Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Bear with Me...

Life Lesson # 4545: Beware of anyone bearing a large, orange Home Depot pail and a really big grin. Although he ostensibly went for a walk in the woods, somehow Roy returned home with about two pounds of, um, grizzly bear fur.

His story (verbatim):

I was walking in the forest, when all of a sudden, a huge, ferocious, mean, nasty, scary grizzly bear leapt out of the trees, intent on stealing my fruit bar. We wrestled for a while, and after a few right hooks and an uppercut to his snout, I forced him onto the ground and held him down in a hammerlock. Knowing how much you love exotic fiber, I whipped out my trusty comb, ran it through his/her pelt, and collected the fur in this handy orange pail that I always take camping, because you never know when you'll need one.

The real story, needless to say, revolved around the nearby bear park, a kind manager, and the same orange pail...

Never having gotten close enough to a bear to run my fingers through its fur, I was prepared for just about anything. My sense, from looking at bears from a respectfully healthy distance, is that the fur would be rather coarse. And I was right.

Not surprisingly, bears shed in the summer months. The fur is a mixture of long hairs and a reasonably soft undercoat. We washed it gently in a bit of detergent, the rinsed it and let it dry in a mesh bag overnight.

 Raw grizzly bear fiber

 I spent an hour with a fine-toothed comb and removed the outer hairs, leaving a handful of springy short fur that felt quite like Shetland wool. And like wool, bear fur is well lubricated, containing a healthy amount of, um, bear oil?

Dehaired grizzly bear fiber

I didn't think that spinning the undiluted fur would be rewarding, so I grabbed a bit of merino/silk, and carded it with the bear fiber. The ratio was about 30% grizzly, 70% merino/silk.

Grizzly bear fiber carded with merino/silk

Grizzly bear fiber and merino/silk rolag

Then I grabbed a Tibetan supported spindle and spun it into a single, two plies of which will make a fingering weight yarn.

   Grizzly bear fiber and merino/silk, spun on a supported spindle

This stuff is surprisingly pleasant to spin--springy and not the least bit slippery, thanks to the natural oils. It was easy to pluck out the remaining coarse hairs, producing a lively yarn which, while not luxuriously soft, would make interesting outerwear. And Roy, after his death-defying escapade, certainly deserves an ear warmer made from handspun merino/silk/grizzly bear.

The fur was donated by Mikie, a Rocky Mountain Grizzy, ten feet tall, weighing in at a svelte 1000 pounds. Mikie's day job is acting; he starred in Budwiser commercials in 1997 and 1998. No, I don't know what he was doing with the beer. Probably eating the cans whole.