Thursday, February 13, 2020

"Virtually" No-Sew Heart - a Free Knitting Pattern

This sweet stuffed heart was first designed as a pet keepsake, to be made out of chiengora yarn – a soft memento made out of a beloved dog’s downy undercoat.After I designed it, I realised that it would also make the perfect embellishment for a homely, Shaker-style wreath to be displayed all year-round – or to hang on a tree at Christmas.


My least favourite part of knitting is the sewing afterward and so I regularly seek out knitting patterns with a ‘join as you go’ construction – hence my desire to design a stuffed heart with minimal sewing. (There is a small hole to gather up between the heart bumps, but aside from also threading the yarn through the last few stitches, that is all the stitching involved. The stuffed heart is knitted upside down, from the top down in the round. The tops of the heart are worked separately and then joined together. It has two Judy Becker’s magic cast-ons at the top and is worked in the round using the magic loop method.


A Word About Yarn Gauge

It isn’t essential to knit a tension square before you make the stuffed heart. I do think these stuffed hearts look better if they are knitted relatively tightly though. I used a sport weight yarn (UK baby weight yarn) and I knitted the hearts on 2.5mm needles, which is 3 needle sizes smaller than recommended for my yarn.

Special Techniques

Magic Loop: This marvelous technique allows you to work any number of stitches in the round, on circular needles without the need for 4 or more double-ended needles.

Judy Becker’s Magic Cast On: This clever cast on was first devised by Judy Becker for knitting toe-up socks with an invisible cast-on edge, but it is also perfect for knitting the tops of these little hearts as it creates an enclosed bottom edge, with no seaming required.


sts      =       Stitches 
k        =       Knit 
RLI     =       Right lifted increase. (With your right needle, pick up the stitch below the next stitch on your left needle, slip it onto your left needle and knit it.)
LLI     =       Left lifted increase,(With your left needle, pick up the stitch two stitches below the last worked stitch on your right needle and knit it.)
sl2, k1, p2sso    =       Slip two together, knit-wise, knit 1, pass the two slipped stitches over

If you prefer written instructions, I've given them immediately below.  If you prefer graph instructions they begin here ***

Right heart top

Using size 2.5mm needles and sports weight yarn (UK 5ply or baby), cast on 8sts, 4 on each needle, using Judy Becker’s magic cast on.

Round 1: k8
Round 2: (k1, RLI k2, LLI, k1) x 2 (12sts)
Round 3: (k1, RLI k4, LLI, k1) x 2 (16sts)
Round 4: k16
Round 5: ( k1, RLI, k6, LLI, k1) x 2 (20sts)
Round 6: k20
Round 7: k20
Round 8: k1, RLI, k18, LLI, k1 (22sts)
Rounds 9-12: k22

Cut the yarn, leaving enough for threading onto a needle and working a few gathering stitches later.

Slip these 22sts onto a spare circular needle or 2 double-pointed needles and start the left heart top.

Left heart top

Using size 2.5mm needles and sports weight yarn (UK 5ply or baby), cast on 8sts, 4 on each needle, using Judy Becker’s magic cast on.

Round 1: k8
Round 2: (k1, RLI k2, LLI, k1) x 2. (12sts)
Round 3: (k1, RLI k4, LLI, k1) x 2. (16sts)
Round 4: k16
Round 5: (k1, RLI, k6, LLI, k1) x 2 (20sts)
Round 6: k20
Round 7: k20
Round 8: k9, LLI, k1, k1, RLI, k9 (22sts)
Rounds 9-11: k22
Round 12: k10, LLI, k1, k1, RLI, k10 (24sts)

Joining the two heart tops together

Round 13: k12 sts of the left heart top and 11sts of the right heart top, (making sure that you begin the right heart top from the side that hasn’t got the working yarn attached) turn and knit 11sts of the right heart top and 12sts of the left heart top. (46sts)

Continue to work the lower part of the heart in the round, using the magic loop method.

Rounds 14-17: k46
Round 18: (k10, sl2, k1, p2sso, k10) x 2 (42sts)
Round 19: k42 
Round 20: (k9, sl2, k1, p2sso, k9) x 2 (38sts)

Now’s a good time to sew up the hole created between the two heart tops.

If you want to add a hanging ribbon to make a Christmas tree decoration, this can be threaded through the large hole and then knotted inside the heart before the hole is gathered up.

Slide all of the sts onto the circular needle cable. Using the yarn tail inside the heart and a large eye needle, stitch around the hole and gather the yarn to close the hole in the valley between the two heart tops.

Continue in magic loop.

Round 21: k38
Round 22: (k8, sl2, k1, p2sso, k8) x 2 (34sts)
Round 23: k34
Round 24: (k7, sl2, k1, p2sso, k7) x 2 (30sts)
Round 25: k30
Round 26: (k6, sl2, k1, p2sso, k6) x 2 (26sts)
Round 27: k26
Round 28: (k5, sl2, k1, p2sso, k5) x 2 (22sts)
Round 29: k22
Round 30: (k4, sl2, k1, p2sso, k4) x 2 (18sts)
Round 31: k18sts

Slide all of the sts onto the circular needle cable and stuff the heart.

Add plenty of stuffing, remembering that you’ll want to move some of it down into the bottom point of the heart. (You may prefer to do this after round 30 or earlier, depending on the size of the hole and your method of adding stuffing.)

Continue in magic loop.

Round 32: (k3, sl2, k1, p2sso, k3) x 2 (14sts)
Round 33: k14sts
Round 34: (k2, sl2, k1, p2sso, k2) x 2 (10sts)
Round 35: k10sts
Round 36: (k1, sl2, k1, p2sso, k1) x 2 (6sts)
Round 37: k6

Cut the yarn and, with a wool needle, thread it through the remaining 6sts and gather them up. Finish by inserting the yarn inside the heart and cutting. Squeeze and manipulate the stuffing in the heart to encourage some of it to fill the unstuffed point.


Virtually No Sew Heart Graph instructions

Right heart top

Right heart top

Using size 2.5mm needles and sports weight yarn (UK 5ply or baby), cast on 8sts, 4 on each needle, using Judy Becker’s magic cast on.

Cut the yarn, leaving enough for threading onto a needle and working a few gathering stitches later.
Slip these 22sts onto a spare circular needle and start the left heart top.

Left heart top

Using size 2.5mm needles and sports weight yarn (UK 5ply or baby), cast on 8sts, 4 on each needle, using Judy Becker’s magic cast on.

Joining the two heart tops together

Round 13: k12 sts of the left heart top and 11sts of the right heart top, turn and knit 11sts of the right
                  heart top and 12sts of the left heart top. (46sts)

Continue to work the lower part of the heart in the round, using the magic loop method.

Cut the yarn and, with a wool needle, thread it through the remaining 6sts and gather them up. Finish by inserting the yarn inside the heart and cutting. Squeeze and manipulate the stuffing in the heart to encourage some of it to fill the unstuffed point.


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Monday, February 03, 2020

My 3D printed Electric Eel Wheel Nano Orifice Reducer with a Built-in Twist Keeper - and Other Modifications

I make no secret of how much I love the Electric Eel Wheel range of electric spinning wheels.  Investing in the 2015 Kickstarter for the Electric Eel Wheel 4 allowed me to try an e-spinner at an affordable price, at a time when treadling my beloved Ashford Traveller was damaging my hip joint and an electric spinning wheel was previously way out of my price range.

My spinning wheels from left to right, in order of purchase -
Ashford Traveller, Electric Eel Wheel 4, Electric Eel Wheel 5, Hansen MiniSpinner, Electric Eel Wheel Nano

My most favourite of the Electric Eel Wheels is the Nano.  I love it for its portability, low volume, and general overall cuteness.  It was also the most affordable.  There's something about its size that makes it virtually as portable as a drop spindle, but as fun as a toy.  Most of the time it sits on my conservatory windowsill next to me, but it also joins me in the kitchen to fill time while I'm cooking, It’s quiet enough to use while I’m watching TV with my family and it's small enough to go into a handbag and use while I'm waiting in the car.

It's the only e-spinner I know that is small enough to sit on my car dashboard - while stationary of course!

There's something about spending less than £100 on a spinning wheel that makes me feel like I have greater permission to modify it and customise it to suit my needs.  I wouldn't dream of modifying a solid wood, top of the range E-spinner, but I've happily made several modifications to all of my Electric Eel Wheels to make them my own.  

A whole maker community has built up around the Electric Eel Wheel, fuelled mostly by the inventor, Maurice Ribble.   Maurice has an unusually open approach to inventing and product design - often sharing new product ideas with the Ravelry community to gain feedback, well before going to manufacture. Maurice also generously shares files so that people can 3D print their own accessories for the Electric Eel Wheel product range, as well as allowing people to sell these 3D printed Electric Eel Wheel extras for their own profit. Not many business owners or inventors would be quite so open or altruistic.

If you look on Thingiverse  you will find many, many accessories you can print for the Nano  - uploaded by various Nano owners that want to help other spinners by sharing the accessories they’ve created to personalise their own spinning experience.

My Electric Eel Wheel Nano Orifice Reducer with Built-in Twist Keeper

One universal problem spinners frequently come across is how to secure the twisted singles when you are taking a break from spinning.  Some use a Velcro dot while others use a clip or twist keeper.

There is a small cut out on the Electric Eel Wheel Nano that is intended to hold the twist in singles, but I generally spin much finer than this will hold.  Other people secure the yarn under the magnetised orifice hook, but again, this is slightly fiddly and there is a definite chance of it coming away when you’re transporting it.  Personally, I would just let the singles twist up on themselves, but occasionally I found I was having to break off a section of singles as the fibres would become knotted onto themselves.  

Quite a few spinners use these cute wine glass charm clips. I did buy some and tried it for a while, but I found it a bit too fiddly and so I reverted back to my old system of just letting it twist up on itself.  I needed something quick and simple to suit relatively thick, to very fine yarns that would be semi-permanently attached to the e-spinner.

It occurred to me that, as I like to spin fine on the Nano, I keep the orifice reducer in permanent position and so maybe I could make it function as a yarn keeper as well.  Helpfully, Maurice Ribble has provided the 3D printed stl file for the original Nano orifice reducer.  

With the help of my husband, who knows how to drive a 3D printer, and my introductory knowledge of Tinkercad, I was able to redesign the original Nano orifice reducer to become a multi-purpose orifice reducer and twist keeper.

I made a little animated gif to show it in use.  You can use it as a twist keeper when you're taking a short break; or if you're moving your Nano around, you can wrap more of your spun singles around it to prevent them from knotting onto themselves in transit.

If you'd like to 3D print your own Nano Twist keeper, the file can be found on Thingiverse here.

My Other Modifications

Changing the sliding hooks

One of the first modifications I made to my Electric Eel Wheels 4 and 5 was to change the sliding hook system to a metal split ring system.  I just prefer a system that can be moved with one hand and I found the original hooks on all three Electric Eel Wheels to be a little stiff for me.

The original hooks on the Nano are made from steel and I found them quite awkward to use.  They were tricky to move with one hand and my yarn kept getting caught or wrapped around the ends of the hooks.

These final sliding split rings are made from gold plated, 1.2mm copper jewellery wire, but I made a video showing how to make your own here using slightly thinner wire.  If you do make your own, you should note that I found that there was a definite correlation between how flexible the wire is and how easy they are to move, and finding a compromise is key.  I tried a much heavier gauge aluminium wire at one point (which was much softer than my 1.2mm copper); the aluminium moved more smoothly than all of the other wires I chose, but the wire had very little memory compared to copper or steel and so bent out of shape much too easily.


There was a little confusion as to how they worked on the Electric Eel Wheel Ravelry forum, so I made a second video to demonstrate them here -

Gluing on the Pulley Wheel

One fix I believe everyone should do to the first iteration of the Electric Eel Wheel Nano is to glue on the pulley wheel, or at least sandwich a piece of thread between the pulley and the motor rod.  Most people find that there is some slippage of the pulley on the rod - especially after they've been spinning for a while.  The slippage tends to result in a very hot motor and slows down the wheel significantly.  I used 2 part 5 minute epoxy glue.

I don't believe that this will be an issue with the second iteration of the Electric Eel Wheel Nano (due out in the Spring of 2020)  but as an early adopter on the Electric Eel Wheel Nano Kickstarter, I believe a few imperfections are to be expected in what is an extremely affordable, but revolutionary E-spinner.

Reducing the Volume

A low volume e-spinner has always been a big priority for me and the noise levels of the Electric Eel Wheels 4 and 5 have consistently been a matter of annoyance for me - the Electric Eel Wheel 4 especially so!

I purposely sought out methods of making my Nano as quiet as possible and I made a little video to show how I modified it to go from 68 decibels to 45 decibels.

Out of the box, the Electric Eel Wheel Nano sound levels measured 68dB, which is about the same volume as my Electric Eel Wheel 5.  It's not an annoying level, but if I wanted to watch television I would certainly need to turn the volume up, which I'm sure would slightly irritate anyone else in the room.

After my sound-reducing modifications, the Nano measured 45 decibels, which is approximately 4 times quieter than 68dB and can hardly be heard over general household noise.

Changing the Brake Band

The Electric Eel Wheel Nano comes with a very simple covered stretchy elastic band braking system.  It's very basic and its simplicity helps to keep down the price of the Nano.  I decided to change my stretchy cord for a system that would give me more control over how much brake tension is added to the bobbin.

I used 1mm Chinese knotting cord as a brake band and used 2mm crimp beads to set the increments as they were the smallest beads I could find with big enough holes.

I used an Ashford brake band spring, with the loop cut off, on the other end of the brake band and just attached it discretely to the Nano with a small rectangle of black duct tape.

I love this brake system as it seems to require significantly fewer adjustments than the original stretchy band.   Additionally, as the beads create definite increments, it's easy to set your tension back to exactly the right place when you start a new bobbin, as opposed to a stretchy band or twisting knob system that requires a lot more trial and error.

Anecdotally, I also noticed that my motor didn't heat up nearly so quickly with the Chinese knotting cord - possibly because it is much smoother than the original stretchy brake band and so there is less friction.  But I'm not an engineer...

Attaching the Nano to my Battery

A lot of people that own the Electric Eel Wheel Nano use a TalentCell 12V/3000mAh battery pack.  This is one of the batteries suggested and recommended by Maurice Ribble - primarily because unlike most power bricks, it doesn't turn itself off when it detects that it's not being used.  There is also a battery case that you can 3D print to house this particular Talentcell battery.  The added benefit of attaching the Nano to a battery case is that it adds weight to the very light Nano and reduces the probability of pulling it towards yourself.  It's also a very compact battery and so combining the e-spinner and the battery opens up the portability of the Nano.

Unfortunately, in the UK, the TalentCell batteries are much more expensive than in the US.  Aside from the price, I already had an Anker battery that I'd bought to use with my Electric Eel 4 that was the perfect size to sit my Electric Eel Wheel Nano on.  (Unfortunately this battery is no longer made.)  I'd added suction cups to the base of my Nano to reduce vibration and increase the airflow underneath the motor, but I found that the suction cups would only stick to the very shiniest of surfaces.

To get the suction cups on the Nano to stick firmly to the battery, I attached a piece of Perspex to the top of the battery with some black Velcro dots...

... and then used double-sided sticky tape to attach some non-slip matting to the underside of the battery to further reduce the probability of pulling the Nano towards me while spinning.

It works really well and with the battery attached it's now even more portable.

I do hope talking through my Nano modifications has been helpful.  To reiterate, the Electric Eel Wheel Nano was intentionally designed to be mass-produced to make it affordable, both to people interested in taking up spinning as a hobby and to people like myself that are experienced spinners but wanted a second (or 5th!) wheel for traveling with. 

The Nano was designed to be as small and light as possible, without losing focus on usability.  The design is elegant but simply finished, allowing spinners to make their own modifications and alterations - or to spin with it straight out of the box if they prefer. There is an extremely useful post on the Ravelry forum that documents many of the other modifications that Nano owners have made to their wheels to personalise their own spinning experience.

This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links to similar products that I purchased myself to alter my Electric Eel Wheel Nano. If you click through and purchase anything, I may receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

Related Post - The Evolution of the Electric Eel Wheel

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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Preparing and Spinning Dog Hair - Spinning Chiengora

As a preface, this blog post has been several months in the making and is one of my longer blog posts.  I talk about my experiments, mistakes and learning process in perfecting my technique for spinning chiengora.  If you’re just a little bit curious about how to spin dog hair, I've made a short video that summarises my final, start to finish process for spinning dog hair here - 

If you’d like to learn more, read on...

Spinning Chiengora

As a spinner, I love trying out new or unusual fibres, and one fibre I've been very intrigued by is dog hair or chiengora (so-called because of its similarity in appearance and texture to angora).   There are usually one of three reactions when someone mentions spinning dog hair.  People are either repulsed at the thought of wearing something that might smell of wet dog, they just think it’s extremely weird, or they love the idea of having a memento that is made purely out of the fur of their beloved pet.

Spinning dog hair is certainly not a recent fad.  Items dating back to pre-historic Scandinavia were found to be made from dog hair, and dogs were the main providers of protein fibres to the Native American Navajos before sheep were introduced to the continent.

The best dogs for providing fibre for spinning are long-haired, double-coated dogs that have definite shedding phases, when they primarily shed their undercoat.  Anyone that has ever owned a double-coated dog knows that underneath the stiff, wiry guard hairs, lie much softer, finer, downy undercoat hairs.  It's these finer, hidden hairs that are just perfect for spinning into a luxurious yarn.  If you had the dog, the opportunity and the skill, why would you not turn the shed hair into an extremely warm, luxurious yarn, instead of throwing it away?

Popular dogs for spinning into yarn are:-

This is actually my second attempt at writing a blog post about my experience spinning dog hair, but my original post started to turn into more of a - how not to harvest dog hair - that I decided to wait until an opportunity to spin a better source of chiengora fibre arose.

If you're looking to spin your own dog's hair, I would highly recommend taking a look at a forum on Ravelry called - "Spinning Dog Fiber - aka Spinnin' Chien."  I picked up a lot of tips on fibre preparation there and a lot of the information I'm sharing here came from the extremely helpful forum members there.

Tips for harvesting and storing dog hair

Dog hair for spinning should always come from brushings rather than clippings.  Ideally, you just want to spin the finer undercoat, so clippings will always contain a lot more guard hairs.  Cut ends can also add to the prickly nature of the yarn.  If your dog sheds once or twice a year then the best undercoat fibres are brushed out at the beginning of the shedding, as fewer guard hairs are dropped at this stage.  Don't be afraid to be selective about which brushings you keep and which you discard.  It's much better to have a small amount of luxurious yarn than a large amount of mediocre, itchy yarn.

Unfortunately, I don't have a dog myself, but many double-coated dog owners tell me that you get varying qualities of hair from different parts of the dog.  Like a sheep or alpaca, you get much softer, finer hair from the back, neck and sides.  The legs, tail and stomach yield shorter or coarser hair and so it's better to discard these hairs if you want a more luxurious, wearable yarn.

Storing the fibres well is crucial.  Make sure that whatever you keep the hair in is breathable - like a paper bag, cardboard box or old pillowcase.   Try not to pack it in too tightly as this will increase the risk of it all matting together.


My first (disappointing) attempt at spinning dog hair

Five years ago, we were at a friends' house and I was admiring their pet cockapoo.  I flippantly said that I would love to spin its fur - knowing nothing about spinning dog hair at the time.  Well, a year later they confessed that they'd been saving all of their dog's hair - in the hope that I would spin some cockapoo yarn for their 13-year-old daughter to knit with.

Cockapoo image from Wikipedia

Bless them, they'd been diligently putting all the hair into little black dog-poo-bags and knotting them tightly when they were full.  They'd tried to get as much as possible into the plastic bags to save space, so the hair was really well packed in.

Having read a lot more about spinning dog hair since, I now know that keeping dog hair packed into a plastic bag for long periods of time is really not ideal as the hair can sweat and start to matt over time.  Trust me, unwashed-year-old dog hair, kept in a plastic bag is particularly smelly!

I also don't think that a cockapoo is the ideal dog for spinning.  It's a cross between a cocker spaniel and a poodle and any dog crossed with a poodle is quite likely to be low shedding and single coated, so I was really not off to a good start.

Well, I washed it, carded it and spun a knittable yarn, but it was quite clear that any yarn I produced was definitely going to be too itchy to wear.  It was just too full of guard hairs and clipped ends that it felt more like string than yarn.

I spun enough for our friends' daughter to knit a Christmas stocking for their dog and then disposed of the remaining dog hair as quickly as possible...


My experience spinning Malamute

Last year, a local lady posted on Ravelry, asking if anyone would be willing to spin some long-haired malamute fibre for her.  After my failed attempt a few years ago, I really wanted to redeem myself, so I offered to spin a hundred grams or so for her - purely as a learning experience and to add a little variety to my own yarn stash.  I told her to save just the brushings and to keep it stored in a breathable container.  I now know that I should have also asked her to be a bit more selective about the fibres that she saved - but that was another lesson I learned!

Well, she turned up at my door with two pillowcases full of soft, malamute hair.  There were probably 500 grams in there - all from one season's shedding!

As you can see, there is a real mixture of fibres in there.  Just touching it, I could feel that it was so much softer than the cockapoo hair I'd spun previously, but at first glance you can see that there are also a lot of guard hairs in there.

Underhairs come in a variety of shades and they're frequently a slightly different shade to the protective guard hairs.  At first glance, it looked like these malamute guard hairs were mostly black, or white with black tips.  I later learned that there were also a lot of white guard hairs in there as well.

Sorting and washing the Malamute fibre

I spent a couple of days sorting the dog fibres.  I pulled out the darkest sections as these contained the most guard hairs.  I also removed the shorter, coarser hairs, and sections that were overly matted or full of dander as these were not going to be pleasant to spin.  I must admit to being quite ruthless, but I quickly learned (from colour, appearance and texture) which fibres were going to be the softest.  

I'm sure if I was a dog owner as well as a spinner, this process would be much easier as the fibres would be more efficiently sorted at the grooming stage.  I also now know that it would be much better to save just the softer hairs from the first brushings - when the dog first begins to shed - as these contain fewer guard hairs.

The malamute that donated the hair must have been very well looked after, as the hair was quite clean and smelled only slightly 'doggy'.   I decided, however, to wash it anyway. 

Opening up the fibres as I went, I placed the lighter sections of fibre in a large delicates laundry bag, ready to be soaked.  

I was intrigued to see how well 'Soak', my favourite wool and delicates washing liquid, would clean the malamute fibres.  Soak isn't necessarily recommended for washing pre-spun fibres, but I wanted to minimise agitation of the malamute - which could cause felting, so I thought it was worth a try.

I made this animated gif to show just how much dirt came out of what I thought was pretty clean dog hair after three. thirty minute soaks and one rinse.

This is the wet malamute fibres after they've been for a gentle spin in my washing machine at 400rpm for 15 minutes to remove a lot of the excess water.  I love how you can see the bright whites and soft beiges more clearly now in the underhair.

It's winter here in the UK and so I hung my bag of wet malamute fibres on a radiator, periodically checking it and fluffing the fibres out.  It took about two days to completely dry.  It hadn't been particularly dirty to start with, but now there wasn't the remotest smell of dogginess.

A quite serendipitous thing happened too.  As the underhairs are so fine and smooth, they became statically charged as they became dryer and dryer.

I noticed that the very thickest guard hairs had started to fall out of the laundry bag of their own accord. These are just a few that I picked up off the bathroom floor.  You can see here that there are a lot more white guard hairs in there than I anticipated.

Shaking the bag repeatedly encouraged a lot more of the thicker guard hairs to either fall out of the laundry bag or just poke out, allowing me to remove them with a sticky lint roller.

These are all of the sticky roller sheets I used on the outside of the laundry bag.

Removing even more guard hairs

When I first started reading the Spinnin' Chien forum, one member described a process of removing the guard hairs by placing the dog hair in a delicates laundry bag and putting them in the dryer with some pieces of foam and fleece.  Initially, I thought this sounded quite risky and possibly fool-hardy, but as I could still see quite a lot of guard hairs amongst the fine downy malamute fibres I decided to take the risk.

I keep guinea pigs, so I have a couple of densely woven laundry bags designed for washing guinea pig fleeces in to stop the hay and hair from clogging the washing machine.  I put my delicates bag full of malamute fibres in my pet laundry bag and stuffed it full of foam offcuts.

I zipped it up, crossed my fingers and put it in my dryer for 30 minutes on a gentle heat cycle.

This is what the inside of the pet hair bag looked like when I removed it from the dryer.  The inside, the foam pieces, and the delicates bag were all covered in guard hairs!

I spent a good hour or so with my sticky roller, removing the guard hairs from the inside of the pet bag, the foam pieces and the outside of the delicates laundry bag.

Thankfully the malamute fibres hadn't felted in the dryer and I had the softest mound of malamute fibres with just a few finer guard hairs left in.

Unfortunately, at this stage it was very difficult to handle as it was so full of static charge that it wanted to cling to everything in sight!

A quick spritz over the surface and then a gentle mixing with detangling spray dissipated the static charge straight away.  It also made the fibres smell lovely!

Spinning Malamute

A lot of spinners of chiengora insist that the dog hairs need to be at least 1 and a half inches long.  Most dog hair doesn't have the same crimp as wool, it's also slippier and so the shorter fibres have a tendency to shed from the yarn.  It's not unusual for chiengora spinners to blend the dog hair with wool or alpaca to make it easier to spin, with less shedding, but the purist in me wanted to spin 100% malamute.

Looking through my malamute fibres, I noticed a wide range of staple lengths and textures.  Some were as long as three and a half inches, but most of them were between one and a half and two and a half inches.  I knew that I was going to have to spin a much tighter yarn than I was used to, to ensure that the fibres held together well.

In my first attempt at spinning malamute, I tried to hand card the hair.  Unfortunately the shorter, fluffier fibres rolled themselves into little neps, I eventually gave up on carding the dog hair and just fluffed it up and spun it from the cloud.  

A cloud of malamute fibre

After consulting the members of the Spinnin' Chien forum, I was advised that my wool carders really weren't suitable for dog hair, and experienced chiengora spinners use cotton carders that have much finer, more densely spaced teeth.

This was the first malamute yarn I spun. It's a 2ply, spun from the cloud.

I was relatively pleased with it, but you can see that there are an awful lot of slubs in there, and as it's spun from the cloud, it's quite untidy and very much a woolen-spun yarn.  I use an e-spinner, which doesn't really lend itself well to the stop-start and varying speeds required when spinning from the cloud, so next, I decided to attempt a more worsted-style fibre preparation.

I wasn't about to invest in expensive equipment for what may be a one-off project, so I decided to try and build my own simple hackle out of inexpensive dog combs and a table clamp that I've had for decades.

I managed to find three of these combination dog combs at Pets at Home.  They were half price at £4.75 each.  They have two densities of tines and the more closely spaced teeth are perfect for preparing my fine malamute fibres.

I taped them together with double-sided sticky tape and then clamped them in my tabletop clamp with the finer teeth sticking out.

I made a little 2 minute video to show my technique for aligning my malamute fibres to make a kind of lightweight top.  Basically, I teased and opened up the malamute fibres, drafting them open with my right hand and then lowering them onto the dog combs with the more open fibres to the right of the teeth.  Once my dog comb was half full, I carefully drafted out the fibres into a top, discarding the shortest and most knotted fibres that remained on the comb at the end.  I then halved the length of fibres a couple of times so that I had a mix of long and short fibres on top of each other and then I drafted the four lengths into one length of fibres.

Here are my sweet little nests of malamute fibre that are so much easier to spin on my Hansen Minispinner as they require far less effort to spin at a constant speed.  There are still quite a few little neps in there, but you can see the fibres are now much more aligned.

Spinning my prepared malamute fibre was so far more relaxing after it had been drafted out.  I spun a high twist, fine single with the intention of chain plying it later.

Please take a look at my video on pre-chain plying singles - 

Before plying I left my singles to rest for several days for the twist to relax a little so that it was easier to manage.

Here are the first two malamute yarns that I spun.  The top one is the very first yarn that I spun.  It's a two-ply and was spun from the cloud.  The bottom one is chain plied and was spun from drafted, combed fibres, prepared on my home made hackle.

I love how much more definition the lower one has and I'm sure it would be much more comfortable to wear, having fewer guard hairs and less of a halo.

I did actually spin a third yarn (the first in this picture) where I pulled out every guard hair by hand, but that was just too ridiculously labour intensive.  I would not recommend it!

As a thank you to the dog owner that provided me with the malamute hair, I knitted these little hearts that she could keep as a memento - along with enough yarn for her to knit herself some wrist-warmers or a hat.

I've still got a lot of malamute left to spin for myself - maybe I'll try dyeing some next year. Chiengora is 80% warmer than sheep's wool so it'll be perfect for next winter's accessories!

This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links to similar products that I purchased myself to prepare and spin the chiengora yarn. If you click through and purchase anything, I may receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.


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