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17 September 2016

Feel Good Yarn

Some years ago I advertised with posters around Ittoqqortoormiit (on Greenland's east coast) for groomed dog hair, with offers of good payment in return. We even tried to involve Greenland's west coast dog mushers. The idea was for sled dogs to benefit from having their old heavy winter undercoat fur groomed out by their owners. Unfortunately, the benefit to the dogs and the incentive of money was not enough for the idea to take off. No matter, my dogs continue to benefit every year from grooming. We have accumulated bales of groomed out dog hair and we are making a success of the idea on our own.

So what to do with all the lovely soft groomed out dog undercoat?

Spinning and knitting with groomed out dog hair is nothing new. I have seen it done in the Yukon and the Canadian Northwest Territories where dog mushers diligently groomed their dogs and where temperatures also fall low enough for Arctic dog breeds to produce tremendous plush coats. I have never known anyone spinning and knitting with groomed dog hair in Greenland. Until now. Jennifer does.

Jennifer has been busy spinning some of Mikkey’s groomed hair into yarn. The photo below shows 30 grams of two-ply dog hair yarn. Jennifer's finishing touch was to create Mikkey's own information label on the wrap.

25 metres of Mikkey yarn.
Before it gets to this stage, Jennifer painstakingly separates the long coarse guard hairs from the soft close-to-the-dog's-skin down layer. This takes time, patience and good light but it can be a relaxing task while enjoying a sunny afternoon outside (as long as there is no wind to steal the precious down).

Before and after de-hairing.
Next the de-haired down undercoat is hand carded which helps identify any lingering guard hairs to be removed and to fluff up the down ready for spinning.

Jennifer hand carding the sled dog down fibre.
Finally it is time to spin the down into yarn. Jennifer only spins with what is locally available, so as a result has spun sled dog, polar bear, musk-ox, Arctic hare and Arctic fox fibres but has never spun sheep's wool. Spinning dog down took some extra practice, but the end result was well worth the effort.

Jennifer spinning dog down fibre into yarn.
Jennifer proudly took the ball of yarn she made (entirely from Mikkey's groomed out hair) outside to show Mikkey. He promptly took it in his mouth. Luckily the yarn washing phase was next so any doggie drool was washed out. The washed yarn is soft and does not smell like a dog. Yarn from sheep does not smell like a sheep, so why would dog be any different.

Jennifer with Mikkey and his ball of yarn.
The yarn colour reflects the colour of the dog’s undercoat, which is not exactly the same colour you see when you look at the dog. So in Mikkey's case his coat looks black (because of the colour of his outer guard hairs) but his undercoat, which is used to make yarn, is a light brownish grey. Dog hair can also be dyed all kinds of colours.

Mikkey's natural coloured undercoat surrounded by dyed samples.
The yarn knits up soft and fluffy like mohair, but what makes it really special is knowing Mikkey loved the sensation and attention from being groomed, leaving him ready for his new winter coat to push through. It is feel good yarn.

Jennifer cannot wait to start on the giant bag containing Max's golden undercoat.

For more about Gary and his dogs go to www.garyrolfe.com