From the moment Kimberly Brown brought the 8-week-old Malamute-husky cross named Sig home as a birthday gift for her husband, it was clear the pup had eyes only for her. For the next 12 years the two were inseparable, right up until Sig passed away earlier this month.
When he did, she was ready. Brown had been preparing for a way to keep a piece of Sig with her for years.
A year or so after getting Sig, Brown said she learned about people who would have their dogs’ fur spun into yarn. It got her thinking — why not do the same thing so she would be sure to have a keepsake of her beloved pet after he was no longer with her.
“I had a feeling at some point the fur would be all I had of Sig,” Brown said. “So I started collecting it when he shed out from winter.”
That was 10 years ago. Over that time she collected enough to fill five large kitchen trash bags. Enough for a woven blanket or knitted sweater.
“He had the most beautiful soul,” Brown said. “I don’t know if I will ever have another dog like that.”
While there will never be another Sig, Brown is left with more than memories.
Dog fur, like other animal hair, can be spun into yarn. It’s called chiengora and is an established, albeit uncommon, fiber-making process that dates back to pre-European contact in North America. Back then — in the time before sheep were introduced – dog fur was the main fiber on the continent.
Turning dog hair into yarn transforms the nuance of shedding into a usable product. The yarn can be knitted into sweaters, mittens, hats and scarves. It can also be woven into rugs, blankets or pillow covers.
And these days, it can also be a special reminder of a beloved dog.
Dog fur yarn makes great winter clothing, said Jaye Faucher, a musher who used to live in Maine and still races here. She’s been spinning fur from her Siberian huskies for almost a decade.
“The pros of using chiengora are both warmth and water shedding,” Faucher said. “It’s said to be 80 percent warmer than wooll and sheds water pretty easily.”
That warmth does have a downside, Faucher added.
“I will say it is hot,” she said. “I made myself a hat from [chiengora] and the only time I can wear it is when it’s below zero.”
Still, there are people who have a hard time reconciling turning a beloved pet into yarn.
“A lot of people do have that ‘ewww’ reaction,” said Barbara Ventura, a fiber spinner in Palermo. “But that’s because those people don’t own dogs.”
Ventura is among the vendors who can spin dog fur into yarn. She said when she takes on a dog fur spinning project, she treats it much like any other animal fiber.
“A lot of times there is not much elasticity with dog fur so I mix it with wool from an [animal] with a fair amount of elasticity,” she said. “Yarn needs elasticity so whatever you make keeps its shape.”
At left: For 10 years Kimberly Brown has been saving the shed fur from her beloved Malamute husky to spin into yarn. The dog passed away earlier this month and Brown plans to have a blanket made from the spun fur. Credit: Courtesy of Kimberly Brown; at right: Barbara Ventura turns animal fiber — including dog fur — into yarn that can be made into clothing, rugs or other textile products. Credit: Courtesy of Barbara Ventura
She spins into yarn one of her many spinning wheels — she has lost count of exactly how many she has in her living space and tucked into her attic. Once it is spun into yarn, Ventura washes it to remove any doggy odor and ensure it won’t smell like wet dog if it ever gets wet.
The final product feels much like the dog it came from, no matter how soft the wool it’s blended with, Ventura said.
“If the fur is from a spiky hair dog, it’s not going to change,” she said. “That spiky hair just works it’s way out and says ‘here I am.’”
Ventura is happy to talk to anyone who wants to turn their dog’s fur into yarn. She recommends saving fur loose in a plastic bag, not packed tightly.
Several days ago, Brown dropped the bags of Sig’s fur off at the fiber mill at Underhill Farms in Gorham. In 10 months she will go back for the finished chiengora product.
“My grandmother said she will crochet a blanket out of [Sig’s] yarn for me,” Brown said. “That is really wonderful because it will be a keepsake of both Sig and my grandmother.”