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Putting on the Dog
A special twist for the sweater set.
Sweater & Yarn

By the end of shedding season, it can seem as though you have brushed enough hair of the dog to knit yourself a sweater. Actually, it might take more than one season to collect enough for a sweater, but a scarf or simple keepsake knitted from mohair-soft yarn spun from one season’s worth of your pal’s undercoat is well within reach of most breeds.

For thousands of years, humans have spun dog hair into yarn and enjoyed a warmth that actually rivals that of sheep’s wool. Each strand of yarn swirls with subtle colors. Over time, some of the hair lifts, forming a soft halo that inspires some to refer to dog-hair fabrics as “chiengora.” The resulting garments and keepsakes will warm your heart long after your co-pilot has trotted off this mortal coil.

“I get almost every reaction imaginable when I tell people I spin dog hair,” laughs Joanne Littler, one of a coterie of hand-spinners around the country who turns dog hair into spun gold. “They either screw up their faces and go ‘ewwww!’ or they are fascinated that this is a possibility.”

In her fiber studio in Fairfax, Vermont, Joanne finds that fur from all but the very shortest of Shorthairs will twist into a fine yarn, ready for the warp and woof of the loom or for the loose knotting of knitting needles. If you want to make socks or some other stretchy project, some spinners suggest blending in wool fibers to add the elasticity dog hair lacks.

“The largest piece I’ve done is a 36-by 60-inch throw,” Joanne recalls. “It was made with about four pounds of Sheltie hair. The colors were a whole bunch of different grays, a little bit of charcoal, some fawn, and some creamy whites that made their own pattern throughout it.”

But what keeps you from smelling like your favorite swamp dog when you wrap yourself in a Samoyed scarf and wind up in an unexpected downpour? The same dish soap that dispenses with grease and grime from your pots and pans will also wash away the dirt and body oils that cause dog hair to smell.

Some spinners prefer to wash the hair themselves rather than have dog owners do it, as the it can easily mat or felt when wet, which renders it impossible to spin. Then they’ll usually will do a secondary sort to choose fibers that will yield the strongest, softest, most consistent yarn.

It doesn’t take a mountain of hair to provide enough yarn for a pair of mittens (about six ounces), a scarf (about 12 ounces) or a small keepsake (about an ounce). The best way to harvest the finest fibers is to leave those furry tumbleweeds under the bed and do what comes naturally: Brush your buddy.

Use a fine wire brush and focus on the downy undercoat that blows out in the spring. Get rid of as many of the stiff outer hairs as possible, and stash the softest fibers in a breathable container, such as a paper grocery bag or a cotton pillowcase, to keep them from moldering.

The amount of yarn-per-ounce of hair a pooch produces can vary wildly among breeds, and sometimes even among dogs within a breed. Projects requiring heavier yarns, such as sweaters, will require more hair per yard of yarn than lighter projects, such as scarves.

Check with yarn shops, local spinning guilds or textile magazines such as Spin-Off to find a spinner who’s experienced in working with dog hair—and who appreciates that mixed-breed bond of humor, respect and a lifetime of puppy love.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 28: Fall 2004

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