TBT: Chiengora

The first time I heard of anyone spinning dog hair into yarn and then using it to knit with was when I was in elementary school in the 80s. We had new neighbors build a house on the hill above ours; they brought 3 fluffy Samoyeds that terrorized our indoor/outdoor cats. Mr. S wore hats and mittens that Mrs. S knit using yarn made from the dog’s fur. I was fascinated and a little disgusted (and probably more than a little angry that the dogs treed our kitties regularly.)

When I learned to spin in 2009, I was so obsessed with the process that I quickly used up the wool friends had given me to practice with and looked for other things to spin, like cotton balls. Once I ran out of those, I started eyeing Moose, our black retriever mix; parts of his coat are 3-4″ long. I dutifully from brushed him out a few times, washed the loose fur, and spun a little bit. Unfortunately, I didn’t take pictures of the results and I didn’t like them enough to keep them or use them.

Since then, I’ve heard lots and lots of tales of people spinning their pet’s fur. I supposed angora bunnies count, but that was a known quantity to me and not so unusual. Anyway, all of my disgust for this is gone. It seems like a pretty poignant way to remember a treasured pet and you can’t beat the wow factor of explaining where a particular fiber came from.

This brings me to the TBT part of this post. Chiengora isn’t a new or unusual thing. In fact, there was a dog bred to produce textiles. The Coast Salish people of the Pacific Northwest spun dog hair blended with other fiber and made blankets (and, I’m guessing, other textiles as well).

“A Woman Weaving a Blanket,” Songhees/Saanich (Central Coast Salish), Paul Kane (1810 Mallow, Ireland–1871 Toronto, Canada), Oil on canvas, 45.3 x 73.8 cm, Royal Ontario Museum

The Royal Ontario Museum description of the painting:

“The men wear no clothing in summer, and nothing but a blanket in winter, made either of dog’s hair alone, or dog’s hair and goosedown mixed, frayed cedar bark, or wildgoose skin, like the Chinooks. They have a peculiar breed of small dogs with long hair of a brownish black and a clear white. These dogs are bred for clothing purposes. The hair is cut off with a knife and mixed with goosedown and a little white earth, with a view of curing the feathers. This is then beaten together with sticks, and twisted into threads by rubbing it down the thigh with the palm of the hand, in the same way that a shoemaker forms his waxend, after which it undergoes a second twisting on a distaff to increase its firmness. The cedar bark is frayed and twisted into threads in a similar manner. These threads are then woven into blankets by a very simple loom of their own contrivance. A single thread is wound over rollers at the top and bottom of a square frame, so as to form a continuous woof through which an alternate thread is carried by the hand, and pressed closely together by a sort of wooden comb; by turning the rollers every part of the woof is brought within reach of the weaver; by this means a bag is formed, open at each end, which being cut down makes a square blanket. The women wear only an apron of twisted cedar bark shreds, tied round the waist and hanging down in front only, almost to the knees. They however, use the blankets more than the men do.” (Paul Kane, “Wanderings of an Artist,” 1859:210–211)

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Author: madgeface

I knit, crochet, spin, and have done some experimenting with weaving and natural dye. I’m also a technical writer, mom to 3 boys, and enjoy gardening.

4 thoughts on “TBT: Chiengora”

  1. I wonder too! I wish museums with textile holdings could & would share interactive samples to touch, but I know that’s really impractical. Imagination will have to do.

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