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Monday, November 28, 2011

Crafting with Cat Hair: Not Just for Crazy Cat Ladies

Posted By on Mon, Nov 28, 2011 at 8:00 AM


When I was a kid, for Christmas I got one of those dolls whose hair sprouted from the crown of her head when you cranked her arm clockwise like a pencil sharpener. The first thing I wanted to do was give her a haircut, so once I got away from the prying eyes of Mom and Dad, I hacked off her blond ponytail with a pair of scissors. Then I rotated her arm a couple of turns, and, like magic, her hair re-grew.

Naturally I applied this same logic to my new kitten's fur and whiskers -- if I cut them off, they'd grow back immediately, right? Unfortunately that was not the case, and the poor fella spent several weeks barefaced and sporting several unsightly bald spots. (Don't worry, though: His hair and whiskers did eventually grow back, and he lived happily for 17 years. Also, my parents yelled at me.)

If only I'd read Crafting with Cat Hair: Cute Handicrafts to Make with Your Cat, Japanese author Katsori Tsutaya's step-by-step guide to turning your pets' fur balls into felt and thereby cementing your status as the crazy cat lady, I would have known that scissors are not an appropriate implement for harvesting cat hair: "When crafting with your cat, it is important to remove hair only by gentle brushing. Do not shave your cat."

This is good to know, because when the title says "handicrafts to make with your cat," it isn't just being cute. These crafts contain their DNA.

Coming up: I harvest my own cats' fur and construct some handicrafts... while drunk. On silliness!

Since the artistic medium here is cat hair, a large part of Crafting with Cat Hair details how to properly brush a kitty. Rule No. 1 is be gentle, and do not, under any circumstances, brush him or her backwards, "even if you usually forgive your cat for scratching you." There are also step-by-step instructions for turning cat hair into felt, as well as patterns for seven craft projects, including finger puppets, book covers, cat portraits, knick knack boxes, and scarf, mitten, and hat embroideries that can be used to start ice-breaking conversations, such as, "I save their hair in a Tupperware container."

Perhaps because she knows that telling people you make finger puppets out of cat hair is about on par with saying you're a Dungeons and Dragons wizard, Tsutaya points out that cat-hair felt is a lot like less-durable wool felt, a comparison that makes the whole idea seem less weird. "I'll admit that as I was making them I thought, Is it really okay to make something like this out of my cat's hair?" she writes. "But in the end the finished product looked so much like my own cat that I got a big laugh out of it!"

And it is exceedingly silly, yes -- or as Tsutaya calls it, "a quirky little hobby" -- but it is written with such sincerity and sweetness that in the land of overt mockeries like "People of Wal-Mart," it is actually refreshing.

The pages are filled with cat photos accompanied by speech bubbles that sound like they were written by your crystal-wielding, new-age aunt: "Did you know that when I'm lying in the sun, not only do I get warm, I also smell as fresh as an aired-out futon?!" There are also tips to ensure cat-hair crafts look their snazziest: "If you have a cat who is more than one color, you can make your puppet multicolored or spotted!" And in the last ten pages of the book, we get to meet the contributors, aka Tsutaya's beloved cats.

So here are the cats who contributed to my own handicrafts: Bubba Lee Kinsey, the legendary (at least at the local bar) gray tabby of doom, and Phoenix, the calico who is kind of a creepy sex offender.


Neither of them took kindly to being brushed -- Bubba sank his fangs into my wrist, and Phoenix made a Marge Simpson-esque grunting noise and hid under the bed, so I drank some wine, cranked up the Pogues, and chased them. It's almost as though they knew I was trying to harvest their fur. With persistence I was able to gather enough for a finger puppet and save it in a plastic bag on the kitchen counter, which made me feel like a giant creeper. (One of the bonuses of not having a roommate: No one questions you when you do things like this.) I also broke one of Tsutaya's rules, as my cats were decidedly not willing participants in these shenanigans.

Having collected the hair, I moved on to the next step: Cutting a pattern out of cardboard. I did not have any regular cardboard just lying around, so I broke another of Tsutaya's rules, which recommends not using any materials that might retain an odor. Here is Phoenix and the pattern I cut from the lid of an old pizza box I pulled out of the recycling.


After covering the pattern in packing tape to waterproof it, I wrapped it in layers of cat hair until it was fully covered. And I'm not gonna lie: I did not expect it to work, so I got a bit giddy when my crafty hair ball resembled the example in the book. Below, hard-ass supervisors Bubba and Phoenix inspect my work.


After rubbing the pattern with detergent, which causes the fibers to congeal into felt, and rinsing it with warm water, I drank some more wine and toweled it dry before breaking another rule: I do not own an iron (seriously, people still use those?), so around midnight I stood in the bathroom and blow-dried my cat hair finger puppet while singing along to Regina Spektor. Because if I'm going to do weird girly shit, I'm going for the weird, girly gold.

The end result was goddamn beautiful. I held it up to admire by candlelight while listening to a whiny folk song before I realized that cat hair is likely highly flammable.


Phoenix was largely indifferent to the great art I made using her hair, but Bubba was so impressed that he tried to eat it. After three glasses of wine, that's all the proof I need: I am awesome at crafts. And now I know what everyone is getting for Christmas this year. You're welcome.


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Angela Lutz


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