Today’s entry in our 12 Days of Christmas saga is less of a gift than a mission. (It might become a future Christmas present, but all bets are still off on that one.)
Not this last summer or the summer before that, but three summers ago, Jared and I were part of a small group at a professor-priest-friend’s house; I will call her M. (If you know M, the 007 reference is not entirely inappropriate. She also reads this blog. Hi M!) The small group was part theological reflection group and part focus group for M’s doctoral research. It was quite a profound time for all of us, I think, and helped me at the beginning stages of sorting through some things that needed sorting. Also, M provided us with fabulous dinners every week.
At the time, M had a puppy. When I say “puppy,” I mean probably 40 lbs of pure insane standard poodle energy named Samwise. Sam had not yet received his first haircut, and was a flying mass of fluff. Every week I would bug M to save me his hair when he finally got clipped. It was so long and lusciously soft that I knew it would spin well. And by the end of the summer, M did just that. I got a bag of beautiful chocolate poodle hair… that sat neglected in a drawer for the next two years.
Not that I didn’t think about Sam’s hair. I had a plan for it – I would blend it with some black fleece (i.e. wool) to make it easier to spin and stretch it further. Eventually, I acquired said fleece; Mom bought an absolutely enormous bicolor cormo cross fleece, and gave me half of it. I washed it, played with combing it, and it too has been sitting neglected at the back of my closet for a while.
But, I determined, such would not be the case forever. I took the bag of dog hair, stuffed another bag full of black cormo, and took it with me to Maryland, with the plan of blending them together on Mom’s little drum carder.
(This is the cormo, in case you are confused.)
Those of you who know what you are doing are already raising an eyebrow at my unfounded optimism.
I had a strong start. I did a practice batt of cormo to remind myself how to use a drum carder (it’s been a few years), then did some research. Mom got The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook for Christmas (yes, I am jealous), and it had a helpful article about dog hair. Long story short: treat it like a luxury fiber. Then, I found a passage in Mom’s copy of Color in Spinning by Deb Menz (this one I have a copy of at home, thanks Dad) about blending luxury fibers with wool on a drum carder. Long story short: Make a wool batt, then sandwich the luxury fibers between layers of wool, and put it through the carder a couple more times.
This sounded like a workable plan, so I gave it a go. I made this tentative little batt to start.
If you look really closely, you can see a couple locks of Samwise in there.
I was not tremendously satisfied with this first effort. I mean, sure, it was a blend of dog hair and wool, but at this rate it would take half of eternity to blend all the stuff. I had weighed the dog hair before we started, and there was 14 oz of it! Besides, I want a final yarn that has some unique qualities thanks to the poodle fiber, not a wool yarn with a few cursory dog locks.
There was a bigger problem, however. I had managed to ignore it while making the first batt, but if I was going to be working with the stuff for hours, I had to face it: The dog hair was stanky. Not overwhelmingly so, but it seems a pity to go through the trouble of carding, spinning, and knitting something, then to have to meticulously avoid getting it wet, for fear your friends will wonder why you smell of poodle poo.
So, doggedly indeed, I decided to wash it. I used my Mom’s dyepot and stove to attempt cleaning it the same way she cleaned her cormo. However, it was Christmas week, and I wasn’t paying that much attention. So I let the pot boil. And after letting it boil, I had the brilliant idea of rinsing the soap out with repeated cold rinses – while massaging the hairy mass by hand. I kept telling myself, It’s dog hair, not wool. It won’t felt.
I may have been right, but the result was still rather sad. In my sister’s words, “Why is it all matted like that?” I didn’t quite realize that any fiber, if exposed to the right conditions, will become an irretrievable mass. (Otherwise, how would white people be able to make their hair into dredlocks? It isn’t pretty, but it does effectively destroy hair structure. I went to a pretty crunchy college; I have observed this.)
I have not completely given up hope. I carefully let the 14 oz. of dog hair (minus whatever weight was being taken up by poopstank) dry, and brought it home with me. My plan is to go at it with some hand cards, which are basically overpriced dog brushes anyway. I’m sure I can recover some of it, at least. Will I still blend it with wool? Will I make it into little luxury punis to spin into dog-hair lace? The jury is still out on that one. Not just out to lunch, but out on a long vacation cruise circumnavigating the globe. Or maybe I’m just out to lunch.
I did, however, make the most of my time in the same house as a drum carder. Several baby-nap breaks were spent carding black cormo, and I ended up with eight fluffy, beautiful batts to add to my one blended attempt. (The beautiful African crucifix below was also a gift from M.)
The downside? All eight batts together weigh about 5.6 oz.
Carding takes for. ever.