100% CHOW CHOW
from "La Rivista Italiana del Chow Chow" - n.50 - 2015
by Francesca Caliari
A remote place of the exotic world, a rugged and difficult territory preserves primitive species ... an ancestor of the dog and a bear with blue tongue ... who knows ...
Tribes of barbarians, centuries of invasions and bloody battles ....a warrior and his dog ...
Ancient Oriental Dynasties , arts and culture, palaces and servants ... the Chow Chow, the dog of the Emperor...
Holy and inaccessible Monasteries, meditative monks breed the blue, the favourite divine colour...
Late nineteenth century England, great sailing ships of the East India Company returned from the long trip. Nobility was attracted by anything that comes from China and above all its exotic animals ... a dog never seen with the thick coat and a blue tonge !!! The development of the breed started there.
I have always found the history of the Chow Chow extremely fascinating , shrouded in mystery and many legends. Add to that the ancient teles about noble brides in the region of Manchuria whose dowry consisted, among other things, of some pure breed Chow Chows , so that they could spin the coat and ensure the production of clothing for the whole family. This topic has immediately drawn my attention and I started looking for any possible information on spinning wool. With my initial surprise I found it is a practice still widespread in many countries where equipment and raw materials are easily available. On the contrary in Italy wool spinning is underdeveloped, due to difficulties in finding the right tools, that have become exclusively antiques, mostly useless, out of order.
As a child my mother, my grandmother and my aunts passed me the love for things made by hand, from embroidery to knitting, from sewing to crafts in general. So, seeing the amount and quality of the raw material produced by each Chow Chow, I decided to try to experiment this art. I initially encountered skepticism, mainly due to the idea that the hair of the dog smells or is dirty. Actually, our breed has the privilege of being very clean by nature, the daily care that we reserve to our pets allows to maintain a healthy coat, strong and free from impurities. Unlike this fact, you have to think that wool sheared from sheep needs to be washed at first to free it from coarser dirt and it is hard to have immediately an acceptable initial product. Sheep wool contains lanolin too, a substance that resembles wax in touch. On the contrary the the Chow Chow's coat is clean, soft and easy to work immediately.
The first problem was to get the tools I needed. Unfortunately in Italy it is impossible to find a spinning wheel in good working condition, unless you are buying a new one. Oh yeah, spinning wheels are still in production! The most famous is a New Zealand brend which exports different models all over the world, from the traditional ones to the most "modern" ones, electrically operating. Obviously, prices are a little high for someone like me who is novice and self-taught. The alternative, then, is to buy it abroad. In England spinning is widespread and finding a used but in good condition spinning wheel is quite simple; the one problem is the delivery ... considering the size and fragility of the object nobody wants to ships to Italy. It is March 2015, the Crufts! Of course! A "little deviation" from the road to Birmingham and I'm in the house of two English ladies. The atmosphere and the style was lovely. Sharon and her mother are fond of cats and spinning, in their living room I can count at least five wheels. They buy already carded wool and for spinning, when I explain them my project they are enthusiastic about the quality of yarn that I'm going to get with my Chow Chows. They show me the spinning wheel and show me how it works, how exciting, it runs really! I run it! And the wheel is so beautiful, it deserves a light place in my living room.
The spinning of the coat is a long process that passes through various stages of processing, all extremely important in order to obtain an excellent final product.
First of all, the collection of the coat, or better of the under coat. This part of the coat is the most suitable to obtain a soft yarn that does not irritate the skin. It's important to select the parts of the body from which to get the fur during moulting: hips, shoulders and neck are certainly to be preferred to legs, culottes, tail and underbelly, where the hair coat is more wiry and tough.
The second step is to card the wool in order to remove dirt and align the fibres for spinning in a faster and more uniform way. Not having a professional carding or a drum carding, you can use two common carders which are available in any pet shop.
Now you get to the heart of the production: the spinning of the wool.
You have to prepare the spinning wheel, adjust the turnbuckles, load the spool and with a little patience and training all the historic charm of this activity comes back to life like a blast from the past. It's so fascinating! The technique is not extremely difficult, it requires coordination, good manual dexterity and patience. It's extremely satisfying and the more you experience, the better the result is.
Once you have filled the spools you have to double. Each threads is thread with another one by spinning the wheel in the opposite direction. This allows to obtain a stronger yarn, made of greater consistency and embellished with melange nuances.
Then you shape the skeins that undergo to a thorough washing, in cold water, up to thirty times in order to maintain the cleanliness of the yarn as well as the correct degree of compactness of the fibres, without altering the natural softness. The skeins are beaten and they lie down in the open air in a shelter and shade place to allow a complete and uniform drying, removing any moisture inside.
Finally the ball is formed. It is always considered the starting point to create, but now it represents the end of my work. The yarn that I get is extremely soft, similar to mohair, of considerable resistance and exceptional calorific value, so it is not so suitable to the creation of sweaters that would be really too hot for our Italian latitudes.
Female Hand-made work has evolved a lot in recent years, crochet and knitting are being imposed again even in the new generations. Creating a pochette, a bag, a scarf or a cap is relatively quick and easy. You can create an infinite variety of crochet , bracelets, charms for cell phones, rings key and applications. These little objects are back in fashion among the girls.
Spinning the dog wool is not a new activity; personally I wanted to bring to light again this art as a tribute to our breed, to its origins, to its history. I also think that in this period, in which ecology is a deeply felt theme, creating an object from what could be a waste material, is a correct message of sustainable reuse that, except for the water used for washing, is absolutely no cost .
However I must admit that the main reason for doing this is the feeling of affection that binds the owner to his Chow Chow, to have something of him, really his, his alone ... forever ...