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Making a dog blanket

Dog hair: trash or valuable resource? 


As you may or may not know, rough collies have a LOT of undercoat and now and then they are shedding it. If you brush your collie thoroughly, you almost get a second collie in undercoat. For years I watched my mother (a breeder of rough collies) throw away these huge amounts of hair, not thinking anything of it.

And then I learned how to spin. I had already experimented with different types of fibers and I was curious what was possible.
So one day I literally saved a handful of undercoat (from the lovely boy Lines) from the trash and took them home with me. My mother thought it was weird, but didn’t say anything.
I experimented with the fiber and found out it was actually very spinnable. Very fine, lovely staple length. And the thought of knowing the donor of my spinning fiber from puppy on made me enjoy the spinning process even more.

Next time I talked to my mother, I asked her to save all the brushings from her dogs and give them to me when I was visiting. Again she thought it was strange, but I had always been a weird one and so she simply collected all the hair.

If my mother asked me what I was doing with all those bags of hair, I simply told her I was making it into yarn.

That was correct, but only half of the truth. I had a plan. I wanted to make a blanket for my mother from the hair of her own dogs. It would take me years, but in the end it was a very rewarding process.

Winny, one of the donors

Processing the fiber

Ruschi's undercoat

So here I was, with bags full of hair like Ruschi’s in the picture above. As the dogs were mostly clean, the fibers were relatively clean as well. Depending on the donor you could smell it was dog though.
Some of the fiber I spun just like that: grabbing a handful of hair and spinning it. Mostly though, I processed it first.

The exact process depended on the dog itself:
If it was rather smelly (especially with the older dogs) or had dirt in it (the really young ones) I washed it first. I put some shampoo into hot water, carefully submerged the fibers and let it cool completely. After that I rinsed it in cold water and spread it out to dry.
Most of the fiber though was clean enough for me to work with it directly. I took out my little drum carder and packed it with as many fibers as possible. The result were very fluffy batts of dog hair:

Batts of collie undercoat

Pure fluffiness

Spinning the fiber

Spinning was a lot of fun. I took the batts and just spun them on my spinning wheel. I would say I used a medium draft, but that is only because that is my default. Generally I did what felt nice.
After spinning I took two singles and plied them together, thus creating a 2-play yarn.
Two singles

I used a relatively high amount of twist, both spinning and plying, but only because I like high twist yarns.
The result was lots of soft yarn.

Collie yarn

Knitting the blanket

The knitting was the part that took the longest. It was a pain at parts, because it was the same stitch over and over again.
Ruschi, not amused, under the blanket

I used the 10 stitch blanket as guideline.

If you are interested, you’ll find the pattern on Ravelry and probably other places as well.

So I knit and knit and knit and in the end I used up around 3000m of handspun collie yarn. In the end it was 165cm x 165cm big.

I washed it carefully in the bathtub with some mild soap and then hung it over the shower rack to dry.

Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of it before I gave it to my mother, but I will never forget her face, when I finally handed it to her. Totally worth all the time.

Final thoughts

One thing I get asked repeatedly is, if it smells of dog.
It doesn’t. Not if it is washed. In this aspect dog hair is just like wool: wash it well enough and everything that could cause an odor will be gone.

Dog yarn (not just collie) also tends to have quite a bit of a halo. This can make the blanket feel either really soft or slightly itchy to you, depending on your skin. Similar to mohair, really.

Lots of halo
I would totally do it all again, though  maybe I’d use a different pattern or even attempt to weave the next blanket.

And for those worried about the well-being of the dogs: none of them were harmed and all got paid in cuddles for their undercoat donation.
Unfortunately some have already passed over the rainbow bridge, but the blanket is also a great way to remember them.

To sum things up: I really enjoyed this project and am rather proud of the result. I learned a lot and  am now rather good at trading cuddles for undercoat.

Do you have any experiences with dog hair or other unusual fibers? If so, what did you use and how?

I'd love to hear about your projects!

Your Fiberdog