Northern Ireland

Dog hair provides new material for County Down dressmaker

Rita Longlands spinning dog hair
Image caption Dressmaker Rita Longlands intends to make clothes for her friends and family

At this time of the year many of us are keeping warm with a woolly jumper.

More than likely it will be made from the fleece of a sheep, but would you wear one made of dog hair?

Yes, dog hair. It is a centuries-old tradition but making yarn from dog hair is a new departure for County Down dressmaker Rita Longlands. She came across it purely by chance.

"I was at the Castlewellan Show and I saw a lady using sheep hair on a spinning wheel. I jokingly said to her: 'It's a pity you couldn't do that with dog hair - I have four border collies at home'," Rita said.

"She said 'oh, you can do it.' So the first thing I did when I got home was to do some research about how to go about it."

Image caption The dog wool is washed and brushed before it is ready to be spun into yarn

'Technique'

The Dundrum woman bought herself a brand new spinning wheel and brushed her dogs for the raw material.

The hair is first washed - this turns it into a matted lump. Once it is brushed out again, it is ready to work with.

Rita starts with a handful of washed, fluffed up hair. She rolls it into the shape of wool using her finger and thumb and then threads it gingerly onto a loom. When one piece is about to run out she adds more to it.

"It's very tricky because it's hard to keep the width of the dog hair even. It's a technique you have to master," said Rita.

'Yuck factor'

But after just a week with her new spinning wheel, the roll of wool she has already on the loom looks very convincing.

"It's almost like iron wool. It would take large needles and would probably make a good hat or gloves," she said.

Rita is planning to knit for friends and family.

"A number of people have offered me their dog hair so I am going to have to start bagging it according to the different breeds and then make, say, a hat from a Golden Retriever or a pair of gloves from a husky."

Knitting with dog hair has raised a few eyebrows and for many the 'yuck factor' is high - but not for Rita.

'Unusual'

"People have been quite shocked and said 'that's disgusting' but if you look at the sheep that are in the field at the moment, they are not actually terribly clean," she said.

"All the hair that I use is washed and shampooed, hung out to dry before I start to spin. It's better the dog you know and love, than a sheep you have never met.

"I have actually discovered that dog hair was spun generations ago as well as sheep.

"It was another source of fabric. It's not such an unusual pastime just something that has been brought back up the date."