Contrary to prevailing opinion, I don’t have a problem.
Okay, maybe in decades past I followed my hypersensitive nose into a few bad relationship decisions (“He just smelled so nice . . .”). But that was a long time ago, and I have learned a few things, and the main thing my nose has to do with my attraction to the Sweet Feller From Texas is the fact that he makes me laugh ’til I snort (though he smells nice, too).
And I sniff for sheer pleasure. Fresh bread in my kitchen. Garlic turning golden in olive oil on the stove. My bathroom after a shower with peppermint soap. My garden after a rain. Petrichor. Bourbon, neat. Single malt with a drop or two of water.
When my dogs, warm and drowsy in the early morning, roll on their backs and stretch, I want to bury my face in their bellies and inhale their contentedness. If my mouthy little calico cat has been insisting on attention from neighbors on the sidewalk on our street, the top of her head smells faintly of a stranger’s perfume or cologne, and suddenly I know much more about her day.
For similar reasons, I love to smell yarn. You can get a whole story from the scent of a skein. Once, in a textile museum gift shop, I picked up a hank of handspun wool, held it to my nose, and breathed it in: there was the lambing pen, the mother’s milk, fresh hay, a wet winter on a hillside, the hands of the shearer, the carder, the spinner. I bought the skein and added my own scent to the layers. And now I wear those fragrances close to my face in the form of the shawl I made from it.
I own a mohair sweater my mother knit for herself in the 1960s. Mohair has a long sensory memory—that sweater is 50 years old and it still carries a hint of lanolin and the almond scent of Mom’s Jergen’s hand lotion. I have added my own chapter to that yarn story—lavender and eucalyptus.
My friends worry about me (and maybe I embarrass them a little bit because I guess it looks somewhat odd), but evidently there are others who do this, and I don’t think we can help it.* I walk into a yarn store, and I am a crow, my eye drawn to colors and loft and patterns. Then my hands go out for texture, smoothness, warmth, cool.
Inevitably, though, what is in my hand goes to my nose: is it wool? Alpaca? Mink? They all present slight variations on an animal funk that I want to carry at the back of my throat. Silk, flax, linen, bamboo, hemp, cotton—they smell of light and earth and growing green things.
Sometimes dyes and other treatments mask those scents, but I always seem to end up buying the yarn that smells a story.
*Also, I think Shannan huffs yarn in secret.