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Designer and silversmith Heidi Abrahamson shapes cat hair into beads and incorporates them into jewelry.
updated 5/10/2011 3:21:11 PM ET 2011-05-10T19:21:11

Look what the cat dragged in: jewelry.

Specifically, it’s modern jewelry pairing precious metal with the most mundane of materials: cat hair. And, says its designer, “It’s gone totally viral.”

“This has just gone crazy,” designer and silversmith Heidi Abrahamson told TODAY.com of the fur-vor greeting the cat-hair bling that is by no means the only modern jewelry she offers at her Phoenix, Arizona-based studio. Though she admits to being a cat fancier (“When I was a kid, I never played with dolls — I played with my cats”), she is also a highly educated collector and designer who has done merchandising for I. Magnin, The Bon Marche and Burberrys of London and has exhibited her work in Paris. “I’ve been a silversmith and collector of mid-century modern and Scandinavian jewelry for 40 years,” she said.

So Abrahamson can be forgiven for being a bit surprised that it took cat hair to really put her on the map. “I never expected this — being Googled with ‘hairball’ after my name.”

Designer Heidi Abrahamson says cat hair is “not at all hard” to work with as a medium: “You kind of pinch it together and roll it in your hand.”

It all started with her friend and fellow Phoenix resident Kate Benjamin, who runs moderncat.net, a website that spotlights design-oriented products for cat lovers. Looking for a way to mark National Hairball Awareness Day (yes, there really is such a thing, sponsored by the National Museum of Health and Medicine — hairballs are a significant health hazard for cats and other animals), “she came up with the idea of sculpting cat hair into jewelry,” Abrahamson said.

The idea is not quite as outrageous as it may sound at first. According to the popular science website popsci.com, hairballs were cherished during the Middle Ages, and set with gold and jewelry. (On the other hand, in the Middle Ages people also spent time burning witches and trying to turn lead into gold.)

Benjamin supplied the raw materials by thoroughly grooming several of her cats. Abrahamson said that cat hair is “not at all hard” to shape into beads that can be incorporated into jewelry: “You kind of pinch it together and roll it in your hand.”

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Even when strung with silver, the resulting felted beads do not dazzle the eye with color: “It’s pretty muted,” Abrahamson admits. On the other hand, she points out, “the colors are neutral, so you can wear it everything.”

There is a potential downside, of course: If you’re allergic to cat hair, you’re likely allergic to cat-hair jewelry, too. Still, whether it’s due to passion for fashion or love of cats, the response to Abrahamson’s fur-iffic creations has been dramatic, and if the demand continues, she expects she’ll add more of them to her cat-alog.

“I’m loving it,” she told TODAY.com. “The two great passions of my life have collided, and it’s great.”

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