They look a lot like old-style toys. But in the hands of Vicki Cornish, as her fingers gently flicker about, these simple wooden objects can transform a clump of fleece into a stunning thread.
It will absorb hours to create enough yarn to make a garment of clothing, then there can be at least a week at the loom weaving the weft across the vertical warp. Cornish does not watch the clock, but the "how long" question is often asked by the people who buy her hand-woven scarves at Maitland Regional Art Gallery's curated shop.
They can find the answer for themselves, or perhaps realise how irrelevant it is, by taking one of Cornish's absorbing workshops. "One lady was just blissing out," Cornish recounts, "she just wanted to sit there and keep spinning forever."
Cornish began learning the skills of slow fashion in the 1980s. As a 14-year-old visiting relatives at a sheep station in the middle of Queensland, she was taught how to take freshly shorn fleece, process it naturally with a "flick-carding" combing tool, and turn it into yarn on a spinning wheel. She returned to the spinning wheel "off and on" after finishing high school and a Fine Arts degree, but it wasn't until she studied textiles and fashion design, and discovered a desire to make her own fabric from scratch, that Cornish parked the spinning wheel permanently in the living room.
"That's when I really wanted to get back into making yarn," she recalls. "I want to weave but I had a really specific idea about what kind of yarns I wanted to use."
About five years ago, Cornish started exploring hand-held spindle techniques.
"I was just immediately fascinated," she says. "It's much slower, but you can get exactly what you want. There's a quality to spindle-spun yarn that you cannot get any other way."
Cornish began collecting spindles, and now has an almost complete collection, from those that roll across the knee to ones that drop and spiral, and a type used in the Mayan civilisation that looks like a child's clacker toy.
"You can throw it in your handbag, it's very robust," she says. While Cornish admits to having "a bit of an obsession with ancient textiles tools and techniques," she says that spindles can also be simply fashioned out of "a pencil and an old CD".
It's partly the long history of spinning, though, that attracts Cornish. Spindles were used in the creation of sails on Viking long boats and in the wrappings of Egyptian mummies.
"It's a really long process to make cloth. That's part of the problem now, we are divorced from that process so we don't value it, it's all mechanised now."
When Cornish is spinning she takes delight in knowing where the fibre originated, sometimes right down to knowing the animal's name. She's been out to paddocks to "meet" many of the animals whose fleece she spins, and to chat with farmers.
In her stash of fibre she has fleece once belonging to an April, a Hector and a Comet. A quick twist between her fingers reveals the character of a fleece. Colour and quality, measured in microns, differ from one animal to another, she explains. Cornish mostly uses superfine merino from the Southern Highlands, as well as alpaca from farms around the Hunter Valley, which can be "very silky and cool to the touch".
As she feeds a handful of fleece into a spindle, twisting and spinning until a cop of yarn begins to form, time seems to take on a different rhythm.
"You slow down," Cornish says. "I think you sort of connect with your materials in a way that a sophisticated tool doesn't allow you to. I'm just fascinated with the fact that you can make incredibly beautiful, complex things with incredibly simple tools."
Vicki Cornish holds workshops regularly at Islington's Mulberry and Flax.