November 8, 2012

Knitting Cat Beds with Dog Hair? Is She Barking Mad?



Newt and Jake
Lisa Dupree, mom to @NewtTheCat, mentioned in passing that she knits with dog hair, and I thought her hobby interesting enough to share with my blog readers.

“The short version of the spinning story is that I've often said that I should learn to spin dog fur and make sweaters, because over the years, our rough coat Collies have produced a LOT of fur,” Lisa Dupree told me when I expressed interest in her hobby. Lisa works as a technical writer by day, and by night she is a holistic practitioner, specializing in companion animal care. “I learned to knit and crochet a few years ago, as something to do during the long, sleepless nights while trying to stabilize Newt during the early days of his diagnosis.”

Newt is an amazing Miracle Cat who dropped into his parents’ lives like Newton’s apple. He has a portosystemic shunt (PSS), a condition where the blood vessel bypasses the liver, preventing the blood from being detoxified. It is pretty rare in dogs and seen even less often in cats. Current statistics indicate that approximately 1 in 10,000 cats are affected. Please click Newt’sStory to read his interview on Herman’s blog, and the links at the end of this article to learn more about feline PSS.

“Mostly I make cat beds (Newt Nests) and blankies to donate. I just wish I could crochet FASTER! And because some of them use so much yarn, I made a joke on Newt’s blog about learning to spin the dog’s fur to make my own yarn. The next thing I knew, Newt was given a spindle and some wool, and it sort of grew from there.”

About knitting with dog fur, Lisa said, “I was pretty surprised to find that my joke of spinning dog fur actually was a ‘thing’ - people really do it. Dog fur is a natural fiber, which lends itself well to making yarn, much like sheep’s wool, camel, cashmere, yak, alpaca, llama, etc. Some breeds are better suited for it, (those with fluffy undercoats) although, I am aware of folks who have done some interesting things with other breeds, as well.”

While Lisa was telling me this, I was thinking…if she had the fur that Herman alone produces; she could quit her job and go into spinning full time.

Apparently, Lisa is a mind reader, because she then said, “It does seem logical to take advantage of the never-ending, renewable, natural source of fiber on the paw, if you will - true sustainability efforts using an unexpected renewable natural resource. So, I taught myself to spin as yet another way to help promote awareness of liver shunts in cats. Taking advantage of the old stereotype about cats and yarn to try and help more people know that there is Hope for cats with liver shunts. My goal is to eventually get good enough at it to donate the yarn and/or finished objects to our favorite Collie rescue groups so that they can sell the items to help raise money for their groups.”

“Does the dog fur smell while you’re working with it?” I wondered.

“In my opinion, dog fur yarn does NOT smell like dog, particularly if you start with a clean dog, any doggy smell is virtually nonexistent. Having smelled more than my fair share of sheep over the years, I’ll take dog fur yarn over wool yarn any day!”

I also wondered about spinning cat fur.

“Some spinners also spin cat fur,” Lisa told me, “which can be similar to spinning rabbit fur. I hope to be good enough to do that, too, eventually. It is supposedly a bit trickier, but doable. In fact, we are trying to coordinate getting the fur from a few of Newt's fellow liver shunt kitties to me so I can make commemorative yarn for their owners. I *think* I'm ready to try now, but because memorial spinning is so poignant, I don't want to mess it up, so am practicing with angora rabbit fur.”

“Herman’s fur is angora-like,” I told Lisa, “so in the spring when he gets his first of two lion cut’s, I will send you a package. And make sure he’s had a bath prior to hair cut.” Then I asked her about the process of spinning and dying fur into a usable product.

“I’m still very much a beginner at learning to spin and dye my own yarn. I’ve only made a couple of finished objects from my hand-spun. My first complete dog fur project was a series of experiments: dyeing with koolaid, spinning usable yarn that wasn’t terribly lumpy and bumpy, and attempting to crochet a basic lacy pattern. My rudimentary knitting and crochet skills lend themselves much better to the fuzzy, floofy Newt Nests than to detailed work. LOL!

“The process is really basic, and involves, at its simplest, only four (4) steps:
  1.  “Harvest” the “fleece” - in other words, brush the dog. Depending on how much the dog enjoys being brushed, they may argue whether it is “humanely harvested” ;-)
  2. Prepare the fur for spinning. Depending on the fur’s condition, this can be as simple as  spinning right from a clump of fur plucked straight off the dog, or taking extra steps, including:
    1. Washing the fur,
    2. “Carding” the fur which aligns it into tidy bundles.
    3. Dyeing, which can be done either before the fur is spun into yarn, or after.
  3. Spin the fur into yarn. This can be achieved by using a spindle, a spinning wheel, or even simply by hand-twisting the fiber to lock it into place.
  4. Do something fun with your hand-spun yarn!
Step 1: Fluffy dog fur taken right off the brush.


 Step 2: Dog fur that has been dyed red (in this case, by using Kool-aid).

Step 3: Un-dyed dog fur being spun into yarn on a spinning wheel.
Step 4: Hat made with kool-aid-dyed dog fur yarn.

“It doesn’t require an expensive investment to make yarn or other useful items from your pets’ fur,” Lisa told me. “To make yarn, all you need is a fur-producing pet, (or, you can ask friends, neighbors, co-workers, even grooming salons to save fur for you); and a way to spin the fur. A spindle can be made from something as simple as a stick and rock, or an old CD and a dowel rod.

“Instead of yarn, there are other useful things you can make from your dog or cat’s fur – like felt! Fur can be made into felt simply with soap and water, or by flattening it – either with simple pressure, or by needle-felting. The resulting felt can be made into toys, blankets, jewelry – anything “normal” felt can be used for. I found out the hard way how easily dog fur can felt during a too-vigorous washing session. Even un-spinnable mats can be felted into toys for your own kitties, or to donate to rescue groups. Heck, Newt was smart enough to figure out how to make his own blanky when he stole a bag of dog fur, dragged it into his lair, and slept on it. Over time, it flattened into a warm, soft, Newt-shaped blanky. If my cat can do it, anyone can!” 

A couple of books to give you ideas include:
      Knitting With Dog Hair: Better A Sweater From A Dog You Know and Love Than From A Sheep You'll Never Meet
      Crafting with Cat Hair: Cute Handicrafts to Make with Your Cat

If you want your pets’ fur spun into yarn, but feel unable to do it yourself, some spinners will do it for you. A quick online search for spinning dog / cat fur yields many results, including:
      http://www.vipfibers.com

To learn more about portosystemic shunts (PSS) - liver shunts - in cats, please click the following links. Lisa’s passion to connect and explore PSS with other Liver Shunt cats is commendable. I wish her the best with her fur knitting, and also a long and otherwise healthy life to the apple of her eye, Newt.

Visit Newt's website: www.CatLiverShunt.com
Join Newt's Support Group:
www.CatLiverShunt.org
E-Mail Newt:
Newt@catlivershunt.com
Read Newt's Blog:
http://NewtNews.CatLiverShunt.info
Newt's Youtube Channel:
http://www.youtube.com/user/CatLiverShunt
Newt's Facebook Page:
https://www.facebook.com/CatLiverShunt
Follow Newt on Twitter! http://twitter.com/#!/NewttheCat


4 comments:

  1. This is just TOO COOL! I want to mail Lisa fur from my Sheltie...I think she could make a blanket!

    www.dakotasden.wordpress.com

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  2. I've often wondered if a pet's combed fur couldn't be used for something. I'd love to hear more about this.

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  3. I've often wondered if pet fur couldn't be made into something - we throw enough of it away after brushing. Looking forward to hearing more about this.

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  4. Wow, how brilliant *claps paws*

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