Curly Horses have many unique traits, most prominent is their unique curly coat. Curly horse fur is both hypoallergenic and often of a very different texture than typical “straight” horse fur. Because of this unique fiber type, curly horse hair can be used for fiber arts and even felting- similar to wool or alpaca fiber. If you’ve confirmed that your horse is a curly horse, read on to learn more about collecting fiber from curly horses, cleaning collected fiber, and integrating this unique fiber into many projects!
Comparing the photos above, it’s not hard to see why curly fur makes a better fiber for fiber arts that straight horse hair. Typical horse hair shafts are straight, coarse, and slick. Curly fur (which can be coarser or finer than typical horse hair depending on the horse) isn’t as slick and the curl helps naturally create a tendency to clump during shedding. This trait makes it perfect for felting.
Collecting Curly Horse Hair Fiber
Before spinning or felting curly horse hair, you’ll have to collect it. This photo shows the fur collected from a Bashkir Curly in spring. Those super furry coats shed A LOT during the spring. The photo below shows how easily curly horse fur clumps and stores after grooming. Like wool, it forms together easily.
To collect the fur, use a good rubber curry comb with “nubs” or fingers to collect the fur. Currying with this type of comb will collect the fur into pancakes which can easily be knocked off into a waiting bag (I prefer fabric bags- or even old pillowcases- over plastic bags, in case any fur has residual moisture that needs to dry out). Do NOT let the fur fall and try to collect from the ground- the fur should be kept as clean as possible.
After Collecting: Cleaning the Fiber
In the past, we’ve cleaned our own fur and gone the route of sending it to fiber artists to have the vegetable matter picked out, washed, carded, blended with wool or alpaca fiber, formed into roving, then finally spun into a finished yarn that is exceptionally warm and soft.
DIY: To prepare my own Curly Horse Fiber for felting, I’ve followed the following preparation:
1. Removal of visible debris – Spread the fiber out and pick our any visible pieces of debris or plant matter.
2. Washing – To clean, you can handwash or use a washing machine. Use WARM water, gentle soap, and wash the fiber by first tying or stitching it inside of a pillowcase or use a zippered lingerie bag with very, very fine mesh to wash. Do not overstuff the bag.
3. Spread to Dry – Washing will remove a large amount of dust and very fine debris from the fiber, and you may need to wash it twice. Once clean, spread thinly in a very well ventilated area and allow to dry completely (this may require several days)
4. Collect and Card – Normally, carding is a process that aligns long, straight fibers parallel to each other. For curly fur- which is naturally not straight and thus not able to align- carding is still useful as a final cleaning step where clumps are broken up and any remaining pieces of debris removed from the fiber. Fiber carding brushes can be expensive, but affordable carding brushes are available, and can even be used as a tool for felting.
Felting with Bashkir Curly Fur
The photo below is of a square of felt made from 100% Bashkir Curly Fur. Like wool, curly horse fiber can be felted into a solid sheet. This piece is lightly felted- still retaining a very loose texture. Wool Felt is created through a combination of heat and agitation, for curly horse felting I add an additional step of ice-water baths, which cause curly fiber to curl more tightly- causing fibers to more fully interlock.
Curly horse fur felt is made with the same process used to make traditional felt- for which many tutorials exist so I won’t reinvent the wheel by outline the entire process. I will add a few tips for working specifically with curly horse fiber:
- Felting tutorials will call for very hot water. Between cycles of hot water, add cycles of ice-water to help curly fibers interlock.
- Making 100% curly horse help is labor intensive and requires many rounds of felting agitation. For most purposes a 50/50 blend with wool- or even felting directly on top of a sheet of wool or wool blend felt (binding the two fibers together) will create superior results more quickly. If you try this, be sure and “rough” the surface of your felt prior to adding curly fur by scraping your carding brush along the surface.
This felt flower magnet with button center was made from the fur of a Bashkir Curly collected during shedding season, felted into hard felt, then dyed, cut, and sewn together.
Curly Horse fur is warmer than traditional horse hair. In colder temperatures-curly coats actually become curlier in response to the cold. Some curly horse experts propose that this is one of the ways that curlies became a distinct breed from the Spanish Mustangs they were once a part of. Able to survive in harsher climates than horses with standard coats, the curly fur enabled them to self-isolate and breed. Horse hair from curly horses can- believe it or not- be cleaned, carded, and used in fiber arts like felting, spinning, and knitting.
Fiber Qualities of Curly Horse Hair
Before Yahoo groups disappeared into the ether (Archives of Yahoo groups were removed from Yahoo in January 2020) we did some research into the Curly Horse fur fiber discussions that had occurred on the platform years previous. Here’s what we learned:
Curly horses are rare among fiber-producing animals in that curly fiber has a “twist” to each hair, some other animals with fur that has this quality are rare Suri alpacas, and some heritage breeds of sheep and mohair goats. Most fiber animals produce fibers that curve in 2 dimensions. Curly horse fiber, however, has the standard two-dimensional wave plus an added twist. Curly fiber is formed a bit like a screw, it’s larger on nee end and smaller at the tip.
Curly horses with a less visible curl in their winter coat had a weaker twist when researchers enlarged and examined the fiber. An easy way to check your curly horse’s fur and the quality of the fiber they produce is to pluck 23 pieces of fur and place them flat on a piece of paper. When they spring back when your fingers are removed, does the fiber lay flat against the page, curving in two dimensions but remaining flat on the page, or do the fibers have a three-dimensional rise off the paper? If the fibers lift of the paper, it’s indicative of a twist in the fiber which should produce high-quality fiber for fiber crafts, spinning, and felting.