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Rub-a-Dub-Dub, make your own dubbing

Blog by: David Coulson , Colorado 1/3/2014

One of the more versatile fly tying methods is dubbing.  Dubbing is the art of turning fibers into a “thread” or “yarn” that is wrapped around a hook to form different features, such as an abdomen or thorax. I use two general techniques. One is to “rub” the fibers between my thumb and forefinger around a thread to form a yarn. The other is to make a thread loop and lay material on one side of it, often with the aid of tacky wax, then twist the loop to form a “yard.”  Both methods have advantages and a place at the bench.

While tackle shops sell dubbing material, making your own is easy and inexpensive. Cost isn’t why I make dubbing. The ability to control color, fiber length, and texture, coupled with greater variety are good reasons to produce your own dubbing.

Dubbing material is little more than loose fibers. There are a myriad of sources for fibers.  Most any fur is a potential source of dubbing.  You simply clip the fur off the skin and mix it up.  Depending on the use, you may or may not want to remove the guard hairs. You can obtaining fur pieces from tackle shops, trappers, trap your own, road kill, used clothing, taxidermists, old animal mounts, old furs, tanned and untanned pelts from various shops, garage sales . . . get the idea?  I once bought a well-worn, tattered, piece-meal rabbit fur coat for five dollars. That coat produced a lot of dubbing for me and friends.

Another, oft overlooked, dubbing source is pets. Yep, cat and dog hair make for some great dubbing material. I had a friend whose cat ran and hid every time he set up his tying vise.  Along those same lines, if you know a farmer or rancher, a visit to their place will often yield a lot of material. Wool, alpaca, mohair, and any other fiber used to make clothing are potential fiber sources. If you can’t go directly to the source, then visit a shop that caters to folks who spin their own yarn. You won’t believe what’s available.

One of my fiber sources is yarn.  If you know a knitter you can often get a lifetime supply of material at no cost.  Second hand stores, garage sales, and even craft stores are great sources for yarns.

Converting yarn to dubbing is a simple matter of cutting it into short pieces, an inch or so in length, and then putting them into a blender or coffee grinder.  A few quick pulses on high is all it takes to turn the yarn into dubbing. 

Once you get an assortment of dubbing material, you can then blend them together to produce a myriad of combinations to match your every dubbing need.  I use two blending methods. Mainly I toss the material into a blender and mix it up.  In a pinch, I’ll take a little of the colors I wish to mix and lay them together. I then pull the wad apart, relay it and repeat until things are satisfactorily blended.  It works but is slow, and rarely gives a good blend.  Another method I’ve seen used is to put the material in a jar, add water, cap and shake the contents until fully mixed.  Strain out the fibers and dry. Things are well blended and cleaned at the same time.  Personally, it’s too messy and time consuming for my tastes.

No matter your source of material, or how you choose to blend the materials together, gathering fibers for different sources and making your own dubbing adds another dimension to fly tying.

Blog content © David Coulson
Blog Comments
TigerHunter, CO   1/3/2014 11:58:08 AM
Awesome thanks Dave! I've itching to get back on the vise. I have a buddy that just happens to be a taxidermist I'm going to see if he has any scraps I can have to mess around with and make my own dubbing.
moosegoose, CO   1/3/2014 11:14:53 PM
Man, I love making dubbing.. I don't even know why, but it is fun!
David Coulson (Flyrodn), CO   1/4/2014 6:15:24 AM
It is a kick. I realize I probably ought to turn this into an article, as I didn't touch on how its possible to blend all colors with the three primary colors, plus white and black for shading. Also, the color of dubbing on the fly depends on how water affects it, the thickness of the dubbing and underbody color.