Let’s get this out of the way first: I was given a copy of this book to review. But I’m not being compensated for this review in any other way, and the following is based on my honest opinions!
Crafting With Cat Hair: Cute Handicrafts to Make with Your Cat by Kaori Tsutaya was originally published in Japanese, and has now been translated into English by Amy Hirschman. When they say “…to make with your cat” they really mean it, as all the projects in this book are designed to be created from the excess fur that’s removed when you brush your cat.
Cover, showing cat hair finger puppet
The included projects are:
- Finger puppets
- Book covers
- Cat portraits
- Tote bags
- Coin purses
- Knickknack boxes
- Mittens & gloves
- Hats & scarves
Note: the amazon description also mentions cat toys and photo frames, but this is incorrect.
My favourite project: pretty pincushions
Aside from the finger puppets, which are made by wet-felting, each project includes patterns to needle-felt the cat shapes onto the finished item, and some also include embellishments (eyes, collars, bells, etc).
Between each project, there’s an information spread. These cover the benefits of brushing your cat, a comparison of cat hair and sheep’s wool, seasonal shedding variations, and more. The info sections are brief and easy to read, and include lots of cat photos to enjoy.
Cat-embellished mini tote bags
Note: the publisher’s blurb says “All the projects are cat-friendly, eco-friendly, and require no special equipment or training”. But, for any of these projects apart from the finger puppets, you will need what I consider to be specialized equipment: a felting needle and some kind of foam or sponge to stab it into.
Before I start, I should introduce you to the real star of this review, my handsome boy Maui:
Maui enjoying the South African sunshine – it’s a hard life…
I’d been collecting Maui’s fur for a couple of years, in case I thought of something to do with it, but then I moved abroad and decided to throw it all away before moving. Of course, now there’s something I could have done with it! Luckily Maui is a fur generator, and graciously consented to being brushed every day for a week so I could save his fur to test-drive this book for you. He’s a short-haired cat, so if his fur will work for these projects, I’m pretty sure that it’ll work for any cat hair.
From looking through the book, I got the impression that creating a clear outline for your needle-felted silhouette seems to be the hardest part, so I picked one of the largest patterns to give me the best chance of making it look good (the cat pattern that goes with the Coin Purse, p51). It’s nice that several cat shapes are provided for most of the projects, so you can choose a pose that looks like your own cat – the one I chose was very Maui-ish. I used a sheet of acrylic felt as my base, as I’m sensitive to wool. I gathered up my small pile of Maui’s fur, and I got to work.
I do have a little experience with needlefelting (I made a mini guinea pig), so I can tell you that needle-felting with cat hair is definitely much slower than with wool. The claim of “quick and quirky” projects is a little overly optimistic, in my opinion. Cat hair doesn’t really want to be felted; it takes more stabbing to get the strands to mesh together. But it does work, eventually!
I felt that the needlefelting instructions were a little brief – if I didn’t already know better I’d have assumed from reading the instructions that I’d stab the needle in a few times to anchor the fur, and that would be it. (If you don’t already know, you have to stab over and over again, all over the surface, to mesh all the strands together into a solid fabric.) There’s also no safety warning in the book, which I think is an oversight – this is a sharp serrated needle you’re stabbing very close to your fingers, and you do need to be vigilant. (Ask me how I know this…)
Pretty kitty silhouette (with the dreaded stabbing device)
It took me about an hour of stabbing to make my small cat silhouette (just over 2″ long), and it’s not perfect – it’s very tricky to make the edges neat, and perfectionism has no place here. You can see stray hairs around the edges and they really don’t like to be tamed; I may have been able to improve it further, but I took my stabbed finger as a sign to stop. Even so, it is adorable: it’s a sweet little silhouette of my Maui, made from his own fur! This is very special and I will treasure it.
The back looks similar, but more fluffy and less defined
The back (above) looks almost as good as the front! I’m not convinced that the cat hairs have matted together at all; it seems more like stabbing them through to the back of the felt has pinned the hairs into place. (FYI, the cheap acrylic craft felt stood up to all the stabbing with no problems, so don’t be afraid to use it as a base to needlefelt onto.)
I haven’t decided how to finish my piece: I may add a felt border and some simple embroidery, inspired by the Badges project (p66), or make or find a frame for it, à la Portraits (p36), or maybe a combination of the two. I also considered adding eyes and a tiny embroidered nose, but I think I’ll leave it as is; simple is sometimes better. If I change my mind, I’ll flip through the book again to give me ideas!
Although there are 10 projects in this book, 1 involves wet-felting and the other 9 are all needle-felting projects. Yes, there are directions for making a pincushion, bag, coin purse, felt pin, etc, but the actual cat hair part of each of these projects is exactly the same: needle-felt a cat silhouette to the project you’ve made, or to a bought garment. This may be an inbuilt limitation of trying to craft with cat hair, as opposed to any lack of imagination on the part of the author: cat hair is too short to spin into yarn (unless you have a long-haired cat) and, as the book explains, it doesn’t felt as firmly as wool, so it may be that these limited projects are really all you can do with it. (I previously tried to make a felt ball with some of Maui’s fur, and, although it looked like it had felted firmly while it was wet, once it had dried some hairs popped out around the edges, and it really wasn’t pretty enough to do anything with.) Still, I had been hoping for a little more variety with what to do with the cat hair.
If you’ve never needle-felted before, I’d suggest you look up instructions online before you begin, and please, please be careful with the sharp needle!
After seeing how fluffy the finished piece is compared with felted wool, I’m also not entirely convinced how well the cat hair felt would hold up on any kind of garment or item that gets heavy use – I suspect you may end up shedding cat hair wherever you go..! But the ideas and the silhouettes are all very cute, so here’s my suggestion to get more mileage from the book: you could always use the provided cat silhouettes and instructions to needle-felt wool roving to your hat and mittens instead of the cat hair, to get a sturdier result, and maybe save the cat hair for the more ornamental projects.
I see one huge reason to buy this book: cat owners will go crazy for a little felted something made with their own sweet kitty’s fur! I love the little silhouette I made with Maui’s fur, and I’m sure that your non-crafty cat-mad friends and relatives would be equally delighted with a little replica ornament of their beloved feline companions – it would make a great Christmas gift (although maybe not a surprise, as you’ll need to gather a few days’ worth of cat fur brushings in advance)!
Crafting With Cat Hair is definitely a specialised book, and one that only cat-lovers will appreciate. But it’s fun to read for the cat info and photos, and the projects, while a little limited in scope, are very cute. If you like needlefelting, or want to try it for the first time, and you, or someone you know, loves cats, you’ll probably enjoy this book 🙂