SANTA FE, N.M. — Thanks to a Sante Fe weaver, fashion mavens are literally putting on the dog.
Yes, that long, fluffy white coat with the elegant drape and luxurious feel is woven of silk, wool and Samoyed.
A handsome, patchwork-style jacket with blocks of rich tans and browns is woven of wool, silk and chow.
And that soft, lovely-to-touch scarf in shades of white, cream and beige is made of silk and collie.
There is nothing ordinary about the creations of weaver Nancy Paap, who spins dog hair into yarn and weaves it with hand-dyed silks, wools or cottons for one-of-a-kind garments.
Eye-catching for their textures and use of colors, Paap's finely detailed coats and jackets also feature silk linings, unusual buttons and cuffs crocheted of dog hair.
Eye-catching, too, are the prices, ranging from $1,050 for short jackets to $1,750 for some long coats--although a chow-and-Samoyed beret can be had for $115.
"She creates garments that sell for a lot of money to people for whom this is their fur of choice," said Jill Heppenheimer, co-owner of Santa Fe Weaving Gallery, the main outlet for Paap's work.
Paap's customers are largely upscale visitors to Santa Fe who are struck by the unusual work and often come back for more.
Occasionally a customer is turned off when she learns what the fabric is, Heppenheimer said. She may dislike dogs, mistakenly believe it's a dog pelt or be afraid she'll attract a canine following as she walks down the street.
That fear is baseless, Heppenheimer said.
"My chow walks in here and lies down and has no interest in the dog-hair coats," she said.
But those allergic to dogs, beware: These coats are not for you. Paap says she once had a customer with allergies who loved a jacket enough to buy it anyway. She returned it after she developed breathing problems.
Paap's customers occasionally include dog owners who provide their own animals' hair for the garment--a way to recycle the hair into an item of sentimental value.
It takes about 4 pounds of hair to make a coat, 2 pounds for a jacket and a half-pound for a scarf or shawl, Heppenheimer said. That's a lot of dog hair, so owners may have to save brushings for years.
All of the hair Paap uses is brushed from living dogs. Groomers and show-dog owners provide most of it. She advertises in dog-breeding magazines and pays $10 a pound.
"I'm low on chow," Paap said during an interview in her studio at her home in Tesuque, north of Santa Fe. The adobe studio is dominated by three looms. Skeins of dog-hair yarn hang from the ceiling on one wall.
Sitting by a spinning wheel is a bag of white, fluffy hair, the brushings of a Samoyed. Paap will spin the hair on a cotton or silk core strand for strength, wash the resulting yarn with dish detergent and ammonia, let it dry, then weave it with other fibers on one of the looms.
The resulting fabric will be washed, then the garment will be cut, sewn and lined, and the final product dry-cleaned.
Paap doesn't dye the dog-hair yarn, preferring its natural colors. Chow hair, for example, ranges from creamy to dark brown. Paap uses other yarn she dyes herself to add touches of turquoise or magenta or copper.
A weaver for more than two decades, Paap first tried spinning dog hair in 1972. She made pillows initially, and, by 1976, clothing.
"It was free yarn," and exotic fibers such as Angora goat were expensive, she said. "And if you're a weaver, you spin up anything. That's what I had, that's what I spun, that's what I used."
Although it's not unusual for weavers to experiment with and use dog hair, Heppenheimer said Paap has a singular place in the dog-hair weaving realm.
"Nancy as far as we know is the only one who is doing it commercially and successfully and building a long-term customer base," Heppenheimer said.
Spinning teacher Peggy Meyer of Minneapolis, who recently coordinated a fashion show for the Handweavers Guild of America's international conference, says other dog-hair weavers she knows do it as a hobby.
"I've run into a lot of people that like to spin dog hair, and have their own pooches," Meyer said. "But they don't sell their work."
Paap favors Samoyed, chow and collie because of the texture and length of the hair. Some other breeds, such as German shepherds or huskies, have hair that is too short and stiff.
Dog-hair coat devotees say the garments are lighter than other fur--but still warm--and get fluffier and better-looking with age.
Paap says that while they may shed a little bit, they don't wear out.