Keep­ing your pet for­ever

Com­mu­nity of artists makes hand-spun wool out of cat and dog fur for keep­sake items

Toronto Star - - LIFE - MOLLY OSWAKS

Af­ter I learned that Frances, my 13-yearold black cat, was dy­ing of heart dis­ease — her heart is too large, beat­ing too fast — my first im­pulse was to think about how best to com­mem­o­rate her, when the time came.

To dis­tract my­self from a vague but grave prog­no­sis, I took my anx­i­ety to Google, where I found the grief space thor­oughly dis­rupted by all man­ner of mod­ern me­mento mori (the Latin term for an artis­tic or sym­bolic re­minder of the in­evitabil­ity of death).

Would I like her turned into a di­a­mond? Tat­too ink? I wasn’t so sure. And af­ter the vet bills, I prob­a­bly couldn’t af­ford it.

But on Etsy, there is a much more af­ford­able al­ter­na­tive: a com­mu­nity of artists of­fer­ing a form of hand-spun heal­ing called chien­gora. The word is a port­man­teau of “chien,” the French word for dog, and “an­gora,” the name given to yarn spun from the soft belly fur of the An­gora rab­bit. “Cat­gora” is yarn from cats.

For Theresa Fur­rer, 45, of Nine Lives Twine, spin­ning cat and dog hair into yarn and wo­ven keep­sakes has be­come a full-time job. She works an av­er­age of 60 hours a week in her home’s con­verted third-floor stu­dio, she said, kept com­pany by two hair­less sph­ynx cats (Fer­gus and Poppy), her beloved taxi­der­mied Devon Rex cat (Cleo) and Cleo’s 20year-old sis­ter (Lupe).

“I look at it as my min­istry,” Fur­rer said. “If I’m able to help some­one’s heart to heal, that’s the goal.”

In 2013, while on bed rest af­ter do­nat­ing a piece of her liver to her fa­ther, Fur­rer, a life­long knit­ter and cro­cheter, took out an old spin­ning wheel pur­chased on a whim. A ve­gan for sev­eral decades, Fur­rer doesn’t wear sheep’s wool and didn’t want to spin it, ei­ther.

So she crowd­sourced cat and dog fur, fig­ur­ing she would learn that way. She spun her first skein of chien­gora with hair har­vested from a customer’s de­ceased black poo­dle, Rose.

“Poo­dle is the worst dog to spin,” Fur­rer said of the no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult mat­ted curls. “I was like, ‘If I can get this poo­dle, I can do any­thing.’ ”

At any given time, Fur­rer has up to a dozen dif­fer­ent pieces of work in var­i­ous stages of the yarn-mak­ing process; yarns start at $23 (U.S.) an ounce. In ad­di­tion to spin­ning yarn, she will triple-wash fin­ished skeins and some­times com­bines pet fur with a sup­port fiber, which can help ex­tend a lim­ited quan­tity of fur into a us­able amount of yarn, as well as help­ing with breatha­bil­ity.

Fur­rer’s favourite fur to spin comes from husky dogs, mala­mutes and Great Pyre­nees.

“Their cor­ti­cal and cu­ti­cle cel­lu­lar struc­ture is per­fect for yarn,” she said.

Cat fur felts al­most upon con­tact and rarely comes in great quan­tity, but she will do it, of­ten sup­ple­ment­ing with a sup­port­ing fiber, like al­paca or bam­boo fiber, to pro­duce a soft skein.

She will also knit for her cus­tomers who don’t know how to: Scarves, blan­kets, pil­lows, mit­tens, head­bands and even stuffed teddy bears are avail­able for an ad­di­tional fee.

Although these prod­ucts may sound strange, be­reave­ment keep­sakes made from hair aren’t new. Mourn­ing jew­elry fash­ioned from a braided lock of a loved one was fash­ion­able in Vic­to­rian and Ge­or­gian times, worn as rings or in lock­ets.

And it’s not just peo­ple in the United States get­ting in on the trade. From the Black For­est in Ger­many, Anke Bawa, 58, wrote by email: “I was as­ton­ished how of­ten peo­ple with loss of a loved pets use my service,” said Bawa, an­other chien­gora spin­ner.

THE NEW YORK TIMES

Theresa Fur­rer, owner of Nine Lives Twine, holds skeins of yarn spun from dog hair.

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