MillWorks: Animals: Pet Yarn

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Pet Yarn

Have you ever heard of people using their dog's hair to make a craft and thought, that's not quite for you? Well, I thought it was unusual, too. However, it's perfectly acceptable to wear animal fibers, from wool to mohair to alpaca to silk. Your own pet's hair or fur may make nice yarn. If you're an avid crafter it's a fun project to try since--if you have a couple craft supplies--it's free to try. When you think about how it will one day be a tangible memory of your pet while now being a bonding experience as you groom him or her, it kind of takes the creep factor away.

But the even bigger problem is that no matter how I tried on my drop spindle, I just couldn't get it to work. And if I got a little bit of yarn out of it, I found out I could only do a few crocheted chain stitches and then ran out. Aside from that, the texture changed so much (one stitch you may have a size 1 yarn, and the next a size 6) that it proved impossible to use.

So, it's time to think outside the box! Crocheting and knitting with homemade yarn may not be practical because you won't get much yarn at a time and it doesn't stay together too well. But with a metal potholder loom, if the yarn breaks or runs out, you can make a knot and hide it in the weave. You can also just make one at a time or stop in the middle if you underestimate how much yarn you need. Just save up the squares until you have enough for the size of something you want, like:

  • Two squares (one on each side) with a zipper for a Collie Coin Purse
  • Four squares (two on each side) with a zipper for a Kitty Clutch or Pooch's Pencil Pouch
  • Eight squares (four on each side) with a purchased purse handle for a Terrier Tote

  • You get the idea! You can also make squares via knitting or crocheting if you prefer, but I find it so much easier to work with the potholder loom, and I'll tell you why later on in this article.

    I can't tell you exactly how to make pet yarn. I use a drop spindle, which is an inexpensive object that can be spun to make a one-ply yarn. You could probably make a drop spindle with a dowel, weight, and wall hook--just check around online to see what they look like. That being said, there's absolutely nothing special to what a drop spindle can do--it just twists yarn (one ply). So, if you find it easy to twist the fiber just using your fingers, then you can! But you will need something such as a dowel to tightly wind your hand-spun yarn onto (and work off from once the yarn is all done) and remember to keep twisting going the same direction, or you'll untwist your hard work.

    Learning to twist by hand or with a drop spindle takes a lot of trial and error, and isn't really something I can explain. What I can give you is some tips that may help with using animal fibers in general. What I have found is that those of us who are beginners really can't start off thinking we're going to knit a sweater out of our pet's fur. We need to start small, with realistic expectations. My advice here contains some simple information to make a little purse or tote.

    Collecting the Yarn

    To see if your pet's fur or hair is feltable, begin by trying to make a play ball for your pet. There's a free plan on the site that tells how to make one. If your pet's fiber isn't feltable, it may not "grip" together well enough to make a yarn. It also can't be felted, which would create a longer-lasting item.

    I use "the" famous rake comb to comb my cat, then store the fur in a bag. When I have a handful or two, I move on to spinning it. You can collect all you think you need and then spin it, but I've found it's easier to spin it a bit at a time, since spinning is really time-consuming and can hurt your wrists.

    It takes a whole lot of fur just to make one square. Collecting the yarn will be a really lengthy process, unless you have something like a giant dog with super-long hair who is going through a good shed!

    Making the Yarn

    Think of making yarn as a really long project. It will probably take as long as the actual project, if not longer, to spin the fiber. Some people find it fun and relaxing to spin their own yarn. I personally find it tedious and not relaxing, because I'm always worried I'll do something wrong or mess up. One good thing to remember is that you can undo/unspin partial lengths of yarn if something goes wrong.

    It helps to make the yarn as you go. After brushing or combing your pet, take the fibers you have and work them into your spool of yarn by spinning it. Know that your yarn will probably vary by being thin then thick. Try to work as thinly as you can without the yarn falling apart. It's easy to make a yarn that's too thick.

    How much? If you have a kitchen scale, once you have made one square, you can easily estimate when you have spun enough yarn for your future "potholders." After making one, weigh it in grams (this will be more precise than ounces). For my cat's fur, one potholder takes approximately 35 grams of spun yarn (Don't go by this number, though. It's provided just as an example. Your potholder weight will vary based on how thick you made your yarn and the weight of the pet fur/hair.) Next, weigh your empty drop spindle or whatever item you are using to collect the spun (twisted) fur/hair--mine is 75 grams. Add these two numbers together--110 for me. The next time you spin yarn, you can keep weighing your drop spindle with the yarn on it to see if it matches that number. It's a good idea to spin more than you think you'll need, though, since home-spun yarn can vary so much.

    Using the Yarn

    I use the yarn right off the drop spindle. I've found that winding it into a skein can make the twist come completely out--not fun!

    With most yarns, there is more than one ply. This makes a stronger yarn. What you're making is called "roving yarn." Creating your own, you'll quickly realize that one ply is enough work on its own! Don't pull hard on the yarn. Especially since it's one ply, you may end up separating the fibers and pulling it apart. Remember that it's fragile as you work with it. If you run out of yarn, you can knot it together just like yarn companies do; hide the knot in the weaving.

    The yarn likes to twist onto itself, and it also likes to untwist altogether, so it's extremely difficult to work with. Because of this tendency, I've found that crocheting and knitting crafts are hard. The loom, however, helps hold the yarn and the yarn can be worked directly off the drop spindle, lessening the chance for the yarn to play tricks on you. Using a potholder loom to make a square is done exactly like making a potholder--only don't ever cut the yarn until you're completely finished with the "potholder" (which is not to be used as a potholder!). If you need help, author Noreen Crone-Findlay has a book that tells how to use yarn on a potholder loom, called The Woven Bag (no connection), and there are also tutorials online. It's relatively self-explanatory, though, since it's worked just like a potholder, but with yarn instead of loops.


    What's next? That's a good question! I've been collecting fur and working on the project for a long time. I'm not sure when I'll be done since my yarn supply has lost his winter coat. That's what's nice about this craft, though. You can just take your time and work on it a bit at a time, square by square. I plan to felt the finished product, since his fur is light and the yarn isn't really strong. I'll post an update when finished. I'm going for the "Kitty Clutch" project. The reason I'm posting this unfinished project is because it took me years to figure out a way to use pet yarn, so I wanted to share an idea that makes it workable!

    Have fun!

    Providing crafts since October 2011. Yarn instructions written July 2012. Copyright 2011- and all contents by Millie. Resulting products can only be kept or given away as gifts. Always keep safety in mind.