Hair of the dog: They're wearing it

November 21, 1990|By Bob Poll | Bob Poll,Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES - his yarn is about dog yarn.

Liz Kusak loves her aging dog so much that she turns the hair it sheds into sweaters she can wear.

She spins the hair into yarn on an old-fashioned spinning wheel and then knits it into shawls, vests and cardigans.

When Kusak weaves an Afghan, it's real Afghan. When she wears her creations around her neighborhood here, she adds a new dimension to walking the dog.

"Some people cringe when you tell them it's a dog sweater," said Kusak. "Others love it. My grandchildren love it. They say, 'Oh, you're wearing Cindy!' "

Cindy is a 12-year-old keeshond a long-haired, gray and black dog who dozes peacefully at Kusak's feet while she operates her wooden spinning wheel.

The wheel is turned by a simple foot treadle. It twists short clumps of dog hair into a long strand of yarn. The yarn is washed and dried before it's knitted or woven into a garment.

"I have a domestic 'sheep.' Except this one is house-broken, is a good watchdog and a great companion," said Kusak, a retired aerospace metalographic technician. "Long after Cindy's gone, I'll have her sweaters."

Unlike wool, dog sweaters do not attract moths, Kusak said. Or fleas. They are attracting increasing numbers of fans, however.

Dog Fancy magazine recently reported that "more and more people are discovering the beauty and warmth" of what it labeled "chiengora chic."

"What you can make with your yarn is limited only by your imagination and your supply of yarn," the magazine said. But it warned that "flea powders and heavy dirt in the hair can pose health hazards ... discard any hair that has a lot of grass in it."

Dog yarn spinners say that some breeds are better than others at growing sweater material. Collies and other long-haired dogs whose fur has a slight crimp to it produce the best yarn; smooth fur from such dogs as cocker and Maltese spaniels and Shih Tzus pulls apart too easily, they say.

But dog sweaters leave many people cold.

"I wouldn't wear one," said Jan Dill, who wore a red wool sweater as she shopped recently at a mall here. "It's bad enough that my dog's hair is always getting on my sweaters."

People who wear dog-hair sweaters say those who make such comments are barking up the wrong tree. They say more and more dog lovers are making and wearing them.

Dog breeder Joanie Fraser, who lives in a geodesic dome in the mountains 80 miles north of Los Angeles, said that she uses the keeshond sweater she knitted all winter long.

"It's like wearing a heating pad around my neck," she said. "The men in town just crack up when I tell them what I'm wearing. I get petted all the time."

Her dogs recognize the sweater, too, Fraser said. "They get excited when I wear it. They jump all over and kiss and nuzzle me more. After they're gone, I'll have a constant memory of them."

Calabasas Schoolteacher Gay Latta said that her two Samoyed dogs "probably know it's them" when she wears a white sweater knitted with dog hair she spun from their thick fur. They shed so much that she has collected enough for a second sweater.

"Some people assume a negative connotation at first. They say, 'Ugh ... dog hair.' But you win them over when they touch it. It's a real nice memento of your dogs. I've spun yarn for two people whose dogs have died."

Dog grooming school operator Nick Jamieson said that dog lovers often ask if there is a use for the 33-gallon trash can he fills daily with fur from animals clipped at his shop.

"Dogs are practically like people's children. Sometimes people who have brought them to our school call to check on them several times a day, like they would kids in a preschool," he said.

Jamieson is not interested in wearing a sweater knitted from dog yarn, however.

"I own a cat," he said.

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