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Spinning Pesky Pet Hair into Yarn - One Woman's Labor of Love

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Spinning Pesky Pet Hair into Yarn - One Woman's Labor of Love

Doreen's two dogs, Tilly and Skye, sitting by her spinning wheel. (ZT Pet News Photo provided by Doreen Kelly.)

By Kris O'Donnell
West Seneca, NY -- Doreen Kelly's two Collies, Tilly and Skye, quietly gaze out the window as Kelly sits by the fireplace, spinning yarn on her old-fashioned spinning wheel. But Kelly isn't spinning wool, she's spinning dog hair.


"Dog hair has been spun for hundreds of years," says Kelly, who first began experimenting on hair from her two Collies. But the practice is not common because spinning dog hair is no easy task. "It's a lot harder than wool," she explains. "Wool has little barbs on every strand of hair, the whole structure is different from dog hair. Dog hair is very straight, and slippery and short."

Kelly began her business, Custom Dog Hair Spinning, about eight years ago and she works out of her West Seneca home in Western New York. She says she can spin both dog and cat hair that's at least an inch long, and she reports that two inches is the ideal length.

"A double coated dog is best, a Golden Retriever, Samoyed, Newfoundland, and, of course, Collies," Kelly said.

Kelly doesn't spin the top layer of hair, however. "It's the undercoat, not the long, outer dark hair," she remarks. "It's the soft, fluffy undercoat that comes out when the dog is brushed."

Once the dog or cat hair is spun into yarn, Kelly can make all kinds of items, such as small hearts or flowers, pillows, hats, scarves, coin purses, and shawls. Hearts cost $30 to $40, scarves average around $150, and shawls start at $500.

Owners are instructed to save pet hair in a bag, ideally a paper bag or pillowcase. For smaller items, owners only need to fill a bag the size of a lunch bag. A bigger item such as a scarf would require a bag the size of a pillow case or grocery bag.

Kelly says the most common question pet owners have is if the item will still smell "like dog" if it gets wet.

"No, it doesn't," Kelly answers. "Once the hair is off of the dog and cleaned, the oils from the animal are gone and there won't be any smell to it."

She says owners are also surprised to learn that dog hair is eight times warmer than wool.

"You wouldn't make an entire sweater out of dog hair," Kelly said. "It would be way too warm to be able to wear."

Because of the extreme warmth of these garments, she knits items such as scarves and hats using a looser weave.

"The whole pattern is more of an open, fluffy, airy pattern," Kelly said. "You don't want anything tight or dense because then it would just be way too hot."

Kelly spends about an hour and half spinning an ounce of yarn, and creating the necessary five or six ounces for a scarf can take seven to eight hours. But Kelly never tires of the process.

"It's like magic," she says. "Every single time I spin you take this pile of dog hair right off the dog and you feed this into the spinning wheel and this yarn comes out. I'll never get used to the magic of it all."

For Kelly, spending her days spinning cat and dog hair is a labor of love.

"Everybody just thinks it's the greatest, most unique idea. You have a part of your dog you keep forever," Kelly remarks. "I'll get thank-you notes from people saying they cried when they opened their package. It just makes them so happy. I really found my niche in life."

For more information on spinning dog and cat hair, go to Doreen Kelly's website at CustomDogHairSpinning.com.

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