Canine Cashmere: Chiengora

A white fuzzy knitted chiengora scarf made from Great Pyrenees dog fur. Great Pyrenees Chiengora scarf Image by found on Etsy

A lot of interesting, exotic fibres are being woven into luxurious yarns. Imagine wearing a garment made from the downy fur of a baby bison, yak down, llama, camel, alpaca and even Brushtail Possum! Everyone has heard of cashmere and angora. They are lovely yarns that are used to make clothing such as sweaters with a fuzzy halo of softness. Whereas most knitted items are made of wool from sheep, the fibres to make angora sweaters are obtained from the angora rabbit or angora goat. Similarly, cashmere is from goats. Angora or cashmere yarn is softer, lighter and warmer than yarn made from sheep’s wool. Cashmere and angora fibres are so fine that the stitches would fall apart without mixing in other fibres such as lamb’s wool. Did you know that there is another sumptuous fibre made from the fluffy undercoat of long-haired dogs, called Chiengora? After brushing your dog, you may have wondered if there were something you could do with all of that excess fur. Perhaps you’ve thought of stuffing a cushion, or sprinkling some around the edge of your veggie patch to deter squirrels. Or maybe you give it to the birds to line their nests. Usually though, it simply goes to the landfill. Well, now you know that it’s possible to spin dog fur into yarn!

Jennifer Skalka wrote about chiengora in a Chicago Tribune article that I found. She wrote, ‘Kendall Crolius, co-author of the book ‘Knitting With Dog Hair’, says… “You’re basically getting cashmere for free,” … “What’s not to like?” Crolius said the emotional reward is by far the greatest gain from knitting with dog hair. She’s gotten many letters over the years from grateful readers.’ Knitting a dog’s excess fur into a beautiful, soft keepsake is a lovely gift from our beloved pets.

A common question that many people ask at this point is, “Does it smell like a stinky dog when it gets wet?” My research has repeatedly found that chiengora doesn’t smell any more than any other wet wool. If you’ve ever smelled a wet goat or a wet sheep (who often have poop stuck in their hair), you’d probably agree that your dog is generally a lot cleaner as it lives in a house, with you! Because of this, no doubt you ensure that your dog doesn’t have ticks or fleas either. Maybe your dog even sleeps in your bed and/or rides in your nice clean car , so it definitely has more frequent baths than a farm animal who lives in a barn. Plus, any fibre must be thoroughly cleaned before being spun into yarn, and knitted or crocheted into a garment. Washing removes odours, oils and allergy-triggers such as dander.

Keep in mind that the best fur to use to make yarn is the soft, clean undercoat close to the skin (rather than the stiff, coarse outer guard hairs) of longer-haired breeds such as: Golden Retriever, Samoyed, Chow Chow, Alaskan Malamute, Sheltie, Husky, Newfoundland, Norwegian Elkhound, Sheepdogs, St. Bernard, & Lhasa Apso. An especially soft yarn can be made from the fur of Great Pyrenees dogs, and since they are huge, it wouldn’t take long to brush out a considerable quantity.

The fur must be a minimum of 1.5 inches (4 cm) long to spin into yarn. If you want to give it a try, it’s best to start collecting hair that is shed from brushing. Clipped fur can also work, but will have a lot of guard hairs in it that will have to be picked out.

It is also possible to spin the fur from dog breeds who don’t have a downy undercoat, such as Shih Tzu, Poodle and Afghan Hound. As with commercially available yarns, each type has it’s own characteristics. Yarn made from an Afghan Hound doesn’t have the fuzziness that a downy undercoat yarn has. Keep in mind, that dog fur generally doesn’t have the curl that sheep wool has, so the fibre in a finished garment is not as elastic. It doesn’t shrink or stretch as much as wool does, and it doesn’t pill, instead it fluffs. Being a keen knitter, and an avid lover of dogs, chiengora is an appealing fibre that I’d love to get my hands on! Getting the fur wouldn’t be a problem, because I’m a dog walker and my neighbour is a groomer. It’s the spinning of the yarn I’d need some help with. Chiengora is most suited to making winter accessory items, such as mittens, hats, ear warmers, leg warmers, socks, or scarves because it is incredibly warm. I have read that chiengora is five times warmer than wool, but

wikipedia says that chiengora is 80% warmer than wool! So a chiengora sweater would make one feel quite overheated unless in extremely frigid conditions. That being the case, chiengora items are usually blended with fibres from other animals, such as sheep’s wool, and these longer fibres also help to keep the finished item intact. Note:

The book mentioned above is by Kendall Crolius and Anne Montgomery called “Knitting With Dog Hair: Better a Sweater from a Dog You Know and Love Than From a Sheep You’ll Never Meet” (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997).

Marilyn Welsh, creator of the scarf pictured above, is a vet in BC. Here is a link for more info about her chiengora creations if you’re interested.

Supporting you in providing a balanced & fulfilling life for your dog

Fluffy mixed breed with shades of brown looking at the camera with trees in the background.