This week Unalaklee has had a lot of visitors of he canine variety. Dog teams and their mushers have been passing through along the Iditarod trail, and most of them have paused to rest after 754 miles of bitter cold and nearly constant travel. They all start near Anchorage and each team of mushers and their dogs have high hopes of mushing all 979 to Nome. Most of them do indeed make it, but some of them drop out of the race for various reasons. It's a long trip and they carry in their sleds everything they will need along the trail. With it being so bitterly cold, negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit or colder, how do dogs and mushers dress for the trail? What fibers and textiles come to their aid? The answer includes very few natural fibers, actually, though down, wool and cotton play a part. Synthetics are the answer for most the layers worn by dog and human except, interestingly enough, the layer closest to the skin which for humans is wool: wool socks and thin under layers of soft merino, insulating and moisture whicking. For dogs their own thick coats of canine fur which includes a downy under coat of fluff. I can't pretend to be an expert on Iditarod garb, but what never fails to touch me about textiles in general is our intimate relationship with them, how much a part of our lives they are and how we take them along to experience right along with us, all we do, endure and enjoy. They are our protection first and foremost, but also a source of expression. During the Iditarod sled dog race the mushers have used textiles to assist their teammates with dog booties to protect their feet from the ice and cold and the many miles traveling on both for so long to make the trip to Nome. These booties are really just little bags made out of a single layer of cotton secured around the leg with a gripping cloth like Velcro. A thin, insulated, coat-like blanket is also put on the dogs to keep them both warm and dry as needed and I noticed this year a cotton layer in the form of a child's t-shirt was put on by slipping it on over the dog's head and drawing the front legs through the armholes as another layer of protection. In addition to the the t-shirts this year, sled dogs sported stockings made of an insulating nylon that fit tightly with no apparent fasteners and went from ankle, over the elbow or, in at least once case, as high as the shoulder. These dogs are athletes and their muscles' warmth and flexibility on the trail is a concern which textiles are there to assist. It's nice to stop and think that the comfort we have experienced with textiles we extend to our animal friends as well. In an upcoming blog I plan to explore this topic further.Think of horse blankets, or dog beds or the little sweaters people knit for their pets!
Here you can see the short purple sleeves sticking out from under the coat.