and their advanced skills. We each had a opportunity to “Show and Tell” what we were working on. One lady said she was knitting Samoyed Dog Hair, that she had handspun on consignment. Although, she did not delight in the project, I was intrigued. My thoughts went immediately to the handfuls of soft dog hair undercoat I was combing every week from my Chow Chow and throwing away.

Whenever, I get interested in something, I tend to be obsessed with finding out as much about the subject as possible. I did a Google Search and found a website:
I found out how to collect, wash and prepare dog hair. I promised myself to someday learn to spin so I could knit something from Aires’s fur.

Shortly after, my husband and I took a summer trip to Las Vegas. I wanted to find all the yarn stores in the area and stumbled a across a little shop called Wooley Wonders. Upon entering, there were wonderful colorful displays of various fibers to spin and spinning tools along with yarn and knitting supplies. I asked about how one would go about learning to spin fiber and the shop owner suggested I start with a drop spindle and some Romney fiber. She offered to give me a lesson right then, and in 5 minutes I was spinning. I was hooked ! I brought home the drop spindle and a pound of fiber and spun up a fairly consistent yarn. I learned how to ply it, and put in a skein. I experimented with microwave kool-aid dyeing and it turned out great for a first skein of yarn.

My first attempts at trying to spin Aires dog hair was a disaster using the drop spindle. The hair fibers were very fine and very short. I decided that I needed to get a spinning wheel and chose carefully the most versatile and portable wheel I could get, an Ashford Joy, single treddle. I explored Ebay to purchase a variety of fibers from merino wools to silk and alpaca. This was the fun part. As my consistency improved, I tried spinning the dog hair again. I finally spun a skein successfully, which was very tightly spun to stay together. Later I purchased a drum carder and started blending the dog hair with wool and found that this made a better yarn and fabric. My first knitted project was a pair of mittens, which were unusually warm, even warmer than wool. The mittens came in handy one morning during my son’s early morning Cross Country runs when it was 35 degrees, a rare occurrence in Southern California. Over the years, I had collected Aires undercoat, washed it, rinsed it in hair conditioner in order to give it a nice smell and softness, and spun it into yarn.

Allow me to digress a little and give some history. Aires first showed up on our back doorstep 10 years ago as a 3-month-old puppy, a chow-chow and golden retriever mix. When a search for the owners did not produce any results, we decided to keep him. He was the first dog we ever had. He was very gentle, timid around strangers, a calm and loving dog that fit our quiet family just perfectly. The Veterinarian staff said he was the one of the best Chows they had taken care of when he went for his check-ups. I loved how he would lay quietly by my feet as I knitted or spun. I loved to brush him. He was like a big teddy bear. In his last years, he developed hip displasia, a common malady that Chows are prone to and he injured his knee by rupturing a tendon. Surgery would not have cured him, so we chose to keep him as comfortable as possible over his last months, and he fell asleep at the foot of our bed on May 5 and never woke.

I miss Aires terribly. He was my dear companion. I am comforted by the fact that I saved his fur and wish to make a lace shawl of his fur. I saw the perfect pattern in an Issue of Spin Out Magazine called a Dog’s Paw Shawl, a triangular shawl. I will be blending and spinning it into yarn as soon as the weather gets colder. This will be a nice momento of him. It’s like I can still feel petting his fur and feeling his soft gentleness as he keeps me warm and warmhearted.
This is my Aires Hat, inspired by my dog. It is knit with Black Cormo, handspun and a blend of Aires dog hair and wool, in a Slip Stitch pattern I designed my self.


Anonymous said...

I love how much you have created! I am new to spinning, but a fair crocheter and knitter. I have 2 long haired cats of my own, and would love to learn how you prepared your fur before you spin it.

Diana said...

As I mentioned in my entry, pet hair tends to be very fine. I blended it on a drum carder to give it some substance. I used net bags to wash it before I spun it and added some hair conditioner (Pantene) in my last rinse to control it from flying away and give it a nice smell before I spun it. Wet dog hair is not very pleasant unless it is clean.

I would imagine that working with cat fur would be the same. Good Luck! Diana

Anonymous said...

Loved your story tho it brought a few tears. I am saving fur from my border collie to spin.