For 11 years, Cindy Briggs had been collecting her golden retriever Carly's fur in plastic bags and storing it in the closet. She had no specific plans to use it, but something kept her from throwing it away. The dog kept shedding, and Briggs kept brushing and collecting. Over those 11 years, she moved the fur to three apartments, and always took care never to squish it. "I didn't know why I was doing it," she said, "but it turned out to be a blessing."
Briggs' beloved dog has been dead for two years, but the dog trainer from the suburbs of Washington, D.C., has a memento of Carly's presence right in her home. Through the Pet Yarn Chic website, Briggs had the fur she collected spun into a fuzzy golden yarn. With the yarn she had an afghan knitted, and it now sits on top of a side table in her living room with a piece of glass over it.
"I can touch it any time I like," she said. She had originally planned to drape it over her couch. The only problem was, it shed.
The Pet Yarn Chic website was founded by N'ann Harp, a brand manager from Asheville, N.C., and the owner of a long-haired cat named Tyler who "shed like a porcupine blowing quills."
"I was going out of my mind," she said.
In an attempt to manage the fur deposits blowing through her house like tumbleweed, Harp began following the cat around with a plastic bag, stuffing it full of the tufts he left behind. On a whim, she took the collected fur to a local knitting and fiber arts store, Asheville NC Home Crafts, to see if the owner could spin it into a yarn. She said yes, and a new business was born.
Because most pet owners do not have access to spinners (they are quite hard to find), Harp has set up two websites to connect the two. For the spinners -- usually stay-at-home mom hobbyists -- she founded the Critter Knitter Guild, a loose association of spinners who get paid to spin yarn.
And for pet owners who have been hoarding dog, cat or bunny fur, she founded Pet Yarn Chic: You send her $49.95 and she sends you back a handbook, shipping supplies and hair collection instructions.
The cost to spin the yarn varies, depending on the pet's hair and any special care and handling it might need, but prices start around $10 to $12 per ounce. If you are not a knitter, you can pay an additional fee to have a garment knitted for you.
Pet hair can be difficult to spin, so Harp has had to work hard to find experienced spinners. Dog and cat fur tends to be shorter and more slippery than wool, requiring more twists per inch to help it stay together, and dog fur in particular tends to be stinky due to a natural lanolin in the dogs' skin. And, of course, not every animal's fur will work. Only long-haired cat fur and the fluffy undercoat of a dog can be spun into a yarn.
Still, Marie Hendrix, a spinner for the Critter Knitter Guild and co-owner of the Asheville NC Home Crafts store, thinks dog and cat fur can be used to create beautiful yarns. "It is a very soft hair, so it develops a halo around it like Angora does, almost an aura," she said. "It is a very comfortable, lovely, luscious fiber."