Here’s How to Keep Your Cat Forever

After I learned that Frances, my 13-year-old black cat, was dying of heart disease — her heart is too large, beating too fast — my first impulse was to think about how best to commemorate her, when the time came.

To distract myself from a vague but grave prognosis, I took my anxiety to Google, where I found the grief space thoroughly disrupted by all manner of modern memento mori (the Latin term for an artistic or symbolic reminder of the inevitability of death).

Would I like her turned into a diamond? Tattoo ink? I wasn’t so sure. And after the vet bills, I probably couldn’t afford it.

But on Etsy there is a much more affordable alternative: a community of artists offering a form of hand-spun healing called chiengora. The word is a portmanteau of “chien,” the French word for dog, as well as “angora,” the name given to yarn spun from the soft belly fur of the angora rabbit. “Catgora” is yarn from cats.

At any given time, Ms. Furrer has up to a dozen different pieces of work in various stages of the yarn making process; yarns start at $23 an ounce.

In addition to spinning yarn, she will triple wash finished skeins, and sometimes combines pet fur with a support fiber which can help extend a limited quantity of fur into a usable amount of yarn, as well as helping with breathability.

Ms. Furrer’s favorite fur to spin comes from husky dogs, Malamutes and Great Pyrenees. “Their cortical and cuticle cellular structure is perfect for yarn,” she said.

Cat fur felts almost upon contact, and rarely comes in great quantity, but she will do it, often supplementing with a supporting fiber, like alpaca or bamboo fiber, to produce a soft skein. “I don’t like to say no, ever,” Ms. Furrer said.

She will also knit for her customers who don’t know how to: Scarves, blankets, pillows, mittens, headbands and even stuffed teddy bears are available for an additional fee.

Though these products may sound strange, bereavement keepsakes made from hair aren’t new. Mourning jewelry fashioned from a braided lock of a loved one was fashionable in Victorian and Georgian times, worn as rings or in lockets.

Katie Jane Thomas, 55, of Lynchburg, Va., found Ms. Furrer while looking online for a chiengora spinner who could help commemorate her husband’s “soul mate dog,” Yobee, a Labrador-chow chow mix.

Ms. Furrer asked for his brushings — fur collected during grooming while the dog was still alive — and a picture of Yobee, because she likes to spend some time with the animal she is working on.

“It was a very reverent process,” Ms. Thomas said. “The unboxing was a gift in itself. I’ve only seen my husband cry twice, and this was one of those times.” Yobee’s yarn, mixed with color-matched alpaca to produce greater length, has since been knitted into a scarf that the couple plans to keep in a display box.

A single mother of three, Ms. Murphy supports her family by fulfilling 150 to 200 orders per month, half of them with pet ashes.

And it’s not just people in the United States getting in on the trade. From the Black Forest in Germany, Anke Bawa, 58, wrote by email: “I was astonished how often people with loss of a loved pets use my service,” said Ms. Bawa, another chiengora spinner. “I think there may be something about this in my aura? (I mean the wordless feelings and thinkings that I transport in my arts).”


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