Knitting with Dog Hair

Intro from Jay Allison: There is plenty of great radio being produced in the English language that is never heard in this country. Transom is interested in changing that. This piece, from the wonderfully eccentric Australian producer Natalie Kestecher, is making its American debut. It plays at the boundary of documentary and imagination. Your task: decide which is which, and if it matters.

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Listen to “Knitting with Dog Hair”

Notes from Natalie Kestecher

About a year ago I moved from Sydney to one of the colder cities of Australia, Melbourne. Circumstance had it that I would have to leave my dog behind and so I decided to try and figure out a way of staying warm — and keeping my dog close by in one way or another.

Natalie w/ Muse
Natalie w/ Muse

I had some vague, childhood memories of a neighbour who used to collect her *samoyd’s fluff, spin it and then knit huge, woolly pullovers. Why couldn’t I do the same with my dog’s hair?

Well there were a few reasons- one was that she’s very small and it would have taken years of haircuts to even get a scarf out of her and another was that I don’t know anything about knitting, let alone spinning.

In the meantime I decided to research the history of this noble craft and find some enthusiasts. Surprisingly, there was not a lot of information to be found (and not too many enthusiasts) so I had to fill in some of the gaps with a little fiction.

My program, “Knitting With Dog Hair,” is the result of this venture.

*A large, white, fluffy breed of dog.

Equipment

Most of the recordings were done on a Sony mini dat, using a regular sony stereo mic and an MS5. I used an editing program called Session 8 in pre production but the show was mixed by sound engineer, Russell Stapleton in an ABC studio on the MFX.


Additional support for this work provided by
Open Studio Project
with funding from the
Corporation for Public Broadcasting

Natalie Kestecher

About
Natalie Kestecher

Natalie Kestecher has been producing programs for Radio Eye at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) since the late 90's but has had all kinds of jobs including selling shoes, teaching English to migrants and magazine editing.

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  • Jay Allison

    7.18.02

    Reply
    Knitting With Dog Hair

    There is plenty of great radio being produced in the English language that is never heard in this country. Transom is interested in changing that.

    This piece, from the wonderfully eccentric Australian producer Natalie Kestecher, is making its American debut. It plays at the boundary of documentary and imagination. Your task: decide which is which, and if it matters.

  • Jackson Braider

    7.20.02

    Reply
    Absolutely brilliant

    I love this piece. It doesn’t matter, to answer Jay’s question, whether the truth is stranger than fiction or the fiction stranger than truth. I love the fact that the doggie-environmentalist is not named; I love the journey from the inquisition to Franco’s Spain, seen through the eyes of dog farming. I love the rediscovered meaning of Schamta.

    I feel now as if I have been living in the hinterlands, and the first inkling of civilization has just reached me.

    By way of humble thanks, I would like to attach a narrative my father recorded in 1962 from a Dublin surgeon about an Irish fighting dog. But the smallest format I can find is an MP4. Once I find a place to post it, I’ll send the parking location.

  • Jackson Braider

    7.20.02

    Reply
    To hear Michael’s story about his dog…

    go to here:

    http://h00306543e082.ne.client2.attbi.com/

    and download either "MichaelsDog.mp3" or "MichaelsDog.mp4", depending on what you can play.

  • Sydney Lewis

    7.22.02

    Reply

    Oh lordy, what a pleasant journey is this piece. I imagine someone somewhere might take issue with the whimsicality of the research, but I’m just happy to witness a playful and creative nature at work. Loved the sound ambi, music, and that dedicated and sincere doggie environmentalist, and really, I could care less if he’s her neighbor George who in real life is a crane operator. I’m trying to think of some half-bright question or comment, but at the moment, all I can say is thanks, it was a nice way to spend time while eating lunch….

  • helen woodward

    7.25.02

    Reply
    Nylon undergarments, whippet footstools and mayonnaise factories…..

    What a triumph; the inclusion of so many seemingly disparate (and frankly weird) topics into such an entertaining piece; it combines so much, great characters, sounds and the subject matter is definately intriguing. I found myself vascilating between belief and disbelief, but smirking happily throughout the program.

    Onto a serious question, production wise it seems very complex, how did you collaborate with the sound engineer you mentioned, did you have a clear picture of how you wanted it to end up before you got to that stage?

  • Jay Allison

    7.25.02

    Reply
    another question…

    Natalie, or any other Australians present, how does this piece fit in the spectrum of what’s available on the ABC? Do you know enough of American public radio to be able to describe differences in how we approach our work?

  • cw

    7.29.02

    Reply
    canine environmental consulting services

    deep thoughts in dog grooming parlors and barber shops everywhere

    I like this story. The man who is worried about the waste and who got interested in using dog hair while in his father’s dog grooming parlor as a teen reminds me of the guy from Huntsville, Al watching oil spills on TV and ultimately coming up with a patentable human hair mat idea for cleaning oil spills. As much as there’s this human tendency to waste, in other people there’s this conserve/packrat mentality.

    Here’s a link to a small piece about the human hair mat guy:

    http://www.prweb.com/releases/2002/2/prweb33750.php

    P.S. I think the dog barks in this piece were not recorded as realistically as possible because my basset hound, who usually perks up to such background dog sounds as the ones on the old Jane’s Addiction album, barely lifted his ears to the dogs barking at the beginning of this piece.

  • Barrett Golding

    7.29.02

    Reply
    Exquisite

    what an exquisite mix, and what inventive conception for each new scene. liked this piece lots, mostly for how it sounded. one small quibble: the announcement of a new scene by the male announcer didn’t seem to fit that well, nor, in most cases was it needed. but what a great show. seems the european style of pristinely mixed and thoughtfully presented docs and dramas is alive/well in the southern hemisphere.

  • Jackson Braider

    7.31.02

    Reply
    The Male Announcer

    I wondered about him, too. I haven’t listened to the piece again since my first hearing, but in retrospect, he hasn’t — dare I say it? — dogged me. Still, it was a voice literally out of nowhere.

    Perhaps more doggy transitions — I dunno, audio featuring someone buying a nice Norfolk Terrier rug or a Kerry Blue waistcoat — would have been more in keeping.

  • chelsea merz

    7.31.02

    Reply

    I love the sound of this piece and the mood. What is particularly nice about this piece is the understated quality of it, which always seems to be the best way to treat quirky, off-beat, and outrageous themes and people.

    The blend of fact and fiction is seamless and irirrelevant–though it helps to explain this story’s sort of category-of-one quality. In the end it’s just a captivating portrait. What I really like about this piece conceptually is that eveven thought is fiction/nonfiction the story is true and honest. There isn’t a a false or forced moment –no need to hint where the fiction ends, fact begins. This is a sensibility that American public radio lacks and it’s one that botches a lot of good work. We like to tell people where they’re going —it’s like with American cinema–a telephone rings and then the director has to follow-up with an extreme close-up of a telephone.

  • Jackson Braider

    8.02.02

    Reply
    Nice image of the phone

    Wouldn’t it be fun if Chelsea’s subsequent close-up were of a baby’s rattle?

    One of the interesting threads — or is it strands? My weaving jargon is lame — of this discussion is the advanced European-ness of the story, a characteristic cherished by Americans of a certain ilk.

    Like Australians, we live in a land of tall tales. The question is why we don’t have the courage to tell them.

    Or maybe we do, only we call it news.

  • jonathan menjivar

    8.02.02

    Reply
    not just a nuisance anymore

    dog hair that is. so i was sitting in a friends apartment the other day and i set down my drink on the floor. i ate a handful of chips and then picked up the drink and this mass of his dog’s hair was stuck to the bottom of the bottle. then i just saw it everywhere. on chairs, couches, around the trashcan, a few actually in the chip bowl. and i thought…oh my god, all this hair this is going to take up so much space in a landfill. i think anytime moments in radio stick with you like that and return at random, someone has done a damn fine job of telling a story.

    natalie, are you around? i’m interested in knowing how often work that blends fiction and fact like this ends up on the radio in australia. were listeners given any clue when it aired that it was a mix of fiction and fact? i can’t imagine a station or show in america who wouldn’t need a lot of convincing to play this. and even then, there would probably be some big warning upfront. didn’t we all agree a few months ago when deb amos was here that the jonestown piece "Father Cares" probably wouldn’t air on npr these days? a damn shame i tell you.

    thanks for the space in piece. it’s nice to have room to breathe and just lay back and see what might be thrown your way. it’s a different way of listening then the stuff i’m used to and i’m thankful for that.

  • Natalie Kestecher

    8.06.02

    Reply
    from the producer

    Onto a serious question, production wise it seems very complex, how did you collaborate with the sound engineer you mentioned, did you have a clear picture of how you wanted it to end up before you got to that stage?

    Hi there and thanks for your comments and question.
    Let’s just say that I had an idea of how I wanted it to sound but that it wasn’t set in stone.Although I had done most of the recordings myself and had a script,I was(and always am)interested in the sound engineer’s ideas.
    I also have to admit that some of the sounds ie the spinning wheel were studio creations.Although I had recorded one of my dog hair spinners at the wheel, the recording was poor,so the brilliant Russell Stapleton(with the assistance of JS Bach and a range of FX)wove his magic.

  • Natalie Kestecher

    8.07.02

    Reply

    Maybe your basset hound had a problem with the Australian accent.

  • Natalie Kestecher

    8.07.02

    Reply

    Hi and yes I am around.
    In answer to your question about informing the audience in advance about the blend of fact and fiction, well the answer is no.But there were repercussions and I had to write a few emails to a couple of confused listeners after the broadcast.
    I should point out that ‘Radio Eye’,the show that I work on, broadcasts all kinds of features from documentary to mocumentary.
    What do other people think – do audiences need to be warned that a program may contain satirical(or nonsensical)material?

  • Natalie Kestecher

    8.07.02

    Reply
    Natalie Kestecher

    Thanks for your comments and also for the narrative(which I can’t seem to play)and, by the way,the doggie environmentalist does have a name.Shag Pappas.

  • Tony MacGregor

    8.07.02

    Reply
    Putting this in the spectrum…(from another present Australian)

    Natalie’s work occurs within a very particular context, and it may be of interst to elaborate it (briefly) for US producers.

    For me (speaking as a fellow radio feature maker as well as the Executive Producer of the show Natalie works for), this kind of hybrid work (fiction, fact, performance) seems more closely linked to the work of Gregory Whitehead and early Kitchen Sisters (I was never sure wether the people they encountered on the road were real or not) than to the European modernists who might otherwise be seen to have shaped the Australian radiophonic feature.

    There are (currently) three venues/slots on two ABC Radio national networks in which this kind of work appears – Radio Eye, The Night Air and The Listening Room. In the context of these programs a piece like Knitting is still ‘eccentric’, but appropriate. In virtually any other more formal documentary contexts on our networks, such a piece would be regarded as deeply problematic – what is it about? is it real? what are the issues? Maybe one or two slots might take on such a piece, but they would feel obliged to telegraph it as a ‘joke’.

    For me the radio feature has always been a very broad church. I seek out great storytelling and great stories, and I’m interested in style and performance in the telling of stories. Most of the work we make and broadcast is more or less ‘conventional’, at least insofar as it deals with real people, places,events. But I encourage the performative, and much of the work we broadcast bleeds into the borders with ars acoustica – but acoustic art as such is NOT what we do – rather, we borrow from the techniques and possibilities.

    I should say that within the ‘purist’, modernist ideology/aesthetic of the ‘new’ (post 1968) European feature, this hybrid, highly studio produced stuff is sometimes regarded with deep suspicion. People like Harri Huhtamaki in Finland embrace this kind of thing, but the tradtion that grows out of German and Danish documentary frowns a little on overt performance, the confusion of fact and fiction and so on. This practice values transparency, observation, revelation, the drama of conflict, the psychology of the protagonists – all derived from ‘real’ people in ‘real’ situations. (I recall Leo Bruan describing a feature on refugees I made as ‘a corpse with a painted face’ – my production was simply cosmetic dressing-up of something I had killed by working it too hard.) This is changing, and work like Natalie’s – which has great emotional honesty and as well as entertainment value, also transcends these more ideological critiques, simply because its charm is irresistable.

    Kaye Mortley navigates the space between these (apparently) divergent territories with great precision and skill: always rooted in observed reality, and constructed from a rigourously pared back ‘palette’ of sources, Kaye’s pieces are nonetheless complete worlds unto themesleves, and very performative – akind of perfect union of techne and poesis.

    Finally, Natalie’s work is broadcast within an established program. Radio Eye is a 53′ slot. There is a regular presenter (who is a program maker), and it is broadcast with sympathetic ‘companion’ pieces. So its not left flapping in the breeze, at the mercy of a duty announcer, sandwiched between un-like material. As much as possible, work is given a context, a little support, without giving too much away.

    I hope this is of some interest or use in answering your question Jay.

  • Jay Allison

    8.07.02

    Reply
    in spades

    One t-shirt to Australia.

    Thanks, Tony.

    As for fact/fiction playgrounds on national air in America, there are few. New American Radio, where Gregory W.s work used to air, is no more. Once upon a time, NPR weekend shows, like All Things Considered, would have stretched this far, but those programs are now emphatically "news" shows, and journalistic credibility comes with a price: no unheralded playing with the "truth" except on April first.

    This is understandable, but dependability and predictability come with a price too.

    What I liked in listening to Natalie’s piece when we aired it on our local stations was my own state of confusion and wonderment. Who was fooling who? My guard was up and the piece kept getting past it. I was ATTENTIVE, awake and listening, thinking about truth and fiction. In a time when most radio is a wash, comforting or irritating (sometimes simultaneously), this kind of listening state is particularly welcome.

  • Carol Horowitz

    6.15.03

    Reply
    Knitting With Dog Hair

    I was wondering how much of the history of knitting with dog hair is factual. I was especially interested in the Jewish connection. How about the discussion of the origin of the Yiddish word "shmata." Was this fiction?
    Loved the show!

  • Susan Penner

    1.17.05

    Reply
    Also interested in the dog hair story

    I’d like to know if there are any books or articles that track the story of Catalonia and the Jewish history of using dog hair for knitting?

  • Dina

    7.04.16

    Reply

    Love your piece ‘The Novelist’. If you still want to write a novel you might like to join our local writers’ group, Randwick Writers. Look us up on Facebook or at dinadavis2015.wordpress.com

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