COAL TOWNSHIP — Laun Dunn’s childhood on a farm taught her the importance of not wasting anything.
So when the Coal Township woman began shearing alpacas, she saw opportunity lying in the pile of fleece on the floor.
Her shearing business expanded to include beautiful yarns spun on century-old spinning wheels from alpaca fur, which is highly sought-after by crafters for its silky, warm qualities.
“I started doing it for fun while living on a farm in Clarion County,” Dunn said recently from her Walnut Street home and studio, where she started Dunn Spun Yarn in 2007. “When I learned that people thought the fiber wasn’t worth anything, I learned how to spin it to make my own yarn out of it.”
Dunn travels throughout the state helping to rid animals of their coats, bartering the value of the fiber into the price.
“I was always fascinated by the idea of spinning the hair into yarn and wanted to get a spinning wheel to do just that,” she said.
Husband gets involved
At an auction in Freeburg, Snyder County, several years ago, Dunn purchased two old spinning wheels, but both were missing a bobbin, the part that collects the yarn after it is spun. The parts couldn’t easily be found, so she decided to try and make them herself.
After asking for, and receiving, a lathe for a Mother’s Day present, Dunn set out to add woodworking to her skill set. But it didn’t work out so well.
Enter her husband, Mike.
“He really took to the lathe, and had the bobbin made in no time,” she said.
He’s now part of the business, creating hand-carved knitting needles and crochet hooks available for purchase in 16 varieties of wood. He also makes shawl pins and Portugese knitting pins, and they’re sold, along with Laun’s unique yarns, at dunnspunyarn.com.
Start to finish
In many cases, Laun Dunn’s yarns are hers from start to finish. She shears the animal, sorts and cards the fiber, dyes it and spins it.
Once the animal is sheared, however, she decides if she wants to blend the hair with wool from sheep or another animal, or send it to a mill to be made into felt for other projects.
After the process of washing and drying the hair, it’s time to think about what color the yarn will be. From a cooktop in her kitchen, water is heated and the dye is added before the fur is soaked and dried. It’s then spun into the thin fibers that knitters will turn into hats, sweaters, afghans or some other clothing or craft.
With Laun’s foot gently on the pedal, the large spinning wheel turns, braiding threads into yarn before being collected on the bobbin. The spinning bobbin turns 27 times before the flywheel spins once, the two combined making about an inch of yarn for every one flywheel revolution.
When it comes time to sort the yarn’s dye lots, Dunn pays tribute to the animals that donated the hair.
“I use the name of the animal the hair comes from to identify the dye lot, so instead of this number or that number, I will have ‘Henry’ or some other name so the people can have a connection to the animal,” she said.
Even international sales
In addition to operating her business locally, Dunn sells her line at conventions throughout Pennsylvania and online through Etsy.com, a home shopping site for crafters to buy and sell their own products.
“We’ve gotten some great feedback through Etsy and Ravelry.com,” Dunn said. “We have even shipped some products internationally.”
Dunn has given demonstrations on spinning at the annual Anthracite Heritage Festival of the Arts in Shamokin. To her, it’s a great feeling knowing she is practicing this mostly lost art.