'Knit Your Dog' is an Illinois-based business that will take your dog's excess hair and transform it into cozy clothes and accessories.
Dog hair is a nuisance for most people, something that requires grooming, washing, and vacuuming, but it’s a small price to pay for the pleasure of having a wonderful pet. For Jeannie Sanke, dog hair itself is a treasure. It’s the raw material from which she creates beautiful hand-knitted clothing and accessories. Yes, Sanke knits with dog hair.
The concept is not new. Inuit people in the Far North have used dog fur in clothing for thousands of years, and apparently it is 50 percent warmer than sheep’s wool. There’s even a correct term for dog wool -- “chiengora,” which is a blend of angora and the French word for dog, chien.
Most people are shocked at the idea of using dog wool, but, as Sanke explains on her website, Knit Your Dog, it’s a wonderful material that’s entirely natural, clean and odor-free and humanely harvested, especially when considered how aggressive other animal-shearing methods can be.
In order to work, a dog’s hair must come from its undercoat, not the glossy overcoat, and it cannot be cut. It must be harvested with a brush, comb, or rake.
“The longer the undercoat, the better it spins. Chow Chows, Samoyeds, Golden Retrievers, Newfoundlands, Kuvasz, Keeshonds, Afghans, Bernese, Great Pyrenees, Pekingese, Briards, bearded and rough Collies, and other long-haired undercoated breeds spin very well. Huskies and Malamutes spin well if the undercoat is long enough (if a hair shaft is 1.5″ or longer); if it’s a shorter coat, it will need to be blended with a longer fiber to ensure that the wool remains intact.”
The hair goes through a lengthy process to prepare it for knitting. It is washed multiple times to get rid of the wet dog smell, which Sanke assures does not remain: “Just the same way that a merino sweater doesn’t smell like a sheep (and) a cashmere sweater doesn’t smell like a goat.” Next it is carded to align the fibers, spun into yarn, and knitted or crocheted into a design that the dog owner has chosen (and has enough yarn to complete).
Sanke isn’t the only one exploring chiengora. A 2011 article in the Wall Street Journal described a number of artisanal weavers who were embracing dog hair.
“Dog-hair spinners say they're winning over the public, but it was clear at a recent craft fair that they still have a ways to go. The near universal reaction to a pile of yarn labeled ‘dog hair’ is a wince. ‘How do you get it?’ one shopper asked Ms. Dodge in a horrified whisper. Once the artisans explain that they don't need to skin a dog to get its fur, most shoppers visibly relax. But that doesn't mean they're buying.”
Price could be another barrier. Chiengora is expensive relative to other natural fibers.
“Wool, cotton and acrylic yarn cost about $1.50 to $2 an ounce. Spinners generally charge about $12 per ounce of dog-hair yarn. That yarn can then be crocheted, knitted or woven into any number of items, which adds still more to the expense; a custom sweater of poodle yarn can cost several hundred dollars.”
But for many dog owners, this is a small price to pay to keep their beloved canine companion by their side forever, albeit it in clothing form. You can contact Sanke through her website and Facebook page.