Project UK - make felt from pets
by Camilla Stacey It feels like I’ve been crafty all my life- from a childhood spent watching my Dad making pots, and my Mum learning to spin, through to art school and my latest incarnation as a curator and maker. It’s not always been a smooth ride- after art school I refused to have anything to do with the ‘creative’ world for years, and it was only when I took part in Ladyfest Bristol in 2003 that I was willing to connect with the arty side of me again. Over the last two years I have been rediscovering and reclaiming crafts and am slowly rediscovering and reclaiming myself and what makes me happy.
Made by Milla is my current creative outlet. Inspired by ideas of feminism, domesticity, and re-valuing traditional crafts, I make aprons, brooches, cushions and clothing for girls that are ‘lumpy, not frumpy’. Made by Milla is part art, part craft and ever evolving- it’s current evolution has lead to a little something we like to call Project UK.
Project UK is a new column all about some of the more unusual crafty projects I’ve been experimenting with over here in the UK. Hopefully some of them will be things you want to try for yourself, and I’ll be providing tutorials on a new project every month.
The first Project is something that might make you go ‘ewww’, as it did when I showed the results to my sister but it was something I just HAD to try out- I hope at least some of you give it a go too!
When my cat Bernard was hit by a train and killed last year, one of the things that made me saddest was that I didn’t have anything physical to remember him by, I couldn‘t even bury him. As he was a very fluffy cat I was still finding bits of his fur around the house, weeks after he had died, and I wished I could do something with the fluff to remember Bernard by.
This made me think about the tradition of weaving hair into jewellery that was popular during Victorian times- something that artists Emma Caton and Jane Gallagheruse in their jewellery pieces where they weave human hair into lace.
Making lace from cat fur seemed a bit over ambitious for me, but I figured it couldn’t be that hard to make felt surely?
The only information about making felt from cat fur I was able to find was in Nava Lubelski’s 'The Starving Artist's Way' (see bibliomaniac's review) a book I had to sell my copy of because I was…starving, so my recollection of the method described in the book might be a little off, but it’s worked for me.
1. First collect as much fur as you can from brushing your cat, or collecting fur that has been shed in your house- don’t go and shave your pet just to make this! I collected my fur in an old shoe box- when the box was full I made the felt.
2. Using the draining board of the kitchen sink to work on I lay a tea-towel down and then added layers of fur- making sure to pick out any dirty bits, and trying to ensure that each layer of fur was going in a different direction. I covered approx one third of the tea towel with fur and then folded it over so the fur was covered, like a sandwich.
3. I added some squirts of washing up liquid to the top layer of fabric and then poured boiling water over the complete sandwich- using an old spoon I worked the soap and water into the cloth and kept rubbing the spoon over the fabric until I was brave enough to peak and see what was happening.
4. I then opened the cloth up and worked more soap and more boiling water into the fur directly - I continued to agitate the fur until it seemed to be really matting together.
5. I then folded the fabric back over the felt, and turned the whole sandwich over, pouring more boiling water over it and continuing to rub with the spoon. After a while I took the felt out of the fabric and just started working it on it’s own- I gently shaped it a little and made sure the felt was more or less even.
6. I rinsed the soap off the felt with one last jug of boiling water and then started to press as much of the water out of the felt as I could- the fact that I was using the draining board really helped here- I could press the felt into the ridges on the board to squeeze more water out- also it meant that any water just drained away into the sink.
7. Bearing in mind something my mum had said to me (wet cat hair stinks) I decided that I wanted to dry this felt off as quickly as possible to avoid having the smell of stinky cat fur in my house- so I wrapped it up in a dry tea towel and then pressed it with a hot iron- when it was as dry as I felt (ha ha) it could get I pinned it up to air dry a little bit more.
8. My original plan was to use the fur felt to make a cat-nip mouse for my cat - but in the process of making the felt I realised that I really liked the way the shape developed and I’m not sure If I am ready to cut it up yet- I definitely want to make some more felt this way and am really interested in trying mixing it with fleece, or other people’s pet hair!
In the next PROJECT UK column I’ll explain how I learnt to make paper bags from an old man at the Industrial Museum and I’ll give you a tutorial on how to make your own mono-printed paper bags- perfect for wrapping gifts in, or using when trick or treating.
I was originally horrifed at the very idea of cat fur felt, but after reading the story behind it and your loving directions for felting your pet's fur I'm touched.
I think I was biased against it because of a roomate I had year's ago that had two Himalayan cats. She never brushed them so they wre matted and their poo stuck to their backside. She would have them groomed occasionally, which in the poor kittie's case, including shaving. My roomate saved the cat hair (including the poo-encrusted and other other tangled knotty bits) and was angry that a woman who had agreed over the phone to knit the cat hair into a scarf, suddenly declined when she saw the condition of the fur.
I don't think she was going to spin yarn from it only add some cats hair to the rows while knitting, which wouldn't be such a bad idea for crafters with a low quantity of cat hair.
BTW, I and that girl were only flat mates for a few months.
comment by oscine Wednesday August 10th, 2005 08:41 AM
i kind of want to try making felt out of human hair?? my sister always leaves her hair in the shower drain, and i'd like to make her a gag gift for christmas.
comment by Project UK! Wednesday August 10th, 2005 06:00 PM
Oscine I was talking to someone yesterday about making it from human hair- the thought makes me feel even more squeemish than making this did, but the more I think about it the more I want to try it...perfect halloween gift! extrafinesugar that sounds terrible! I don't know that many people in the UK get their cats shaved because it never really gets hot enough to warrant it (i'm sure in showcat circles they do and I just don't know about it) As the weather here has been unusually hot for the UK she's been shedding a lot more than normal which meant that it was actually easy to get a box full of fur without any pain! I would hate to think of someone clipping their cat just to do this... Guinness I'm pretty sure the instructions would work just as well for dog hair... leCandypopRock aww thanks for remembering Bernard-it was this time last year and we were both feeling terrible at the same time - i'm glad that you think this project turned out ok- I just get weird ideas and hope they work out. retromia thanks! I was pretty disgusted half way through when I thought 'eww- i'm clumping up cat hair' but I love how it's turned out
comment by Schmatta Sunday August 14th, 2005 10:57 AM
Hey there! Applause! I used to spin and weave fur from my Afghan hounds, so I wasn't queasy a bit about your fun felt project. Actually, the cut ends from clipping an animal make it harder to spin or felt it. And, dear Oscine, I fear human hair is not the right texture to felt well, though you could add some strands to wool. and heck, maybe I'm wrong. Keep us posted.
comment by barbian7 Friday August 19th, 2005 12:41 PM
I think this idea is amazing. I don't understand why people would say "eeewww", especially when this is animal friendly versus killing animals for fur. Why is THAT okay? I just bought the book, Knitting with Dog Hair. I really like the idea of this memory keepsake.
comment by echidnagirl Saturday September 10th, 2005 01:26 AM
At first I thougth this was pretty wierd but it is no wierder than me keeping my dog, Nikki's ashes at the top of my stairs. Unfortunately she did not leave enough hair around to do anything with.I am interested in what people do to commerorate their pets and would love to hear any more stories. My cat tiger lived to 23 and we all miss her. Please keep us updated about what you do with this felt.
I think this a great way of remembering your cat, not enough people commemorate the wonderful friends animals are.
I am wondering if anyone could let me know how i could use my yorkshire terrier's hair in a crafty way? (he is still very much alive, but loves to be groomed and sheds quite a bit). also how to use human hair?.
i recently had my hair cut and now have a huge ball of relatively long thick red hair which i would love to use for some sort of crafty project. as i dont have any spinning equipment i would prefer felting but would this work? does felting only work with animal hair? should i invest time in trying to spin the hair into thread?? any help please!!!xx
comment by notsofresh Sunday October 29th, 2006 11:51 AM
how fantastic, i am definitely going to give this ago with my rabbit's fur, he sheds gobs of it daily and it is sooo soft.
I wouldn't do this particular project, but I think it's wonderful that you've made a tangible object to keep you close to Bernard's fur. I have a 2 gallon bag of fur from by beloved Doodles, Bubbles, and Truffles, all three of whom have "crossed the rainbow bridge." I had saved it from what I removed when I brushed them (long hairs all). I plan to use the fur to stuff a pillow which I can keep always. I won't be seeing the fur, but I"ll be holding it close to me and knowing I'm holding a bit of my very cherished family members. I don't think I'd feel the same about human hair (though of course it's fine for those who do), but somehow I think it will be comforting to create and keep a craft from the cats' hair. Good for you for thinking of this, and thank you for sharing!