The spinning wheel is a very simple machine. There are two pedals, which drive the main wheel, which is connected via a looped plastic cord to a smaller wheel, which spins the bobbin. I hold the loose fiber in my fingers and work the pedals with my feet, and the fiber twists up. When I release, the fiber gets pulled in and wound onto the bobbin. Hold and release, hold and release. This time, I am spinning a blend of wool and silk, dyed the kind of green that gets sold with the names seafoam or moss. It is a dull, quiet color.
Wool is such a broad term. It could mean anything. There are the English sheep, with English names: Border Leicester, Derbyshire Gritstone, BFL, which stands for Bluefaced Leicester. Their coats are long and tough, easy to spin but rough on the skin and better suited for coats or rugs. Most American sheep, like everything else here, have roots elsewhere, but some are uniquely American: the Navajo Churro which is coarse and scratchy. Jacob sheep, which can have as many as six horns curling alongside their faces, and the unfortunately named CVM, which stands for California Variegated Mutant. The wool I am spinning now is Merino, from Australia. It is fine and soft. Lofty, but with a tendency to pill when worn.
Silk is a contradiction. It is smooth to the touch. It slides easily through my fingers. But it clings to itself and resists the spinning. It doesn’t want to pull apart. Insects, of course, already know this, but I had to learn myself.
As I hold the wool and silk in my hands, I pull a few strands out, stretching the fiber long and thin until it is almost insubstantial, like pencil strokes. Then the twist from the wheel travels up, and the line of the pencil is inked in, solid and strong. It has acquired substance and meaning.
I will knit a lace shawl with this yarn.
I am spinning a blend of cashmere and silk. The cashmere comes from an angora goat, not to be confused with angora, which comes from angora rabbits. Silk is a common material to mix in with other fibers. It adds sheen to otherwise quiet fibers. Cashmere, when blended with silk, becomes more affordable. Wool, when blended with silk, becomes less affordable.