Embroidery thread comes in many numbers. It’s possible to count up to and past fifteen hundred. Light olive, medium olive, dark olive. Those words come from decades ago. If you bought a color from today you’d be buying words like sage or pine. Hunter, harbor, hint. When you google these colors, be aware: monitors and web browsers sometimes dither colors.
What does it mean to dither, I ask my sister.
Dither: to automatically make or choose the best match for someone else.
We are in the Salvation Army store. We are supposed to be in the Men’s Suit section because she is looking for garments made from good wool. I am with her to learn what good wool means, but when we came into the store she headed first to Notions. I followed and now here we are looking at four plastic tackle boxes filled with notched cards of wound thread.
See, she says. See.
Her thumb brushes across the spectrum. The bear came back, she says, killed three more sheep–this time at our barn.
The spools are numbered in black ink with handwriting we haven’t seen in three generations. C’s pup has a tumor, I tell her, and he hasn’t money for a vet. Not until November.
These colors haven’t been made in over forty years. Maybe not since the 1950s, she says.
She wants to buy these old colors, but the clerk, knowing she wants to ask if he’d take less, is already shaking his head no.
Firm, he says, prices are firm.
We place the four boxes back on the shelf and move across the store to Men’s Suits. For forty dollars, she can buy a cart load of old wool instead. We weave through baskets of belts and shoe laces.
The creek flooded and washed our bridge out, she says, keep your eye out for good grey. She runs her fingertips along the sleeves of old jackets hanging on a circular rack. An index card taped to the rack: $3 per item.
She pinches the elbow of a solid navy blazer, closes her eyes and rubs fabric. Seventy dark coat sleeves. Touch touch, pinch. I do what she does. With my eyes closed I begin to notice some fabric feels more real. I open my eyes and pull a jacket out, find the inside seam to read the label–good wool is confirmed. Not so much by how we see it, but how we know it feels.
My sister is felting her own wool. Little animal fibers when exposed to heat, moisture and agitation, tangle together until they lose all stitch definition. That is what I want, she says when we reach Women’s Suits. To lose all stitch definition. She nods across the rack at me. I nod back, rubbing sleeves of 327, 328 and 650 reds and tell her about three young men shot last weekend in Bozeman with a mad man’s shotgun. The 24-year-old airlifted to Seattle is a cousin to the man my daughter plans to marry. We don’t think he”ll live.
My sister finds 913 and 5556. Closes her eyes and rubs jacket elbows — a world of her colors caught between blue and green. Between air and earth, I say. Some days, she replies, the color of our sky.