Warp and Woof: The Unexpected Story of Dogs’ Wool

30 November 2022

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Ad description: Cover of the book Sheep, Shepherd & Land, and the words, "THE book about Canadian Wool, by Anna Hunter. Photos by Christel Lanthier. Buy now."

Ad description: The words, "The socks you knit won't last forever, but you can make them last for years and years. Shop now." Also featuring the cover image of the Sock Mending Guide.

Coming, as I do, from a community of word players and pranksters, when I first heard the term chiengora, I was convinced that someone was pulling my leg. This portmanteau of chien, the French word for dog, and -gora, from the word Angora, is used to describe—you guessed it—fibre made from dog hair. And, while it’s often the target of skepticism and the source of some truly awful puns, dog-hair yarn is far from a joke.

Having lived with numerous dogs and cats over the years, the appeal seemed obvious, if initially far-fetched (pun intended). I mean, who hasn’t surveyed the seemingly impossible volume of pet hair covering every surface in their home, and thought, “Surely, there has to be a use for all.this.hair.”

Little,skein,of,scottish,rough,collie,dog,wool,,knit,is

Photo credit Alla Pogrebnaya/Shutterstock.com.

As Instagram-worthy trends go, you’d not be faulted for thinking that spinning—and then weaving, knitting, or crocheting—dog hair is a new fad; influencers tout chiengora as the latest in sustainable, zero-waste, slow fashion. But, while they’re correct about the positive attributes of dog hair-based fibre, it is by no means new. In fact, chiengora has a history—and a Canadian connection—that might surprise you.

The Coast Salish Woolly Dog

The story of the Coast Salish wool dog, like many other “Canadian” stories, was ignited by Indigenous ingenuity and extinguished by European colonization [1]. The history of these little white dogs—once a major part of a thriving economic system along the coast of the Pacific Northwest—remains alive today thanks to the oral histories of the Coast Salish Peoples and years of research by teams of archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, ethnographers, textile scientists, and microscopists. (Visit the sources, linked here and in the included reference list, for more information about the multidisciplinary effort to recover the story of the wool dog.)

Featured photo credit: NataliSel/Shutterstock.com

Copyright © Michelle Woodvine except as indicated.
Head shot of Michelle Woodvine

About Michelle Woodvine

Michelle Woodvine is a Toronto-based freelance writer and editor on a quest to never stop learning and making. When not wordsmithing for others, Michelle can usually be found working on her trilogy of speculative fiction novels, learning a new skill, or goofing around with her family (including her very own rocket scientist, two teenage boys, and one feisty ginger cat). Follow the weird, wonderful, and wordy adventures @woodvinewrites or visit www.woodvinewrites.com

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