Putting on the Dog

~Small pleasures enrich life. To me one small pleasure is reading the Archaeology magazines that Curls passes on to me when she’s done. In the March/April 2012 an article caught my immediate attention: “Weaving with Dog Hair” by Nikhil Swaminathan.  I know dog hair is spun and used in knitting, my great-aunt Mag did this with her Malamute’s fur. I remember how white and HEAVY her dog hair sweater was. I hadn’t heard about weaving with dog hair.

After some further research, this is what I’ve learned. The Snueynuxw First Nation, of the Pacific Northwest, raised small, white, Pomeranian-type of dogs especially bred for their hair. The hair was shorn and used in combination with goat hair in their weavings.  Scientists have analyzed the protein of nine old blankets and weavings and have determined that none of the items were 100% dog hair. However some of the items were 100% goat hair. It appears as if the dog hair was used to achieve the right thickness in the yarn. They also found that the dog hair was used in items used everyday, not just ceremonial blankets.

According to Salish oral history, the dogs were kept on a separate island named “Dog Island”. This was to insure they did not interbreed with other dogs so the white color of their hair was maintained. They were herded as sheep. Europeans recorded that they were greeted by a herd of white dogs.

The dogs are now extinct, but they were alive when the Europeans arrived to the area. In fact, one of the blankets tested was taken in 1803 by Lewis and Clark.  In the mid 1800’s an artist painted a village picture including the dogs so we know what they looked like. The use of dog hair in weavings disappeared soon after contact with Europeans.  If you’d like to read the article, it is at the Archaeology magazine online site. The weaving to the right is an example of one with dog hair.

Our Golden Doodle was just sheared! His nickname is “The Bear” because his hair is so long and he has tons of it! He’s a Golden Retriever-Standard Poodle mix.  Maybe I should have told the groomer to save the hair for me?   One article stated, “…dog hair has a special texture, which makes it difficult to make into wool – you will notice, if you take some fur shed by your dog and twist it, that it will soon unravel. For this reason, the dog hair was spun with other, softer fibres from plants and animals.” Is this true? Have any of you spun and knitted dog hair? Did you blend it with wool or another fiber? If I decide to keep Hans’ fur the next time, is it easy to clean and comb? Or, am I just asking for a big headache?

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8 thoughts on “Putting on the Dog

  1. I have a long haired dog also. She is a Naid which stands for Native American Indian dog. She has an outer coat which is long and coarse and an soft inter coat which is fine and fluffy and felts very easy. I have thought about spinning her fur but she hates to be groomed but I did make a few small needle felted items a few years ago which turned out cute. I did combine her fur with a little wool batt when I did them.

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  2. Read about your grooming adventure with your dog last night! Have to admit I chuckled. Bad me! Our dog’s breed it a really laid-back, gentle, therapy dog type. The groomers said he’s wonderful. Our last dog however…….

    When I saw the pic of your dog I wondered if you’d ever spun his fur/hair. It looks as thick as our dog’s. “fine, fluffy and felts very easily” is the truth!

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  3. Interesting about the dog hair. My aunt MAGDELENE had a white, huge Malumute and she saved the hair from her dog, sent it then to someone in Kansas who spun it. Then Aunt Mag knitted a sweater and skirt from the wool. I only wish I had saved this outfit. The outfit was so light and airy. Years later, she gave me a huge garbage bag filled with this dog’s hair. I didn’t know what to do with it, and eventually, dumped it. I should have saved it for you–if I had known you were to become a spinner!!!!!!

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  4. I’ve never worked with dog hair (outside the normal grooming) but I’ve always found it fascinating that some crochet or knit with the fiber. It’s my first time hearing about Dog Island. It’s also interesting to read they were herded like sheep. How saw that they’re extinct.

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