Lori Hicks carefully steps over a barrier gate for pets that divides her
living room from a side room where she claims to have 500 pounds of dog hair
stuffed in bags.
The 50-year-old Canandaigua native will turn it into yarn for making scarves, hats, mittens and the like.
She retrieves a nylon mesh bag and plops it down next to a small wooden spinning wheel. It’s filled with fuzzy wads of beige undercoat gleaned from her many Alaskan malamutes kept in roomy pens on 19 acres off Goff Road. The dogs usually “blow” or shed their undercoat twice a year. That’s how she gets the fur, not by shaving or pulling it out.
The hair plucked from the bag has been carded — combed clean of debris and knots — and readied for the next step in the process of becoming yarn. Yarn-making enthusiasts refer to it as “chiengora,” a word combining the French word for dog — chien — and soft Angora (from Angora rabbit wool or Angora goat mohair).
Cashmere, alpaca, llama and cat fleece are also suitable for spinning, according to Hicks, and she has worked with those fibers, too. By the by, she also has many pet cats.
Hicks puts a gob of malamute fluff on a spindle. Using a foot pedal, she makes the wheel go ’round, which twists the fleece. Then she pulls the thick thread as it comes off the spindle. Once there’s enough for a skein, it’s shampooed and hung to dry — ready to be dyed. Or not.
There’s a winter cap colored a natural speckled tan, and she shows it off.
“Feel how soft that is — that’s from Corsair, my 12-year-old bitch who died a year ago,” she said. “I named her after a ... fighter plane.”
Hicks was in a motorcycle accident several years ago and suffered permanent injuries. She fought to endure the pain of having 200 stitches in each leg, five compressed vertebrae and two gaps in her pelvic bones that even now throw her off balance when she walks.
“I used to be so active,” she said. “I was a mail carrier for 20 years, and I could go anywhere and do anything. Now I can hardly get around at all. It’s like two lives — one before the accident and one after.”
Her doctor told her to find some sedentary activity she’d enjoy. She took to spinning and knitting because those skills were ones she had learned from her grandmother and aunt.
The women also taught her other old arts like caning furniture and tatting (lace making). Now Hicks is learning how to make vegetable dye.
The little pet sweaters she makes are sold at Launder Mutt in Canandaigua, but they’re not recommended for dogs.
“Dogs suck wool,” she said. “They end up with balls of wool in their stomach.”
This summer, she hopes to sell her yarn for 15 cents a finished yard at farmers’ markets.
Meanwhile, regardless of her limitations, she’ll have more than spinning to keep her busy. She owns draft horses, teaches dog obedience for 4-H and belongs to several clubs focused on her interests.
Contact Billie Owens at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 320 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.