Warm, dense and often water-resistant, dog hair is the perfect medium for knitting, crocheting or felting.
In fact, people have been bold enough to knit with dog hair for centuries.
Think about it: You’re cold, poor and living in Norway during the 15th century. How do you keep your family warm? Knit them blankets and socks with free yarn from the family dogs.
The first time I heard about knitting with dog hair, I thought it was the most disgusting thing I’d ever heard of. Who wants to wear something made out of dirty, stinky, oily dog hair? And what happens if you get caught in the rain? You get to smell like wet dog the rest of the day.
But then I felt my first scarf knitted from homespun dog hair.
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Soft and plush, the scarf smelled nothing like dog, even though it had been knitted from St. Bernard fur. It wasn’t as soft as silk, but it felt much nicer than wool, cotton or polyester yarn. Most dog hair winds up looking white, gray or shades in between when spun.
Chiengora is yarn made from dog hair or a blend. “Chien” is the French word for dog, and “gora” is taken from angora, the fiber to which dog hair is most similar.
Dog hair fibers have reportedly been found in the clothing and blankets of prehistoric Scandinavia and the North American Navajo Indians. DNA analysis on blankets used by the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia has found that canine hairs were a common fiber in their crafts.
You May Profit From Collecting Your Dog’s Hair
Chiengora is gaining in popularity, and a quick search reveals that the going rate for chiengora produced from the hair of 2 champion German Shepherds is $4.95 for 3 ounces. That could add up to a tidy sum if you kept all the trimmings from your own favorite canine.
And just in case it’s not abundantly clear: No, the dog isn’t harmed to make chiengora. Harvesting dog hair is just like harvesting wool from a sheep — albeit a housebroken, spoiled, garbage-eating sheep that sleeps on your sofa when you aren’t looking.
Tips on Knitting With Dog Hair
- Collect it: To make your own garment or pot holder, start by collecting the fur that is shed when you brush your dog, and keep any floor sweepings. After you give your pet a thorough bath, dry him off and brush him with a slicker brush, a rake or a Furminator. Store the hair in a cloth sack, such as a pillowcase, in a well-lit and well-ventilated area. This will keep it free from moths.
- Spin it: The hair must be spun into yarn before you can make anything out of it. Card the hair to align the fibers, and then spin it into yarn. No spinning wheel? Check out your local crafts or yarn store for nifty spinning tools. Wash the yarn after you spin it and then skein it — or you can send it to an outside organization that will do it for you. You’ll need about 4 ounces for socks, hats and mittens; plan on using 10 ounces for a scarf or 42 ounces for a large sweater.
- Knit it: Follow any pattern as if you were knitting with traditional sheep or goat’s wool. For experienced knitters this means using a size 5 or 6 knitting needle. Now some shop talk: Blooming will occur with use, making it very easy to work with but difficult to undo — so no mistakes. It measures about 6 stitches to the inch and works well with 2-ply sport weight yarn. Chiengora is a little different in that dog hair is finer and shorter than wool, so take extra care not to use too much tension. Canine hairs are also heavy and not stretchy, so plan accordingly.
Yeah, I don’t think so either.
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Fortunately, Kendall Crolius and Anne Montgomery write a whole book on the subject: Knitting With Dog Hair (affiliate link).
To care for your dog-hair garment, wash it by hand in warm water with pet shampoo or a mild liquid detergent.
Although I’d love to own a garment knit from homespun dog hair, I’m not optimistic I’ll ever make one. I have Dachshunds, so it would take about 10 years to save enough hair for a tiny beret — for them, not me.