Once you’ve mastered the basics of felting, it can be fun experimenting with different fibers as you broaden your skills.
While there are plenty of wool varieties to keep you busy for quite some time, fiber from alpacas, llamas, angora rabbits, goats, and even rodents such as beavers, will also felt.
So, what about collected hair from the family’s pets?
Can dog or cat hair be used for felting projects? Both dog and cat hair will felt due to the presence of scales on the hair shafts. The same felting methods used for wool felting can be used on dog and cat hair, though the hair may take longer to fully felt and the felt may not be as smooth.
Finally, a worthwhile use for all that shed pet hair! Let’s take a closer look so you can get started on your next project today.
Will Dog and Cat Hair Felt?
If you recall from science class, the hair shaft of mammals consists of three parts: the cuticle, cortex, and medulla. The outer layer of hair, the cortex, is covered in small, overlapping scales.
The arrangement and pattern of these scales varies to a certain degree depending on the species, but thanks to the presence of scales, mammal hair, including dog and cat hair, can be felted.
You see, a great deal of friction is used when felting, whether you are wet felting or needle felting. The friction causes individual strands of fiber to rub against one another.
During this rubbing, the scales latch onto one another and are eventually interwoven entirely to form a dense felt.
In fact, if you’ve ever found large, tangled mats on your pet, you’ve seen natural felting in action.
Those nasty mats are incredibly tangled and can be painful for your pet as they further entangle other hairs and cause pulling of their sensitive skin.
The mats really aren’t good for anything except the trash can, but when you purposely mesh pet hair together (not on your pet, of course), you can make truly unique creations.
While hair collected from long-haired dogs, such as Bearded Collies and Golden Retrievers, or long-haired cats, such as Maine Coons or Persians, will provide you with the most versatile fiber for your felting projects, short hair can be used successfully also.
How to Collect Pet Hair for Felting
Gathering and saving hair trapped in your pet’s brush is the easiest way to collect hair for felting.
If you plan on only making a small item, such as a felted heart, you may have enough collected hair after just one grooming session, especially if your pet is actively shedding.
For larger projects, it may take a few weeks, or even months, of routine brushing to save up enough hair.
Frequently scouring your pet’s favorite sleeping spots for shed hair is another way to add to your collection.
Just be sure to remove any lint, potato chip crumbs, etc. before storing the hair.
Do I Need to Wash Dog or Cat Hair Before Felting?
If you plan on wet felting your project with soap and hot water, you may be able to get away without washing the hair prior to felting, as it will be cleaned during the process.
However, if your pet hasn’t had a recent bath or if there is any odor at all, it is best to gently wash the hair first, even if you’ll be wet felting.
Since needle felting is a dry technique, you’ll want to clean the hair before you felt it, unless all of the hair came from a pet who had been washed in the last day or so.
Both dogs and cats groom themselves frequently with their tongues (do you really want to consider all the nasty things that tongue has licked recently?), leaving behind trace amounts of saliva.
Obviously, you don’t want a bunch of spit in your project, but did you know that the protein found in pet saliva is a major allergy trigger for many people?
Let’s not even think about what that sweet, cuddly pet may have rolled in the last time he or she went outside or the small droplets of urine that often splash back onto the hair. Eww!
How to Wash Pet Hair Before Felting
The key to washing pet hair prior to felting is to do so gently, primarily through soaking.
Remember that friction is what causes fibers to felt, so prematurely agitating the fibers when washing will begin the felting process and ruin the project before you even begin.
Fill a sink or bowl with lukewarm water, add a small amount of dish soap, and stir up some suds.
Place the hair in a mesh bag of some sort and add the bag to the soapy water. No swishing, squeezing, or rubbing. Just let it soak for a few minutes.
Fill another bowl with clean, lukewarm water and dip the bag in several times to rinse. Replace the rinse water with fresh water and dip the bag again.
Repeat the rinsing until the water remains clear after dipping. Remove the hair carefully from the bag, and spread it out onto a clean towel to dry.
Is the Technique the Same When Felting Pet Hair?
Generally, you will use the same techniques for felting, regardless of the fiber you are using.
Dog and cat hair may be wet felted or needle felted successfully, however, you may need to make certain adjustments.
For example, in most instances, the hair will be shorter than the wool roving that is typically used in felting.
This means that you may be limited in the size of your projects and that you will need to lay out several bunches of overlapping hair to produce the same size strip as one bunch of roving would.
Also, depending on your pet’s pattern of hair scales, the hair may take longer to felt than a regular wool-felting project.
Eventually, it will felt together, but be prepared for some extra manual labor to get the job done.
Also, all pet hair is not the same. Some dogs have stiff, wiry hair while others have soft, curly hair.
Cats have different types of hair too. Some will be silky smooth while others will be rougher to the touch.
Again, it all should eventually felt, but there are more factors at play when working with pet hair than standard wool roving.
What Other Animal Hair Can Be Felted?
Theoretically, all mammal hair can be felted, though sheep wool is by far the most common. Even human hair will felt.
You can use goat, rabbit, horse, guinea pig, and alpaca hair or other kinds of hair you happen to have; as long as it has scales, it should felt.
There is one exception when it comes to using animal fibers to felt – silk.
Now, of course, silk is not technically animal hair, as it is produced by silkworms and isn’t hair at all, but it is generally lumped into the animal fiber category nonetheless.
The fine, delicate strands of silk have no scales and therefore won’t felt on their own.
An Exception to the Exception
Although silk won’t felt when it is the only fiber being used, it can be incorporated into felting projects in a relatively new technique known as nuno felting.
In nuno felting, a sheer fabric, most often silk, is used as a base for traditional felting.
Wool, or other animal fibers, is placed on top of the fabric in a decorative fashion or the silk is sandwiched between layers of wool, and the piece is wet felted.
During the felting process, the animal fibers make their way through the loose weave of the sheer fabric, effectively binding the fabric to the newly formed felt.
This method produces a lightweight fabric that is ideal for making clothing items such as shawls, dresses, and vests that are comfortable to wear even in warm weather.