People decompress after a long day at the office in many ways, but where some exercise, play music, or watch TV, one local medical official spins animal fiber to help alleviate stress.
“It’s fun and relaxing,” Sharon James, assistant chief nursing officer and director of quality and risk management at St. Luke Hospital, said. “Like many people, I have kind of a stressful job.”
She called the monotonous, rhythmic, and repetitive act of spinning yarn “Zen-like” and explained its soothing effect on her.
“As the spinning wheel is turning it makes this white noise sound that has a rhythm,” James said. “I get into a groove and the next thing I know an hour or two has passed by.”
She doesn’t only spin; she tats with fibers she collects from her rabbit, sheep, alpaca, and llama, too, at least one of which seems also to be calmed by the process.
“Dmitri is French, a French Angora rabbit, so he’s a little fussy sometimes,” she said. “But he never really gets nervous. I think he likes getting all that hair off of him.”
She and her daughter, Charlotte, who said, “Dmitri likes to scare the cats,” regularly brush their fluffy friend to keep knots from developing in his extravagant coat.
“We trimmed him inside once and that was the last time we ever did that,” James said. “There was hair everywhere.”
James usually waits until Dmitri’s gray and black fur is about four inches long to shave him and store the fiber in old tissue boxes.
Through a process called carding, she adds Dmitri’s wispy fiber to other animals’ fiber, making sure to remove coarse guard hairs before washing it at least once and hang drying it.
“Dmitri’s hair is very fluffy,” James said. “It’s like spinning air.”
She is looking for white, red, and chocolate Angora rabbits to vary the color of wool she uses.
“I’d like a little more selection; less volume,” she said.
She explained how Dmitri’s wool affects other animals’ wool when spun together.
“Angora is very slick,” James said. “It softens other fibers and it gives them a nice halo effect, but it’s not as strong as the other fibers I have.”
Continuing a family tradition of handiwork, she has made mittens, hats, and scarves for friends with fiber spun from Dmitri and his animal cohorts.
Dmitri constantly produces free-floating fluffy hair; however, it takes a long-term commitment to amass a fur ball big enough to make a garment.
From shearing to wearing, she said there was no way for her to quantify the amount of time it takes to create a garment.
“It’s all very time-consuming,” she said. “I save what I brush but I only cut his hair about once every four months. It takes a lot of time to build up enough fiber.”
James said the calming process of spinning fibers and seeing friends wearing something she spun or tatted is worth the immense time investment.
“Right now, I’m working on a sweater but I have no idea when I’ll finish it,” James said. “It’s a hobby; I just enjoy doing it and it’s nice to see others enjoy it, too.”