Eco friendly fibers means more than a label. In this modern age of technology and quick results, there are always a few people who are keeping alive the old ways of doing things. Maybe it’s a hobby, maybe it’s a passion, or maybe it’s a family tradition, but they learn and carry on a slower way of producing. Many are organic, but all of them take more time and care to create products with less impact on the environment. There are communities of handspinners all over the world, making natural fiber yarn from raw materials. Small, sustainable farms and ranches are providing a lot of the eco friendly fibers that create handspun slow yarn.
Animal fibers are natural fibers that consist largely of particular proteins. Instances are silk, hair/fur (including wool) and feathers. The animal fibers used most commonly both in the manufacturing world as well as by the hand spinners are wool from domestic sheep and silk. Also very popular are alpaca fiber and mohair from Angora goats. Unusual fibers such as Angora wool from rabbits and Chiengora from dogs also exist, but are rarely used for mass production.
Not all animal fibers have the same properties, and even within a species the fiber is not consistent. Merino is a very soft, fine wool, while Costwold is coarser, and yet both merino and Cotswold are types of sheep. This comparison can be continued on the microscopic level, comparing the diameter and structure of the fiber. With animal fibers, and natural fibers in general, the individual fibers look different, whereas all synthetic fibers look the same. This provides an easy way to differentiate between natural and synthetic fibers under a microscope.
Chiengora (pronounced she-an-gora) refers to yarn spun from dog hair. Chien is the French word for dog, and gora is derived from “angora” the soft fur of a rabbit. The spinning of dog hair is an ancient art form dating back to pre-historic Scandinavia. It was the main fiber spun on the North American continent before the Spaniards introduced sheep.
Spinning dog hair is not a new art form. Dog hair has been found in yarns dating back from pre-historic Scandinavia, and in textiles from the Navajo Indians of North America. It was the main fiber spun on the Northern American continent before the Spaniards introduced sheep.
The hair of dogs is known as Chiengora fibre, which has been used in the textile industry since long. The best hairs for this application are from ‘Northern’ breeds, such as Newfoundlands, Chow Chows, Samoyed, Norwegian Elkhounds, and the like. In modern times it is rarely used. In general it is only used by hand spinners with pet dogs.
Chiengora is spun from the undercoat of a double coated breed. The average Labrador or Dalmation will not have the right kind of fur to be spun into yarn. The fur needs to be soft, woolly, and relatively long in order to work for the spinner.
Some breeds which can be combed out to make dog wool yarn are:
- Golden retriever
- Great Pyrenees
To collect the fur, one must brush it out of the coat. Shaving the dog will not work, as you will have to separate the long, fine, glossy outer hairs from the undercoat. Far too much work! Instead, use a slicker brush or comb, brush out the undercoat, and collect it carefully from the brush.
Collected dog wool must not be washed, unless one is a professional fiber artist with experience preparing fleeces. Dog fur felts (mats) very easily if it is washed it incorrectly. Instead, gather it into a bag and store it carefully.
If you are not a spinner, you can ask at your local spinning guild or yarn store to find a local spinner who is willing to spin the dog fur into yarn for you. Be sure that the spinner has experience in working with dog fur, because it requires more care than sheep’s wool.
Dog fur when spun into yarn does not smell like dog, any more than wool yarn smells like sheep. When the spinner prepares the fur, they will remove the oils which cause that “doggy” smell.
Most spinners will blend the dog fur with sheep’s wool (often merino) in order to compensate for some faults with chiengora. Unlike wool, dog wool does not have “bounce,” which means that a garment made from chiengora will tend to get stretched out. Blending the chiengora with merino fibers will help your garment keep its shape.
Chiengora is a delightful yarn, with a halo and a soft feel similar to that of angora or mohair. It has much more loft and insulation ability than sheep fibers, which makes it surprisingly warm – far warmer than wool. Something to keep in mind when you’re planning a garment!
The Chiengora Spinning Process
Step 1 Raw fiber is received and is immediately weighed and catalogued.
Step 2 Fiber is then prepared for cleaning. It is initially inspected by hand. To reduce cost, you are encouraged to inspect your fiber at home and remove any sticks or debris before shipment of dirty fiber.
Step 3 Fiber is washed and deodorized using specialized methods, which prevent the occurrence of natural felting.
Step 4 Once dry, the clean fiber is collected and carded using a manually operated drum carder in preparation for spinning.
Step 5 A spinning wheel is used to hand spin the carded fiber to a selected thickness. Two strands are spun and then plied together, producing 2-ply fiber.
Step 6 A skein of fiber is made using a yarn swift. The fiber is washed a second time, weighted and hung to dry.
Step 7 Now the fiber is ready for its intended purpose!
A roving is a long and narrow bundle of fibre. It is usually used to spin woollen yarn. A roving can be created by carding the fibre, and it is then drawn into long strips. Because it is carded, the fibres are not parallel, though drawing it into strips may line the fibres up a bit. Roving is similar to sliver.
Because roving has been created by carding, the fibres are less parallel than topcombed and are not of uniform length. Carded rovings look fluffier than combed top, which looks smooth and has a high lustre. The fibres in combed top tend to be of a fairly uniform length due to the method of preparation.
Pencil roving is a type of roving that has been drawn until it is the size of a fat pencil. It can be used by spinners with minimal drafting. Knitters also use pencil roving, similar to Lopi style yarns, or when making a thrummed item. Regular roving can also be used in thrummed knitting.
A rolag is a roll of fibre generally used to spin woollen yarn. A rolag is created by first carding the fibre, using handcards, and then by gently rolling the fibre off the cards. If properly prepared, a rolag will be uniform in width, distributing the fibres evenly.
The Chiengora Weaving Process
Weaving is a textile art in which two distinct sets of yarns are interlaced to create fabric. It can be a versatile and practical option when determining how to use your Chiengora. Woven Chiengora can be used to create scarves, wraps, blankets, throw pillows, and fabric for sewing projects.
Step 1 Wool is measured using a warping mill to determine the warp, or size of any given weaving project.
Step 2 That wool is then threaded through the floor loom in preparation for hand spun Chiengora to be incorporated.
Step 3 Once the wool is secured in place, Chiengora is woven across the width of the warp to create an interlacing fabric.
Step 4 When the weaving is completed, the Chiengora fabric is removed and the ends are tied off.
PROPERTIES OF CHIENGORA FIBRES
Chiengora is up to 80% warmer than wool and sheds water well. Its fiber is not elastic like wool, and is characterized by its fluffiness, known as a halo effect. It has a similar appearance to angora and is luxuriously soft
Often chiengora is blended with wool during the carding process. This blend has some give to it, which is preferable when knitting. It is also often blended with wool in order to create a yarn with less heat insulation.
Chiengora is 80% warmer than wool, is waterproof, durable and also incredibly soft and fluffy – perfect for clothing and accessories next to skin
Chiengora is similar in appearance to angora and is furry and very soft. Chiengora tends to fluff with use, creating a halo effect. It is warm, even in frigid temperatures, and it sheds water well.
Occasionally people with a strong sense of smell complain that chiengora never loses its doggy odor, but it has been found that a good washing removes any trace of the original wearer. When wet, it can smell a little funny, but any fiber smells different and stronger when wet.
Many common varieties of dog have a soft fuzzy undercoat which is suitable for spinning into luxury yarn. It maintains a “halo” of fuzz around it after being spun, similar to mohair or angora rabbit. Once knitted or woven, the halo covers the fabric surface. It is a fine alternative to faux fur or real fur as it is a natural fiber but no animal was harmed for the product. In fact, healthier happier dogs will produce better wool! Chiengora is rarely used as a commercially produced fiber, but occasionally a designer will commission some specialty pieces utilizing it. Chiengora can be very hot when used by itself, so it is best mixed with sheeps wool. Wool adds durabilitiy, elasticity, and breathablity to dog wool fabric.
Natural protein fibers, such as wool, mohair, and silk, currently used in textile production can be very costly. Although non-traditional, a protein fiber, such as chiengora (dog hair), can prove to be a cheaper, environmentally friendly, and suitable substitute. However, very little information on the properties of these fibers can be found in the literature. As per the research the physical and mechanical properties of hair combed from 18 dog breeds were measured and compared to those of traditional animal hair fibers. Unwashed dog hair was collected, bagged and labeled by professional pet groomers. Results show that length, linear density, tenacity, strain, and elastic modulus of chiengora fibers are all similar to those of traditional protein fibers. Results also show that hairs from some breeds may be suitable for short- or long-staple processing.
USES OF CHIENGORA FIBRES ; Woven Chiengora can be used to create scarves, wraps, blankets, throw pillows, and fabric for sewing projects, Home Decors, Hats, Mitts, Scarves.
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