TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Spinning on Chiengora Dog Hair

Spring has arrived here in Kentucky in all its splendor and glory. Green quickly takes over the muddy browns of winter and with it come all the demands of keeping it in control- mowing, weeding, cleaning and pruning our yards into some semblance of order. And, for my four furry fiber monster friends, it means that shedding season is back in full force. Let me introduce you to the monsters:





Mitchie was our gallery dog in Chicago. He kept shop lifting to a minimum and had fans that would visit him almost daily. He was even featured in a Sun Times story!

After we closed the gallery, I began working seriously on online sales. He sat next to me, staring at me, letting me know with doggy telepathy that he was in no uncertain terms upset about the change of events. He was bored, missed his fans, and was lonely. I promised him we’d get another dog after we moved out of Chicago. We found Laila, a couple of weeks later- torn up, scarred and pregnant. The vet estimated she was only a year old and had probably been used as bait in dog fighting. Two months later she had seven pups in the living room, Mitchie barking at each birth. Juba, the first born, and Sheba, the runt, stayed on and I placed the others. I didn’t mean to have four dogs- they all just kind of showed up.

Shedding is a force on to itself. I work hard at keeping it at bay, brushing the monsters outside, sweeping, vacuuming. I keep my inventory in plastic bins, away from them. The other day I remembered an article I had read several years ago about a woman who spun her dog hair. I googled it and found quite a bit of information. Spun dog hair is called chiengora (chien is the French word for dog). Not only are there people spinning chiengora, but there are also companies that specifically cater to people who want garments or accessories made out of their pet’s hair. Some of it is pretty bizarre. Dog hair bikinis? Ugh.

The UK’s Daily Mail had an article this past March about this exact topic. Here is a photo they had of Beth and Brian Williams wearing sweaters made from their dead dogs' fur:

The white is from a Samoyed and the brown from a Swedish Lapphund. Some hairs work better than others. Spinners often use angora or alpaca to help bind hairs that don’t have good grip. MSNBC also just did a story on chiengora. This short video with Colorado fiber artist Evans explains the technique well:

Then, last night I was in an e-mail conversation with a friend who told me about an NPR story that had just been done on dog hair spinning. It’s a long, strange report with two main story lines of a woman whose great grandmother started a huge dog hair spinning business in Catalonia and an Australian spinner who calls himself the top expert of dog hair in the world. The Catalonian woman dies and her husband sells off her empire, kills all the dogs, and is then himself killed by a guard dog. The Australian expert goes on and on about how you have to be careful about what hair you use, whether it came from a happy dog or a sad dog and that if you want to make a sad dog happy, cover it with a blanket made by hair from a happy dog. Huh? I had a hard time listening to it because there were several sound bites of dogs barking which upset my dogs and both stories were so strange that all my cynicism alert bells started clanging. Draw your own conclusions…

Finally, there is a book out that teaches you everything you need to know about which hairs are best, how to spin chiengora yarn, and products to make.

If spinning, knitting and weaving with dog hair interests you, there is a lot of information out there on the subject. The articles I looked at debated the smell factor, some saying once the hair is clean, there is no smell, others saying, “Just don’t get wet!” Another consideration to look into is the legality of selling chiengora products. All Fiber Arts reported on a law that came into effect in New Jersey in 2000:

Office of the Governor: News Release
The Governor of New Jersey signed Bill S-1815 that prohibits the sale of dog or cat fur and products made from it.

Bill No.S-1815
Bill S1815, approved on January 4, 2000, by Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey.

"Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

1. (New section) 1
[a. No person may sell or barter or offer] Any person who sells, barters, or offers1 for sale or barter, at wholesale or retail, the fur or hair of a 1domestic1 dog or cat or any product made in whole or in part from the fur or hair of a 1domestic1 dog or cat 1[, except that this prohibition] commits a crime of the fourth degree, provided that the person knew or reasonably should have known that the fur or hair was from a domestic dog or cat or that the product was made in whole or in part from the fur or hair of a domestic dog or cat. This section11, or offering for sale or barter,1 of the fur or hair of a 1domestic1 dog or cat cut at a commercial grooming establishment or at a veterinary office or clinic or for scientific research purposes." shall not apply to the sale or barter

I wonder why the need for such a law came about…

Our relationships with the animals around us, whether good or bad, have profound impacts on nature and the economy. Using a pet’s hair can both fulfill a personal need to bond with the animal and serve as a renewable resource for a material obtained easily. For an artist, the cost of materials is always a factor.

We live in a society where animals receive excessive attention in some circles while in others they live a pitiable existence of criminal abuse and neglect. Let’s not even get into the meat industry and their practices in this country! Instead, let us recognize that the pet industry offers a niche for artists and crafters well worth looking into. In a struggling economy, one bubble of stability that we must not pop comes from those spoiled cats and dogs that can help us make a living. I’ve tried to think of a product I could come up with that would be a “must have!” for the pampered pet, but my heart is not in it. Several Etsy artists have figured out a way they can serve that market.

The highest ticket dog item on Etsy is very clever. For $2,700 ElizabethBonura will make a wedding cake topper of the bride, groom and their pets.

Several painters offer custom portraits. You can get a nice rendition from Artpaw for $440.

Then, there are several talented fiber artists who do needle felted likenesses of your pet on commission. Kaysk9s has a huge selection for $155.

These three are but a sampling of Etsy artists who dedicate their talent to dog art. Do the dogs care? Probably not, but owners are willing to invest considerable sums into their four legged companions.

I love my dogs and do spoil them in some ways. But, they are not pampered. We take walks in the woods, they return my affection and are good guards. I don’t know if I want a sweater of their fur or not, but it’s a thought to consider as I brush out those winter coats of chiengora.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for mentioning my work! I've posted a link from my blog, http://www.kaysk9s.blogspot.com

    - Kay


“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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