Carding and spinning long domestic cat hair
April 28, 2013 4:45 PM   Subscribe

Hello. I have so many cats, I had to buy a house. 11 of them have very long silky fur and I have several large bags of their fur (from brushing). I want to make yarn for my sister, who knits. I've searched online but can find only the most cursory explanations of what I need to do - not even enough to know whether my quest is feasible or merely another of my many ill-advised pursuits. Does anyone have a clue for me? I would be grateful.
posted by owhydididoit to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I just did this search on google:

card spin cat hair

and got lots of hits including a livejournal discussion of the topic:
posted by michellenoel at 4:53 PM on April 28, 2013

Oh I meant to add that I'm sure you could contact one of the enthusiasts on that board for more info.
posted by michellenoel at 4:54 PM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Its not knitting, but Crafting with Cat Hair: Cute Handicrafts to Make with Your Cat by Kaori Tsutaya is all about crafts made from felted cat hair.
posted by florencetnoa at 4:55 PM on April 28, 2013

Best answer: Short video
posted by michellenoel at 5:01 PM on April 28, 2013

Best answer: I'm a spinner and have done this with Chinook fur. Essentially, you treat it pretty much like camel down- here's a little primer. You just need to gently rinse, wash, dry and then you're ready to hand card. Leave all the fur in nice little log shapes, stack them nicely in a box.

Do you spin already? Spinning with a drop spindle is probably not going to get you the results you desire. It's much, much easier to get consistency on a wheel. If you're not already a spinner, I'd suggest finding someone local (through a yarn shop maybe?) who will do this part for you.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 5:02 PM on April 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

You can totally do it. Spinning is a pretty hot craft these days, the starting equipment is inexpensive, and I'm sure you can easily find tutorials since you are already using the right search terms. With regard to cat hair, my understanding is that it is not very elastic, so you get nicer yarn if you mix it with wool batting (which you can buy ready to spin). Anyway, this is definitely a thing people do. Good luck.
posted by zadermatermorts at 5:03 PM on April 28, 2013

Best answer: People do this.

Whether that means that you can do this is questionable.

My understanding of the process involved is that the cat hair is usually blended with another type of fiber that spins into yarn more readily. So even the people who are making yarn with the fur of long-haired pets aren't making yarn purely out of said hair.

OK, but let's say you are super interested in doing this despite the fact that the result will ultimately be a blend of cat hair and merino wool or the like.

First, you will have to learn to spin. Probably with regular sheep's wool, since as I said cat hair isn't terribly conducive to becoming yarn on its own. I think it's possible to teach yourself, but most people take a course. They're often taught through yarn stores.

You'll have to purchase a spindle (most likely a "drop spindle" which is relatively cheap), as well as fiber to start with. Depending on your teacher and method that'll probably be something like roving or wool batts.

After you build up enough skill with your spindle (spinning is not all that intuitive of a craft, and takes long and sometimes painful hours to produce enough yarn to actually knit something), I suppose that would be the point at which you'd figure out just the right blend of fibers to turn your bags of cat hair into yarn.

Keep in mind that it takes quite a bit of yarn to actually knit something, and quite a bit of fiber to make yarn. So you'll need to get a sense of how spinning and knitting work to even guess whether you have enough cat hair to make this whole project worthwhile. Luckily, it'll take a good long time to get to the point where you could spin with the cat hair, so I guess you could just keep saving up as you complete each of the stages of the process I described.

TL;DR: This is not so much a fun weekend project as a several intense months of learning to do a somewhat arcane and obsolete thing type of project. But if you're interested in diving down a rabbit hole like this, go for it!

(I will also say that I've seen items knit out of cat hair, and they're not terribly attractive. There's a reason we didn't domesticate cats for their wool.)
posted by Sara C. at 5:04 PM on April 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Call up Shuttles, Spindles and Skeins in Boulder and ask them. My neighbor teaches classes there and I'd ask her for you but she's on vacation and not due back for more than a week (we're cat sitting for her). I'm certain that they can recommend books.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 5:07 PM on April 28, 2013

Best answer: I didn't mention this in my speil, but keep in mind what PorcineWithMe says -- since cat hair isn't easily spun on a drop spindle, not only will you have to do the step of learning to spin in the first place, but you will then have to purchase a spinning wheel (IIRC they are in the ~$200 range), learn to use it, and THEN and only then will you have the skills to even contemplate doing this.

But as others have said, spinning is a pretty popular fiber craft these days. It's definitely something you could take up, if you were looking for a quirky hobby.
posted by Sara C. at 5:09 PM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

This person would do it for you :) But if you want to do it yourself, her website still has quite a bit of helpful information. She says about a quarter of a grocery bag full of fur is enough to make a pair of gloves (since she mixes with other fibres too).
posted by lollusc at 5:16 PM on April 28, 2013

Response by poster: Gerunds get me every time? Oh well, I'm not embarrassed - look at these great answers - especially PorcineWithMe's! Not only answers, but somehow I feel more normal than before I asked. Thanks everybody!
posted by owhydididoit at 5:20 PM on April 28, 2013

Best answer: If you're not already a member at Ravelry you might want to join (it's free with an email address) and connect with one of the groups like Spinning Cat Hair. You'll also find lots of resources on Ravelry for beginning spinners if you need them.
posted by camyram at 5:25 PM on April 28, 2013

Best answer: As a knitter, spinner and cat owner, I suggest the following:

1. Consider blending the cat fur with other fiber (alpaca, corriedale) to make it easier to spin. If it were me, I would buy a fleece and deliver the fleece and the fur to a processor like Zeilinger's and have them blend it for you and return the fiber prepped and ready to spin.

2. It took me spinning a pound of fiber to get good, consistent yarn worth knitting with. That took over a year, and a fair amount of patience. Before I found in-person teachers (which I recommend), I watched a lot of videos by Abby Franquemont, who knows A LOT and is very helpful. If you do know how to spin, she can improve your technique, and she's a good starting point if you don't.

3. If you don't have lots of time or patience, a place like Zeilinger's could also spin the yarn for you - it all depends on the balance you want to strike between money and time.

A local spinning guild or yarn shop that also sells spinning fiber would be a good source of information and support to help shorten the learning curve and make the path to finished yarn less expensive. Spinning is really fun; you can totally learn how - good luck!
posted by deliriouscool at 5:40 PM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Never a Ravelry member but my sister totally is - of course they have a Spinning Cat Hair group! As for my expectations, I'm looking for something to do with all this hair besides composting it and am running out of new specialty fibers to buy for my sister (plus it is really, really, really soft and very long). I might not buy a spinning wheel but it's worth my time to investigate - more of a matter of how hard is it to learn than the $200. Thanks again.
posted by owhydididoit at 5:41 PM on April 28, 2013

Some shops rent wheels, by the way. It's worth asking around. You are fortunate to be in Seattle, there are a ton of great yarn shops. (In fact, their 24-shop yarn crawl is coming up soon).

Whether you blend with another fiber or not, keep in mind pet hair is often MUCH warmer than wool. I am not sure if cat hair has a hollow shaft like dog hair does but that is what makes it so ungodly warm it's not a bad idea to aim low, output-wise (enough for mittens or sicks, not, say, a sweater).

I've written a spinning book for Interweave and spun many kinds of fiber, feel free to MeMail me for more help/leads.
posted by at 6:39 PM on April 28, 2013

I am a novice spinner. I learned in January and have been practicing nearly every day since, and I really enjoy it! It is relaxing and fun, once you get the hang of it. There is definitely a learning curve, but if you practice for 10-15 minutes a day, you will likely see great improvement in just a couple of weeks. It is just a matter of your hands learning what to do, building up the muscle memory, practicing the movements. You can do it!

Anyway, as to spinning cat fur specifically: I am a member of the Ravelry group camyram linked directly above and actually have a little spindle about halfway full of my cat's fur right at this moment! What I have been doing is brushing my cat and spinning that brush-full of fur as I go along, a little at a time, every time I brush him. Since you have a lot collected already, you will probably need to card it, since cat fur felts and mats very easily, and it may have clumped together in the storage bags. Carding will open up the clumps and fluff up the fur so it drafts easier. You don't have to buy the big, expensive cards; you can use two pet brushes as mini cards. I also wouldn't bother washing the fur beforehand. I would wash the finished yarn after spinning, definitely, but before? Meh. Sheep live outside and have all kinds of muck stuck in their wool, but I think, especially if your cat is an indoor cat, the fiber is probably already clean enough to handle. You make that call.

Should you blend it? Well, it is possible to spin a yarn that is 100% cat fur, i.e., not blended with any other fiber. People do it. It is very warm, and can be a little prickly, and doesn't have much elasticity/memory, if any. In that sense, it is a little like alpaca. It will be different than wool. If you want the finished yarn to be more like wool, by all means, blend it with some wool. Don't feel like you have to, is all I am saying. If you do decide to blend it, you would do that when you card it. And you will probably find it easier with full size cards then, not the pet brushes I mentioned before.

Should you try a spindle or a wheel? Well, wheels are expensive. The super duper inexpensive ones (I am talking about ones that are made of PVC pipe which I do not find attractive aesthetically at all) are still $250-$300, and that is before accessories like cards and niddy noddy and bobbins and such. Nicer wooden wheels can range from $400 to over $1,000. Personally, I would hesitate to spend so much money to buy a wheel for only this purpose, especially if I had never tried spinning and wasn't sure I would enjoy it. Drop spindles, however, are quite inexpensive (as little as $10-15) --but-- because cat fur has such a short staple length (staple length = the length of each individual hair), it can be difficult to get enough twist to get it to hold together on a drop spindle, especially when you are just learning. Gravity is working against you there. I would actually suggest using a supported spindle like a spindolyn or a tahkli. Both of these types of spindles are great for fine fibers, and you won't have to worry about dropping them to the floor, since they are supported from the bottom. The tahkli, in particular, is traditionally used for cotton, which is a very short stapled fiber.

I could go on and on, but I will spare you. Read up on Ravelry. Watch the Abby Franquemont videos, because they are great. Feel free to MeMail with questions. I am just a novice, like I said, but I have really enjoyed learning over the last few months, and would love to help if I can. It really is a rabbit hole, as pp have said. But a fun one!
posted by fancyoats at 6:46 PM on April 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

I live in Seattle (Bothell, but close) and have taught beginner spinning on a drop spindle and have spun cat hair on that very same drop spindle. Memail me if you want someone to teach you hands-on.
posted by KathrynT at 6:50 PM on April 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've been spinning for twenty-four of my thirty-nine years so trust me when I say that ANYONE can learn. It's really just a matter of patience and practice. It's almost meditative. I really love the feel of camel down so I only spin camel down - I don't even do anything with the yarn! I just spin for the zone out time. If you can find someone local to give you a lesson or two, you could see if it's for you.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 6:06 AM on April 29, 2013

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