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With the holiday season upon us, our thoughts turn to gifts – and knitters swing into action! Selecting the perfect yarn and pattern for a gift project can be every bit as enjoyable as the knitting itself. One thing we’ve noticed is that sales for our charity inspired yarns increase, and as part of this we get a lot of questions about them. Many people are curious about how we came up with the idea for the Meow (and Woof) collections and are curious about where the colours come from and how they are created. I thought it would be fun today to explore the path this yarn collection has taken, have a sneak preview of where it is going, and look at some cute kitty pictures at the same time!
The Meow Collection arose three years ago out of a need to find an alternate way of working with animal rescue. I have been a volunteer for an animal rescue charity for more than 14 years now, and have done pretty much anything you can imagine that might come up in so doing – taking photos of super cute kittens and cats, taking cats from the shelter to the vet, socializing feral cats, rehabilitating injured cats, fostering cats and kittens (well over 200 in my time), doing shows and displays to educate, and even hauling many tons of kitty litter. I have done it all!
One night, I had an epiphany as I was loading a one-ton pallet of kitty litter into storage in the dark, at -27C, in over a foot of snow. Self, I said, this is just not on with your aging body. Surely there is something you can do to help animal rescue that isn’t quiiiiite as taxing on your ever aging joints. My joints enthusiastically agreed this would be brilliant.
And then it came to me: I HAVE A YARN COMPANY. What if I use the yarn for good – more good than just making knitters happy (which is already a pretty awesome thing, if you ask me). But what if I came up with a line of yarn that would be used to the benefit of animals in ways beyond that of hauling kitty litter? And thus was born the Meow Collection, a range of colourways that are inspired by the rescue cats I have been working with for so many years.
The idea behind the collection is to do two things: First, directly raise funds that are donated to animal rescue organizations. Second, and even more importantly, work towards educating people and raising awareness around the issues of animal rescue and responsible pet ownership, and inspiring them to get involved. While all animal rescue organizations work to promote this cause, I knew I would have access to areas that the average charity does not (e.g. knitting magazines). It could clearly be a win-win for everyone.
To begin the Meow Collection we started with 12 colours, which were planned out in a meeting with many of the rescue volunteers where we all got together and discussed our favorite cat colours and what we would like the yarn to do. Afterwards, I went back to the studio and started creating, working from photos I had previously taken of rescue cats (and a few live models who were willing to let me hold skeins of yarn up to their fur to compare). Each of the 12 colourways were true to the cats who inspired it, and each one had one or two specific cats who were the models on which the colour was based. I like to think they have that certain something that goes beyond mere colour: some might not quite match the ideal for a colour (e.g. brown tabby is not what people usually expect for a brown tabby), but models like Miriam who have special stories to go along with their very unusual colouration had to be part of it. Our knitterly knowledge on how the colours would work when knit also contributed to the final colourways, and before we knew it, we were ready to launch.
The Meow Collection was an almost instant success on many levels; knitters opened their hearts to animal rescue in a way that we could not have dreamed! We expected it to be a local thing, appealing mostly to people who would see it at the events we did charity displays at, but we worked hard at retailing it online and with LYS locations too. When a blog called Hauspanther picked it up, the Meow Collection went viral!
In short, knitters are amazing people, and they got behind the spirit of this yarn collection in a BIG way. To date, it has been shipped to six continents and over 100 countries, and has been used in many, many charity events for fundraising. We have donated many thousands of dollars ourselves (approximately 15% of the profit on each skein is used by AAY for donations and educational materials), but more importantly than that, it has inspired people to get active personally, both locally and beyond. We hear many stories of what people are doing themselves, such as making donations, volunteering, and working together. We also hear about how this yarn has touched many people’s lives in all sorts of ways: some adopt, some memorialize a much loved pet, and some can have something that makes them think of home. This is both humbling and utterly thrilling for us, of course!
Recently, we donate to the Whisker Wonderland, the Cat Adoption Team’s (CAT) annual gala dinner and auction which was attended by over 300 CAT lovers. Over $100,000 was raised at this year’s event to support CAT’s programs and services, which save the lives of cats and kittens in our community.
Since its start, the Meow Collection has grown to include 20 official colours which we update every six months. Some colours get retired and we add new ones to take their place; we will have two new colours in January and I will tell you what one of them will be… ta da! Orange Tiger Tabby! Our current orange tabby colour has no white as the model has none either (among the group, a lovely round senior gentleman named Pumpkin whom we rescued three years ago). However, many orange tabby cats do have white in their coats, so we are going to add this to the line.
Now let’s meet a few of the cats and kittens behind the colours, and see their stories!
Tuxedo Cat: This colourway is inspired by – you guessed it! – black and white cats. There are two specific models for this colour: the first is a cat that spent five years with Meow Foundation before finally finding her forever home. One of her foster care givers developed cancer, and Charity took it on herself to look after her human and make sure she was OK. For Charity, the world revolved around her foster mom, and on at least one occasion Charity saved her life by waking her up when she had forgotten her medications. The other cat who inspired this colour is Lottie, who is the product of a cat hoarding home, and was one of only five out of 104 who survived the experience. Even though she was feral as a kitten, she acted as a “spokescat” for the Meow Foundation for a number of years, making multiple newspaper, TV, and other media appearances, as well as appearing in calendars and brochures, and even making personal appearances at volunteer events. She also helped other feral foster cats by showing them the ropes and helping them to feel safe and comfortable in human care.
Blue Persian: One of the most dramatic of the cat colours, Blue Persian is a grey so grey it is almost blue in the right light! This colour is an artistic take on the cat colour, and emphasizes that amazing blue undertone to the Persian coat. The specific inspiration for this colour is a little girl named Oopik, who survived feline distemper on the streets. She had to have extensive T-Touch therapy so that she could learn to walk again, as the disease had destroyed some of the nerve paths used to control her legs. She learned to walk, run, and jump again by consciously paying attention to the sensations she felt from her skin as she could no longer feel her muscles. Oopik went on to be the top cat in a household of three, and has never looked back!
Shasta Cat!: One of the more interesting variations on the tortoiseshell cat colour is mixed with grey – this variation is called dilute tortoiseshell – and produces a lovely soft grey and peach coat. This yarn colourway is inspired in particular by a small whirlwind of a dilute tortoiseshell cat named Shasta. Shasta was abandoned at the age of four months, mistreated, and thrown out to fend for herself at -30C. Luckily she was rescued, and in spite of contracting severe pneumonia, she has never let this experience slow her down. Shasta is devoted, loving, and playful (she is often referred to as Tarzana the Ape cat for her penchant for swinging from the walls), but most importantly, she has elected herself as official Ancient Arts Yarn mascot (or Supreme Being, depending on who one listens to). She feels it is her job to supervise all aspects of the operation and makes sure that all yarn dyed under her watch is the best it can be.
We’d love to meet YOUR feline (and canine) friends! Come say hello and share your photos with us here in our Ravelry group.