EVANSTON, Ill. — Jeannie Sanke takes her three dogs to Kindred Spirits Healing Arts in Evanston, Illinois, to keep them healthy – but it’s their fur that’s her business.
Sanke started making custom pieces out of dog fur about two years ago, according to WGN-TV. She knits everything from sweaters, gloves, ponchos, scarves, hats, even a teddy bear, all made from the beloved fur of dogs.
“People are always afraid that it’s going to smell like dog, and it doesn’t,” Sanke said. “Just the same way that a merino sweater doesn’t smell like a sheep (and) a cashmere sweater doesn’t smell like a goat.”
The ancient art of spinning dog hair is called chiengora – “chien” is French for dog and “gora” is derived from angora. The practice has been around for thousands of years, according to one researcher, who says dog hair was found in “yarns of pre-historic Scandinavia and the North American Navajo Indians.”
Long-haired breeds with a healthy coat work best, Sanke said, but shorter hair can also be blended with other materials. The pet hair must be brushed – not cut – then cleaned and spun before knitting begins.
The wool is 50 percent warmer than sheep, according to WGN, and the practice is still used today by people in extremely cold climates near the Arctic Circle.
Some also use the practice as a way to honor pets that have passed.
“The touch of a creature that they love, wrapped around them, is much more immediate to people than a diamond pressed from ashes,” Sanke said. “It’s still them, you can touch them. Even after they’re gone you can still have them.