Farmers send animal fibers to the mill in burlap, plastic, and cotton sacks, or in large cardboard boxes. The mill also purchases fiber pre-scoured, and dyed, in compressed bales.
After the fiber has been dried, color mixing and "de-clumping" is done by hand feeding the fiber into a picker. The same fiber mix may be processed several times this way. When the mixing and de-clumping is finished, armloads of the mixture are carefully added to the carding machine. This tricky job starts a series of very fine tuned movements. The picture below shows the fiber entering the carder, and what it looks like at the halfway point. The smooth "batting" will be further divided into over 90 sections of "pencil roving". The weight and thickness of each must be exact, and differs for each yarn made. See the video below.
The carder is almost 100 years old. It is such a complex machine that, even after 30 years of working with it, the owners continue to rely on experts with more, and longer experience. Here is a video we made of the carder in action, as well as a glimpse of the spinning machine.
Large spools of pencil roving lean against a wall waiting their turn on the spinning machine. Meanwhile, the spinning machine takes many delicate ribbons of fiber and twists them into a fine yarn, called a "single". These will be plied back on themselves on a plying machine, and wound into measured skeins, or onto cones.
After our lovely tour, Mika agreed to teach Doran how to knit. We bought a beautiful, deep teal yarn; a cotton and wool mix. There is just something special about getting yarn at the mill. Meeting the people who made it, and knowing where it all came from, was a wonderful treat. The needles passed from front seat to back, to front again, as the lessons continued on the drive home. Sort of like knitting and purling. : )