If you follow me on Instragram, you might know I spent last Sunday out at Independence Farmstead Fibers with shepherdess and yarn/fiber magician Dawn Brown. It was awesome. Dawn is doing a LOT to bolster the Texas wool and mohair industry and contribute to our local fibershed; she's also very welcoming, so --set to a day of interesting and inspiring conversation -- I got to help out a bit and learn first hand exactly what goes into making a skein of yarn.
A while back, I purchased a couple of really lovely fleeces from Kami Noyes of Ranching Tradition Fiber, up in Whitehall, Montana. When I arrived at the mill, Dawn had already washed and conditioned them. The one we worked with on Sunday was a targhee fleece with a nice staple length and a high micron count... we worked about half of it during my day at the mill, and I've got a targhee/suffolk cross still left to go. (A really special shop update is in the works... I promise.)
We began by weighing out small batches to feed through the carder:
So floofy and clean! As we layed it out in tidy patches on the carder, we picked out any short cuts of wool ("seconds" -there weren't many), and VM (vegetable matter). There will still be some VM in the finished yarn, and I am totally ok with that. It's easily picked out as you work with the yarn, and IMO is a nice reminder of where it came from.
Into the carder it goes:
and out comes ROVING:
We filled several drums with serpentine roving, for about 2 hours. Going back and forth between weighing out the washed fiber, laying it out on the belt and picking out any bits, and occasionally squishing down the roving in those drums so they didn't overflow; changing the drums out as neccesary. There were also calculations (by Dawn) involved here that I totally understood at the time...
After carding, there were more calculations and the roving was fed through the draw frame, where carded roving is combed, stretched, straightened, blended into a single "sliver." This may be done multiple times, as needed.
After the draw frame, it was on to the spinner. Dawn's knowledge of how different fibers/breeds behave, and how one particular fiber might behave on any given day, really comes into play here. She knows how thin/how tight/how loose it can be spun without causing problems, and to achieve a beautiful and workable end result.
After spinning, the bobbins full of single stranded yarn can move on to another machine to by plied (plyed? ply-ed?):
And after THAT, the finished yarn rests, is steamed, then finally skeined... before it comes to me to be dyed.
Whew. Are you tired yet? I'd toured the mill before and knew a lot of work and expertise went into artisan-milled yarn, but let me tell you, it is even more than I thought. I have a whole new respect for the process, and dyeing and working with this yarn will mean even more to me than before. I can't wait to share it with you!