A Study of the Effects of Canis Lupus Familiaris (Dog) Fiber on Achieving Nirvana

words and photos by Brittany Trask

As I walked my 17-year-old Chow Chow Bear, otherwise known as “Chookie,” for what was to be our final time in September 2018, I stood proud and transfixed. I was mesmerized by a piece of fur that had shaken itself loose from Chookie’s cuddly frame, drifting through the twilight like shimmering copper, only to assuredly land on my partially untied tennis shoe. It was during this moment that I began to realize how Chookie’s meaning to me had changed over the years. Her fur had became something to use rather than a place to bury my tearstained face after yet another abusive incident with my parents. I thought about how lovely it would be to simultaneously commemorate Chookie and make the argument that fibers – specifically those of a Chow Chow and Suri Alpaca – and the fiber arts as a whole can save a life and beautify even the darkest of souls.

This is a difficult piece to write, much like anything that is worthwhile, because there’s so much I have experienced both positive and negative. I’ve served as a lightning rod for irrational anger and have allegedly been the reason for my parent’s alcoholism and abusive behaviors; I am a sexual assault survivor, recovered self-mutilator, perennial scapegoat, and recovered anorectic. To Chookie though, I was her human, someone who could always be counted on to appreciate the freshly killed prey she’d set at my feet because I knew it was her way of showing love. She’d accompany me on my runs, sans leash, or sleep on the topmost stair since my bedroom door didn’t have a lock, or climb into bed with me in the winter because heat was only available downstairs where my parents were. In essence, she became my confidant and protector since her arrival as an 8-week-old puppy when I was 11 years old, and she remained thus throughout 3 moves, a graduate school experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone, and the start of a stable loving relationship with another human being, all the while acting as a better role model to me than those who thought themselves suited to the task.

After a temporary separation caused by college, Chookie and I were reunited under odd circumstances and she found a second-favorite human and home in/with my boyfriend Brad, effortlessly made friends with the cats we’d taken in, which was surprising given the higher-than-average prey drive she’d possessed throughout her life. In the meantime, I began spinning yarn, saving her fur, and preparing to move to North Dakota for graduate school with Chookie and Trillian the kitten in tow. What I didn’t realize was her ability to console and comfort would increase exponentially while I navigated a difficult Master’s degree in English by myself. 

After 2 years of long-distance pep talks and annual visits, Brad asked me to come back to Ohio with Chookie and Trillian, which I accepted because I was growing to really love him and what he brought to my life. I was freer, able to feel comfortable enough in my own skin to be and love myself. Over the next 2 years, as I gave in to the gnawing thought that I should at least try to get the fiber arts business set up that I’d been dreaming of for years, Chookie and her soft fibrous constancy were there for a nuzzle, or a leisurely walk on Gladys St where she was much beloved by the neighborhood for being the elegant, amicable old dog she was, spry frame galloping up and down the street.

All this time, I was spinning the most amazing suri alpaca fiber and becoming friends with the owners to the point where shearing day was my Christmas in May. Spinning fiber from animals you have gotten to know is a very rewarding pastime, but spinning chiengora for not just myself and others (there was a commissioned spin for someone’s Australian Shepherd) takes what is a truly transcendental experience and transforms it into something akin to nirvana or moksha.

When Chookie died on 14 September 2018, I requested the vet shave her so I could spin it. A week had gone by since that transfixing walk, and I didn’t want to honor such a noble member of my family with a glass necklace full of ashes. I wanted to do something meaningful with what I had left but wasn’t sure I would have enough for a huge project, so I have been plain-weaving tiny pieces that combine the fur and fiber of animals no longer with us to give to people who knew Chookie and helped take care of her while we were away. This piece is not just about Chookie or the 2 alpacas, Blaze and Diva, who died, but about all the fiber-producing animals that have warmed our hearts and souls as fiber artists over the years, helped us through trauma and painful moments, inspired us to be our best selves, and showed us that the path to happiness lies in the simple motions of picking up and holding some fiber.

A leisurely stroll can be a beautiful thing, but the addition of a 4-legged companion can make such a venture all the better. Chookie hated the leash when she was younger but came to appreciate it as her vision deteriorated and our walks became an intermittent switching of who was walking whom. One thing’s for sure, Chookie has taught me what Bill Maher firmly believes:

“It just doesn’t matter.”

Enjoy the walk, Chookie!

Brittany Trask resides in Northeast Ohio where she owns and operates The Medicinal Spinner and lives with her boyfriend Brad and 3 kooky cats. She enjoys teaching others about the healing power of the fiber arts, reenacting, writing, and the macabre. Find her on Facebook or at www.themedicinalspinner.com.

Last Call for Electric Submissions

Summer 2021 is going to have a jolt of electricity!

Yes, that’s right, it’s all about tools that go vroom vroom, buzz buzz, or even purr quietly. Let’s start with the one so many of us have and enjoy: the electric spinning wheel. What do you know about electric spinning wheels? What do you want to know about them? How do you choose between all the new kinds? And what about you purists, do you really think e-spinning is cheating? Tell us why or why not.

How do you keep track, keep consistent, or keep count on an electric wheel? Can you share any benefits or disadvantages of these compact yarn creators? Electric wheels can spin speedy, so how can you increase your speed while still making the yarn you want? How about ergonomics – what is the most comfortable way to spin on an electric wheel? How do you keep your electric spinner happy? What tools are essential for helping your e-spinner keep you happy?

Of course, e-spinners aren’t the only electric tools. How about electric drum carders, bobbin winders, skein winders – if it’s electric, we want to know how it works, why spinners should have it, how to lug it around, and how to take care of it.

Finally, what about electric yarns? Can you spin a yarn with lights? Yarns that conduct electricity? Yarns full of spark(le)? Surprise us! Do you have electric projects you’d like to share with us?

Proposals of articles and projects are due by June 1, 2020.

We’ll get back to you in July, and final pieces are due December 1, 2020.

Submit proposals to jacey@plymagazine.com or on the website.

Spinning Daisy

words and photos by Vicki Robinson

In 2016, my husband and I adopted a bonded pair of senior dogs from the SPCA: a short-haired dachshund and a 3-pound long-haired chihuahua. I’d spun dog hair (chiengora) before, so with the tiniest of slicker brushes, I groomed my sweet Daisy daily. She loved it and would jump on my foot when she wanted up for her brush. Of course, with such beautifully soft fiber, I wasn’t about to throw it away. Our district already has the brightest and softest nests from my fiber and yarn discards.

Almost nightly, I would sit in my chair and spin long draw from the cloud, straight off the brush, on my John Galen Daisy bead supported spindle. Maybe I’d get an arm’s length, more or less. Surprisingly, it was very easy to spin, even and soft.

Fast forward to our annual RV trip to Oregon, loaded with wheel, spindles, fiber, husband, and dogs, destination: Oregon Flock & Fiber Festival (OFFF). Perusing the OFFF brochure, I saw applications to enter various fiber show categories. Why not? I’d never done anything like that before and I had a couple spindles full of Daisy, so I sent off my application.

I plied my singles into a 2-ply yarn and counted my yardage. Success! I had 58 yards and the minimum was 50. I filled out my yarn description of this yarn that had taken me a year to collect and spin but paused at the question regarding possible intended use. I thought an open lace shawl would be beautiful – in about 10 years! Instead, it would be just a very special keepsake as our Daisy passed very unexpectedly on my husband’s birthday whilst undergoing dentalwork to remove all her teeth.

I submitted my yarn, much to the delight of the wonderful staff signing in entries. They had read “Chihuahua yarn” but were boggled as to what to expect.

Fast forward to judging day, when we headed up to the gallery. I could hardly believe my eyes as we approached and saw ribbons near my yarn. A blue 1st, a big green Judges’ Choice, and a big blue and pink Grand Reserve Champion were actually attached to my skein! I don’t remember much of that weekend after that. I think I was bouncing around too much and it addled my memory. My skein had scored 99/100. Perhaps I lost a point for not including a swatch, but I had still been urged to submit my yarn after explaining a swatch would likely take me another year. I had also almost overlooked the fiber sample, but fortunately Daisy had yet to be brushed on submission day, so we managed to squeak in on that.

Oh, I almost forgot (this event still gets me so excited), when we went to pick up my yarn and ribbons, it wasn’t displayed where it was previously. As my heart came up to my throat, the attendant saw it on a long wall. Little Daisy had also garnered herself the Barb Quinn memorial award from Vancouver Handspinners. It was fancy dinner for all that night.

We still miss our Daisy terribly and think we see and hear her. I feel blessed to have this skein of her, with or without the fabulous adventure.

Originally from Australia, Vicki Robinson lives in British Columbia, Canada, where she dreams of owning her own fiber flock in their condo. Ever-enabling husband Joe laughs and jokes that 6 long-haired chihuahas should suffice. They currently share their home with 3 rescue dogs, only one of which has longer hair, albeit like wire, perhaps hair for potscrubbers in his future! Vicki is on Ravelry as Vickistickis and is the originator of Sisterhood of Fun Ideas…and Other Great Stuff on Facebook and Etsy.

Reader Feature: Johanna Carter

We asked long-time PLY reader Johanna Carter a few questions about her spinning and crafting life.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started spinning.

I knit quite fast and wanted to slow my knitting down, as it is not so cheap to buy yarn, so I asked a friend to show me how to spin on a spindle. We only had a short time, and then she left me with a spindle and some fibre. The next day I ordered a small spindle, fibre, and Abby Franquemont’s Respect the Spindle.

The first fibre I spun was Merino and BFL. After 3 weeks, I finished making my first sweater from my handspun. I had no idea about plying or finishing the yarn; I just made balls of wool and knitted a sweater. Though now it is old, it is very soft, a little bit felted and pilling, but I still like it.

After spinning on a spindle for 6 months, I had made 3 sweaters, a cardigan for my husband, and lots of other things. That Christmas, my family gave me an Ashford Traditional double drive spinning wheel as a present.

Do you have a favorite type of yarn to spin?

My favorite fibre is Shetland. We even went to Shetland for a holiday! All the natural colors are just so nice, and I love to do Fair Isle and stranded knitting. I also like to work with soft yarns, such as Falkland, Rambouillet, alpaca, BFL, Chubut, cashmere, and silk.

What do you like to make with your handspun?

I love making soft sweaters I can wear next to my skin, tams, wristwarmers, and cowls, all with lots of color.

I knit without patterns, and I invent the sweaters as I knit. What I don’t like to do is follow a pattern or knit plain sweaters as I get bored too quickly.

How long have you been reading PLY?

When I started spinning in the summer of 2013, my friend left me a copy. I liked it so much that I ordered it and have all the issues from the beginning.

What do you look forward to most when you get an issue?

I look forward to everything. I like to read about different sheep and their fleece or about spindles. I like the articles about history or different ways to spin. What I miss are the Stealth Reviews; for me they were really helpful. I loved the one about spindles, which is how I got to know Bosworth spindles, which are my favorites.

Tell us about a project you worked on that was inspired by an article, project or issue of PLY.

I made a sweater with natural dyes – madder, onion skins, rose petals, cochineal, and especially indigo – which I have not tried before.

The project started with carding different fibers and colors on my drumcarder.
I used mostly Falkland and blended it with a bit of grey Shetland, baby alpaca, and recycled Sari silk. I also blended different colors together to get various colors and shades; in total I worked with 24 different shades. I used traditional Fair Isle motifs but also made up a few. I knit the sweater from the top down, which is my preferred method.

For this project I learned a lot about blending and mixing fibre on my drumcarder; it was nice to see the colors transform into a new shade. I learned how to make a tweed yarn with the recycled Sari silk, which I like very much. The yarn I spun is very soft, and it has a bit of a halo because of the baby alpaca.

As I used lots of little balls of wool, I just spun small amounts and did a ply ball so I only needed one bobbin and there were no singles left over.

It is very difficult to pinpoint which issue or article inspired the project because I’ve learned so much from PLY and get so many ideas. I guess lots of articles about blending or color gave me inspiration for this project.

For more of Johanna’s projects, check out her Ravelry page: johannarichard

If you would like to participate in a reader feature, fill out the reader feature interest form.

We Need Photos of Your Spinning Hands!

We are gathering photos of the different ways that spinners spin (how you hold your hands, how you hold your fiber, the position of drafting) for the Autumn issue of PLY. If you have a close-up photo of just your hands spinning (the bigger the file, the better) and you don’t mind us using it in our Autumn issue, please email your photo to jacey@plymagazine.com.

A Furry Love Story

Words and Photos by Liza Jennings Seiner

A few years ago, I was talking to a friend who knew I was a handspinner. Somehow we stumbled onto the topic of spinning lots of different kinds of fiber, and she asked me: “Could you spin dog fur?” I said I probably could but hadn’t tried. When I asked her why, she told me a love story.

She and her husband used to own 2 Chow Chow Newfoundland dogs. These particularly cherished pets had since passed away, but she had kept some of their fur from their frequent brushings. Her 25th wedding anniversary was coming up, and she wanted to make something special for her husband; maybe she could knit a lap blanket from yarn made from the dogs’ fur.

I told her to send what she had and I would look it over. A few days later, I received a large box weighing over 4 pounds, full of plastic bags containing brown dog fur. She had saved this fur for several years but hadn’t looked at it since then. It was a little ripe smelling, so I washed it in Dawn dish soap and laid it out to dry.

Then I began the process of spinning the yarn. I made several small skeins, sampling the fur and blending it with other fiber, knowing it would be quite heavy alone. I sent her pictures, and her initial reaction was that these dogs were known as the “black dogs,” but their fiber was quite brown. What to do? Blend some black fiber to give it a black appearance?

After several attempts (blending in black Merino) and a trip to visit her, we determined that to get a good black color, I’d have to add so much other fiber that the dog fur would be overwhelmed by it.

We also discussed what she’d be doing with it. Although she could knit something with the yarn I would spin, she’d have to do it “on the sly” when her husband wasn’t likely to discover what she was up to. She wanted this to be a complete surprise. Hmmm.

After a bit more thought, I suggested I could spin the yarn and then weave it into a blanket. She liked this idea because she wouldn’t have to sneak around knitting. I wanted it to be a simple design, so I put a plainweave pattern into my iPad Weave It app showing a black warp and the handspun dog fur (with a little alpaca blended in) for the weft. I decided to use Harrisville Highland wool yarn as the warp.

She liked this plan, so I was off and running. Her anniversary was in November, and I had it done in time to enter in the local county fair where I won 1st place. She was tickled to hear that.

Off the blanket went in the mail in time for the anniversary. When I didn’t hear from her shortly after the anniversary, I called her to be sure it wasn’t a disaster or that she wasn’t headed to divorce court. Fortunately, all went well. In fact, she said he cried tears of joy when he saw the blanket. She also said he takes naps under it, and apparently, for the first little while, it shed. In fact, she said it was funny that she was finding little bits of fur in all the places she used to find it when they had the dogs. It was like having them back again. I was very happy for both of them.

I learned a few things from this process. Dog fur is quite heavy by itself. Trying to mimic a remembered color from the animal is difficult because what people remember as the color of the dogs could be their outer coat, not the soft and fluffy undercoat that gets brushed out and saved. Due to my inexperience with spinning an animal fiber, I made a semi-worsted, 2-ply yarn from rolags, which was way too dense and heavy (it’s a wonder they weren’t crushed under the weight of this blanket). And I could have prevented the “shedding” by brushing the blanket while it was still wet to raise the nap and remove any extra fibers that hadn’t been caught in the weave structure.

If I were to do this again, I would spin a different style yarn. In fact, I was recently given a bag of English Sheep Dog fur and decided to try my theory of spinning it using a bouclé technique where I lightly spun the fur around a small lambswool core and then plied it with a natural-colored sewing thread. The yarn is light and airy and would weave up into a much lighter-weight blanket with lots of texture.

I really enjoyed this project and was so glad to be able to help a friend give a very special gift.

Liza Jennings Seiner is a handspinner and fiber artist behind Summerhill Spinner who loves to learn about new spinning techniques and apply them to her work. She also weaves and makes braided roving rugs. You can find her under summerhillspinner on Etsy, Facebook, and Instagram, and she blogs at summerhillspinner.wordpress.com.

Check Out Fiber Artist Market

As fiber festivals and livestock shows across the United States and many other countries have been canceled, fiber artists and businesses have seen their sales plummet. And festival goers aren’t able to see all of these fiber artists in one place. Fiber Artist Market is a new online marketplace for fiber producers and fiber artists, created shortly before the COVID-19 closures and is currently free for vendors.

Mary, the organizer behind the website, has been involved in the fiber community since she started knitting 30 years ago and has been working with shepherds in her local area and has sponsored FFA/4H kids with fiber animals. Her town has a K-12 Montessori farm school, where she volunteers to teach a “sheep to shawl” every year: the kids raise their own sheep and take classes on everything from animal husbandry to labor law and economics. Then the fleeces from shearing are made into products that are sold at the weekly farmer’s market. Mary’s studio has a micro mill, and they process about 50 fleeces a year and hold classes on spinning, dyeing, felting, weaving, etc. They are the Inland Empire Fibershed SoCal.

Here’s the story of how Mary decided to start Fiber Artist Market, in her words:

I go to a lot of fiber festivals and livestock shows, and over the years I have been impressed with the number of farmers who have sheep and a huge backlog of fleeces in their barns. I frequently buy them and have them processed into yarn, which we then sell at the local fiber festivals, or I try to buy and resell fleeces. Finally it occurred to me that we need an online site to cater to these small hold farmers and independent fiber artists. I found a few friends who were willing to pitch in some start-up money with me, and we got the website started. Our goal was to have it pay us back the start-up cost and then if it made any money we would be able to do FFA/4H grants, internships, scholarships, herd funds, contribute to Livestock Conservancy, things like that.

It took some time as we made lots of mistakes and missteps along the way finding a multivendor platform and all the other things that go into making a website work. Fortunately a local IT guy is willing to work with us for a pittance! We launched it in September with the goal of getting FFA and 4H students’ fleeces online and helping them with some income. Then some local shepherd(esses) asked to be on it and then some of my friends from Black Sheep and Oregon Flock and Fiber, so we said “okay, we can open to the public and see what happens.” We set our prices so they would be affordable for everyone and had subscription packs that would work just for shearing season, a month at a time, whatever anyone wanted to do.

Then came COVID-19 and this whole crisis. Our fiber festival, our farmer’s market outlet, WEFF, Maryland Sheep and Wool all started canceling and suddenly numerous fiber producers and independent fiber artists were locked out of their usual outlets. Because we are small, self-funded, and do not rely on income from the site, we were quickly able to agree to make the website completely free to fiber producers and independent fiber artists. We project we can continue to underwrite the costs of the website, IT, licensing, etc. for about 6 months and then re-evaluate what we need to do. That should take us through the fall shearing season and hopefully the viral crisis will be abated by then.

Since that decision we have just been working on how to get this out to people who might be vendors or buyers and give them the opportunity to sign up and set up their own store. The site is a secure site, SSL covered, with secure payment pathways to the vendors, and privacy is protected as stated in our privacy statement. We are very concerned about getting any spam postings so are keeping a close eye on that and will remove any immediately. We have some great vendors already but have essentially unlimited space for more.

So, if you are a fiber artist, please take some time to see if Fiber Artist Market might be a good fit for you. And if you are a buyer, please check out the offerings on Fiber Artist Market (and check back frequently as new vendors and items are added). Finally, please spread the word about this marketplace. Thank you for your help.

Show Off Your PLY Support!

Although we’d love to see you in person to give you your PLYAway shirts, you can still get one by ordering through our website.

You can also show off your PLY spirit with an awesome PLY shirt.

Thank you so much for all the support you have shown for PLY and PLYAway. We truly could not do this without you!