Ever noticed how much your dog sheds? If you collected all the dog hair from a couch alone it would probably be enough to spin into yarn and knit clothes, right?
Well, that is exactly the thinking that founded the company Knit Your Dog based in Evanston, Illinois. Founder Jeannie Sanke says that her company was a natural progression since she descends from both knitters and dog lovers. Sanke herself has lived with dogs her entire life, and all her dogs have been doubled coated.
Sanke spoke to This Dog’s Life and said, “I’ve been brushing my dogs since I was very small and I was raised by Depression-era parents, so I grew up frugal, and just throwing out all that hair seemed so wasteful.”
Sanke hasn’t been the first person to knit stuff using dog hair, and she was actually inspired to start after seeing the other knitters using dog hair.
“Back around 1995, Kendall Crolius published her book ‘Knitting with Dog Hair,’ and I saw her promoting it on TV; that was a ‘eureka!’ moment for me,” Sanke said.
At the time, Sanke didn’t know how to spin hair into wool, nevertheless, she started saving her dog Buster’s hair – eventually finding someone who could spin hair into yarn for her.
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The first project she undertook was a turtleneck sweater. Sanke said the reaction to the sweater was very positive. “The wool is beautiful and has an incredible halo, so it’s really very striking when it’s worked to its advantage,” she said.
Sanke said that when people learned that their hair all came from Buster, they were nothing short of astonished. “It’s like a kinder, gentler version of finding out for the first time where your food comes from.” Since many of the people personally knew her dog and had a bond with him, they were very receptive to the knit garments. However, Sanke has admitted that this level of comfort with dog hair varies by geographic region and ethnicity.
The question on everyone’s mind is probably how does chiengora – the actual name for dog hair wool as it comes from the French word “chien” meaning dog – compare to other yarns from other animals such as yaks, alpacas, angora rabbits, and, most familiarly, sheep? Well, according to Sanke, “Anything made from chiengora is much warmer than other wools.” She says that chiengora is 30-50% warmer than sheep’s wool, and it has a halo, like angora yarn, which explains why it’s called chiengora.
In order to gather the hair to be spun, the dog’s fur needs to be combed or brushed rather than sheered like with sheep or alpacas. The reason all has to do with the fiber structure – if it’s removed by clippers or a razor, the hair is bristly on the skin. “So while a sheep, alpaca, or goat can be shorn once a year, collecting dog hair is an ongoing pursuit,” she explained.
Once the dog hair has been spun into yarn, and that yarn has become an item of clothing, caring for chiengora isn’t any different than taking care of other hand knits. Sanke instructed that the best way to do it is to wash by hand and squeeze out any excess water – no wringing! – then lay flat to dry. She also doesn’t recommend dry cleaning.
While some people have raised concerns that demand for dog hair may endanger dogs and result in dog farms, Sanke reassured its unlikely as only dogs who are healthy, well-nourished, and not stressed will produce good hair fibers.
“Even a Samoyed – which is the gold standard of chiengora – with a health or emotional issue will produce fiber that scratches,” she says. “Allergies, heart conditions, nutritional deficits all impact the quality of the hair.”
Sanke has stated that when she discusses her occupation with other people, she sometimes gets strange looks. However, dog owners usually always have a different reaction. She said, “The idea of having something from their dog that they can keep forever is incredibly powerful to many people.”
It’s also something that is quite emotionally powerful for her. Sanke knitted a sweater using Buster’s wool for his best doggie friend Fuzzy. “Fuzzy developed heart disease after Buster died, and his hair stopped growing. So his best friend kept him warm for the rest of his life.”
Besides using the hair of her own dog, much of the fur she uses comes from her clients’ dogs directly. “That’s one of the best parts of this business; especially for people who have lost their beloved companions, I’m able to provide them with a service that gives them some comfort.”
Sanke runs an Etsy shop, which has some pre-made goods for purchase such as keeshond fingerless gloves and a chow chow poncho. All items range from $75 to $800. For those who are seeking custom-made orders, they may take over 8 months to complete, even with two people spinning. At the moment, Sanke is working on moving to a commercial space, as well as hiring additional spinners and knitters. It’s a task that won’t prove easy, since there’s not a whole lot of spinners around – especially those who work with dog hair. But that may have to change as there seems to be a growing demand. “It’s very light wool and incredibly warm, and the halo is just stunning.”
What do you think of dog-hair knits? Would you ever buy something made out of dog hair? Let us know!
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