We shear our sheep every spring prior to lambing. This reduces stress on the sheep, since they are not separated from their lambs for the day. Shearing gets them ready for the hot summer days ahead. Our shearers are careful to keep second cuts in the fleece to a minimum, and do everything possible to prevent cutting the sheep.
Sorting and Skirting
Each fleece is sorted into tags, bellies, and clothing right after shearing. Some initial skirting is done at this time, removing stains and dirty wool from the fleece. The fleeces are then placed and packed in large burlap bags called wool bags and tied with jute twine. Full wool bags will weigh about 125 pounds and hold 12 fleeces. The burlap keeps the wool from felting and provides a natural and biodegradable packing material for shipping to and storage at the mill. Once at the mill, the fleeces are removed from the wool sacks and placed on a skirting table. The fleece is skirted by hand so that only the best wool goes into the rest of the process to create sliver, roving, and yarn. We sort the coarser and shorter wool into tubs and will use it for other products such as wool balls.
Washing and Drying
Once the wool is skirted, it is washed with biodegradable soap. We wash with a custom mix of Power Scour soap from Unicorn Fiber. This soap is environmentally friendly, biodegradable and safe for animals, plants and soil. Our water is provided from a well using solar technology for pumping. We use as little water as possible to get the wool clean. Seth built a custom washing station that gives us control of the amount of water and allows the wool to be moved easily between sinks with little handling, which prevents felting. The used wash and rinse water is then used to irrigate a small fruit orchard. Fleeces are then placed on custom built drying racks and air dried in the warm afternoon sun.
We do not carbonize our wool. This is an acid wash that removes all vegetable matter. We have decided that some vegetable matter in a environmentally friendly easily handled product is better then the change in texture and side effects of the acid wash. If you buy our products, please be aware of this company decision.
After drying the wool is opened with a picker. This removes some vegetable matter and loosens the wool into light locks which are blown into a closet and caught in a large tub. The wool rests overnight, which decreases static and prepares it for carding.
Our carder is a Whittin drum carder made in the 1950's. The carder has a four foot swift (the main drum) with 5 sets of workers and strippers. There are over 170 different settings! Our carder allows us to card for woolen yarn and provides an old fashioned preparation which produces very soft sliver and yarn that will bloom. In worsted preparation there are two additional steps in the process, which further align, straiten, and clean the fiber. The woolen preparation, which we have selected, is easier on the wool and produces a classic sliver and yarn with an incredibly soft hand that will create garments that are much warmer then worsted. It does create some small inconsistencies in the sliver and yarn because it has more loft and air space. It also leaves more vegetable matter in the product since fibers have more overlap than with the worsted preparation. We are trying to limit the amount of processing in order to have a more natural product that highlights the strength, fineness and true beauty of wool.
We have two different types of spinning equipment. The first is a roving frame. A roving frame is no longer used in modern mills because it is not necessary with fiber prepared with the worsted preparation. It produces bulky yarn and small roving that can then go to a spinning frame. This is where we make our bulky yarn and our pencil roving. Our roving frame is a Saco Lowell made in the 1960's with 48 bobbins. We are currently spinning using a draft setting that is similar to a long draw in hand spinning, to produce a true woolen bulky yarn.
Our spinning frame is up and running! Our Saco Lowell 1960's spinning frame can spin and ply. Seth has been great at figuring out how to make this versatile piece of equipment run!! We have received parts and Seth has been installing them on the roving and spinning frame. We are now producing a single bulky art yarn, and 2 and 3 ply yarns