Dog hair (called chiengora)can be spun into yarn, much like sheep’s wool, alpaca, or any other animal fiber. The process is the same. Dust and oils can be washed out of the spun hair, so there is no “doggie odor.” Amazingly, the spun yarn is warmer than wool, easy to care for, and has an angora-like fluffy texture. Until recent times, most dog owners didn’t realize the beauty of the colors and texture of their dog’s hair could be used in the manner of sheep’s wool.
It’s really as easy as brushing your dog. There are some guidelines to getting the best and softest yarn possible.
When brushing your dog, be sure to collect from the parts where the hair is the longest and softest. This is undercoat. Hair must be 2 inches or longer for best results. Hair should be clean and dry, with no grass or debris in it. Brush the hair from the longest, softest parts of the dog, saving only this hair. It is the undercoat you want, not the coarse top coat. Clippings will not work well for spinning with dogs that have double coats. There is too much guard hair, and the yarn quality will not be as nice as the pure undercoat.
Remove dog hair from the brush and save it in a paper bag. Save hair that is completely dry, and as clean as possible. (Do not attempt to clean it once it is brushed off the dog!) Bathe your dog first, and brush when the hair is dry.
Paper allows the fiber to “breathe” and not be trapped with oils in a plastic bag. The best way to store the hair from brushings, is in a paper sack, or cloth bag, such as a pillowcase. Despite what your mother or grandmother used to do, NEVER USE MOTH BALLS! Moth balls contain a toxic chemical that is dangerous to breathe, and it is impossible to remove the mothball smell from the hair.
How much do you save? It depends on what will be made with the finished yarn. Most small projects use about 6 ounces of hair.
Transforming dog hair into yarn takes much time and care. First, the yarn is evaluated for spinning. Depending on length, and how the yarn will be used, I determine if the hair needs blending with a soft merino wool. Blending minimizes shedding out, and produces a more durable yarn. Although most people want 100% of their dog’s hair to be used in a product, this isn’t always possible. The dog’s color can still be seen and the fluffy texture is still present in the finished yarn.
From this point, the process is the same as spinning sheep’s wool. I use a drum carder for the blending process. This carder has metal teeth on it, that comb the wool, so the fibers are lined up and ready for spinning. The fiber is lifted off the drum carder, loosely rolled up, and set aside by the spinning wheel.
The yarn is spun into single strands on a spinning wheel, and then plied for strength. The yarn is then cleaned by hand, using a mild conditioning detergent or dog shampoo, and air dried. It is then wound into balls or skeins and is then ready to be knitted or crocheted into a scarf, hat, ornament, and many other things.
Because it is handcrafted, and personal, a chiengora gift makes a sentimental remembrance. It is better to begin collecting hair while your pet is healthy and younger. People have often told me that it is comforting to have a soft, “pettable” scarf, hat, teddy bear, or other item made from their dog’s hair, and it brings back happy memories.