In the mid eighties, my late wife, Maribeth, was given a pair of mittens made from Newfie fur. She treasured them, showing them off to visitors with great pride. They were too special to wear for many years. Then one winter day she decided to give them a try since I had convinced her that nothing could be better than Newfie fur to resist the cold and wet. How wrong I was!
Oh sure, when worn by a Newfoundland dog, their coat is second to none in protection from wet cold. What I didn’t know back then was that they only spin the undercoat. The oily coarse outer coat is considered a “contaminant” to a spinner. Well without the guard hairs, the downy undercoat easily gets wet. Not only does it lose its warmth when damp, but, like a wet dog, its natural aroma is enhanced. I was to learn later that professional spinners have a special way to clean the fur, but Maribeth’s mitts were definitely not from a professional. With the enhanced aroma, they were now stored in the cellar.
Another startling fact was also revealed when we dared to go out in public with Newfie fur mitts: there were many people who knew even less than I did about Newf fur. Some of them actually thought that the Newfoundland dogs were killed and then skinned – boy did we have to do a lot of quick explaining to escape with our lives. After this experience it was a long time before we even mentioned using Newfie fur for anything but its original purpose.
Later I discovered spinning was a marvellous form of recycling. Instead of sending several large green garbage bags to landfill sites each year, you can turn the combings from a Newf into a renewable resource: yarn. One author calls the yarn made from the undercoat of double coated breeds chiengora. It is estimated that you can get a pound of down from each adult Newf each year. If you don’t know already, let me assure that a pound of this stuff is a lot.
The professional spinners mix the Newfie fur with another yarn, usually a soft sheep’s wool. This is because the Newfie coat is not barbed and therefore does not hold together well without the sheep’s wool. The blend is supposed to result in a really neat variegated appearance.
Peter Maniate has been writing columns for the Newf News, the magazine of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada, since 1979. In 1996 he started writing a Newfoundland dog column in the Breedlines section of Dogs in Canada magazine on behalf of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada. When Dogs in Canada ceased publication at the end of 2011 he continued the Breedlines column in the Newf Newfs.
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