Archives for category: Milling

Amirisu released their fourth issue last week, which highlights Brooklyn Tweed as the magazine’s featured brand. We had a lot of fun working with Amirisu, contributing both design and written content throughout the issue. If you aren’t familiar with this online publication, it is the passion project of a Tokyo-based knitting/editing duo whose shared goal is furthering the online knitting culture in Japan. The magazine’s content is presented in both Japanese and English.

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Last Fall, editor Meri Tanaka interviewed me about US-yarn production and my history as a designer. Within the article I talk a bit about how I got my start developing  and manufacturing yarns, as well as my start as a knitter. See pages 50-57 for the full article (excerpts shown below).

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I also contributed a short written piece for the magazine entitled “Elizabeth For Beginners”. Though Elizabeth Zimmermann is a national icon to us American knitters, Amirisu informed me that her work is not well-known in Japan and requested I contribute a piece that would act as a sort of gateway to EZ’s work. Within the article I give a very brief version of Elizabeth’s story and suggest some of her most beloved patterns for folks who are just discovering her work (pages 68-71).

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Last but not least – patterns and yarn! Brooklyn Tweed’s own Michele Wang and Leila Raabe contributed designs to the collection using BT yarns. Michele’s Tsubasa Top is a fun, spring-ready pullover worked in Shelter (color Blanket Fort) with arrowhead lace panels and dolman-style cap sleeves. Leila’s Preble Hat is worked in Shelter (color Snowbound) and features a woven texture pattern and twisted-stitch cable insertion. Both patterns can be downloaded directly from Amirisu (pattern info is also available on Ravelry).

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Tsubasa by Michele Wang | Preble by Leila Raabe.

A big thank you to the editors of Amirisu for featuring our work throughout the issue!

– Jared

Just before the big crazy storm weather started, I spent the week in Harrisville at the spinning mill. The village is stunningly beautiful in all seasons, but nestling into the heart of New England in late October is particularly special. When in need of color inspiration, there aren’t too many things that can beat the myriad shades of fiery foliage that abound in this part of the country.

When in Harrisville, my shutter finger really starts twitching – so I thought I’d share some photographs from my trip with you this morning.

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Our yarn has come a long way from its original state as scoured wool. The construction is now complete and only a few finishing touches remain. The yarn must now be removed from the bobbins in 50-gram (140 yard) increments to create individual skeins. The skeining machine (which unfortunately eluded my camera) is set for a certain number of rotations (pre-measured based on that specific yarn’s yards-per-gram ratio) which wind off consistent, exact amounts for each skein.

The 50-gram skeins are placed in a plastic lined box and sent along for a final wash. In order to remove residual spinning grease as well as ‘block’ the finished  yarn (e.g. brainwash the wool to its new identity), it is important that each skein is washed before it leaves the mill. Equipment-wise, the washing method is no different than running a load at your own home.  All finished yarns are gently washed in (packed-to-the-gills) regular-sized domestic washing machines. The difference between a washed and an unwashed skein of milled wool can be rather astounding. In the case of woolen yarns it seems to transform the weight significantly as the fibers relax and fully bloom.

After a trip through the washing machine, the skeins are hung evenly along a wall of drying racks. Here they they will sway in front of a brigade of rotating fans which speed drying-time remarkably (I use this same trick at home when wet-blocking garments).

The drying wall is enough to make most of us yarn-folk woozy with delight. All that lofty wool swaying gently in the breeze… to say nothing of the sweet, sweet wool fumes wafting through the air.

When the wool is completely dry, it is hand-twisted into hank form and whisked off towards the labeling station.

Lucy (The Saint) labels each and every skein by hand, making sure each one is properly placed and affixed with an adhesive tag that designates a specific skein’s color name and lot number.

When the yarn looks like this, it is ready for its entrance into the Wide World. Each labeled skein is bagged (10 skeins together, organized by color), loaded into freight boxes, and finally shipped to our warehouse in Portland, Maine. The warehouse is one of our team’s nerve-centers: from here we fulfill online orders and ship larger amounts to Flagship stores. Each yarn’s story beyond this point is different, and we hope they bring tactile pleasures to knitting hands wherever they end up.

I hope you’ve enjoyed getting a taste of what happens behind the scenes to create and spin Shelter.  As I mentioned in my first post, such a magical process deserves to be shared. This experience may even inspire you to seek out a mill and witness this magic in person. In my own experience with mills in both America and Europe, owners and employees are generally very proud of their work and love to share that joy, either through tours or a general eagerness to discuss yarn making. My wish is that we begin to see more US production being done in support of our own mills, before they’re gone. Thanks for joining me!

Yesterday we ended with a fresh batch of singles loaded up onto bobbins.  Because Shelter is a 2-ply yarn, the next step obviously involves plying, but before that can happen these babies get a trip to the Wool Sauna.

A proper steaming of the yarn in its current form is necessary before plying begins. Steaming saturates the fibers with moisture, causing them to relax and accept their new identity as twisted plies. Before steaming, the (newly given) tension in each ply is fighting to unravel.  Much in the same way a good blocking makes everyone’s knitting look better *cough*, the same principle applies here.  Wool always behaves better after a bit of moisture sets it straight.

The bobbins are placed in a metal rolling cart that is covered with small holes.  These holes are necessary to allow steam to pass through the cart and effectively reach all the bobbins inside.  Above you can see one of these “sauna” carts full of finished yarn.  While the ‘Fossil’ yarn shown here is a few steps ahead of us at our current stage of the tour, I wanted to give you a good shot of the carts used for steaming.

After the wool’s trip through the sauna, the bobbins are ready to be loaded onto the twisting frame (more simply referred to as “the twister” at the mill) and plied into a final 2-ply yarn. The twister functions much in the same way as the spinning frame in that a flyer adds twist (in the opposite direction this time, to balance the direction of twist added by the spinning frame), moving the singles off of their current bobbins, plying them, and winding them onto new ones.

Pictured above on the left are all the bobbins with single plies being shuttled up and over the ‘tunnel’ and back down onto the twister (right).  While this machine is running, it requires at least one worker to constantly monitor all the bobbins concurrently, passing up and down the tunnel between bobbin racks and twister. This is a nerve-wracking job that takes precision and timing when loading on empty bobbins or fixing an occasional break in a given ply. This part of the mill is Sarah’s domain, and watching her work is fascinating. The thought of keeping that many things under control while the machinery is running makes my blood pressure rise. The mill workers are a really talented and wonderful bunch of people! (A funny side note: the metal structures running overhead and shuttling the plies to the twister are adjusted based on the height of the worker running the machine.)

When the bobbins on this frame are filled, the yarn has completed the milling process and moves onto the finishing stages — it is now very close to the form you’ll see on your doorstep, or in a yarn shop, but a few more things need to happen to get it ready for the spotlight.  It is with these finishing stages that we will conclude our tour tomorrow morning!

*The title of this post is a pun on New Hampshire’s state motto “Live Free or Die”, which I read and appreciate every time I cross the border on my way to the mill.

We left off yesterday with a rack full of fine strands of roping. Because these ropings currently lack twist, they appear thicker than they will be in the finished yarn. Adding twist to fiber is the key to making yarn — it traps necessary energy and tension into the yarn, increasing strength and (in most cases) elasticity. The amount of twist you add when making single plies of yarn is very important and can take the hand and behavior of the yarn in different directions. Any amount of twist though, be it a lot or a little, is essential for creating knitable yarn.

At this point, the ropings pictured above are loaded on to the spinning frame where they will be twisted and wound onto bobbins. Some of my favorite objects at the mill are the antique wooden spinning bobbins that have been in use for over six decades. They are beautiful objects in their own right. On this trip I was lucky enough to snag one of them as a souvenir, which now resides on the desk in my studio with my small collection of inspirational objects.

The spinning frame is also responsible for drafting the fiber, which happens just before twisting occurs.  When roping is drafted, it is pulled slightly to open up and lengthen the fiber structure before the single plies are “committed” through twist. The amount of drafting can be increased or decreased at this stage and is also a player in the finished behavior of the yarn.

After the fibers are drafted, a flyer spins and concurrently winds them onto a bobbin. On this machine, the fiber starts on racks high above the machine and works its way down towards the floor, where fully loaded bobbins are collected and shuttled off to the next work station.

A fresh batch of bobbins is a thing of beauty. When all the bobbins are collected into a rolling cart, they are ready to move onto the steamer, which is where we will begin tomorrow. Until then though, a beautiful batch of grey wool!

 

I started yesterday by telling you about one of the two aspects that affects Shelter’s milling process: fleece dying and color blending.  The second quality that significantly affects the process is its preparation as a woolen-spun yarn. Woolen-spun yarns, unlike their smoother worsted-spun cousins, are prepared using a process called carding.

We left off in our last post with a mish mash of loud-colored wool going into the Picker. Once the Picker has done its work, the wool gets loaded onto the Carder: a giant machine with several rolling cylinders covered in metal teeth. The purpose of this machine is to open up the fiber, blend the wool together evenly, and prepare it into individual plies of roping which will be later spun into yarn. You’ll notice right away that the carder has already whipped our bright wool confetti into shape, producing an even, golden heather.

Unlike combing, which occurs during worsted-spinning, carding allows large amounts of air to be trapped within a cloud of slightly jumbled fibers. These tumbleweed-like layers of wool allow for a loftiness and springiness that will translate into the behavior of the finished yarn. The carded fiber emerges as a ‘web’ halfway through its carding process; the wool at this stage looks incredibly beautiful and delicate, like a gentle veil of color floating through space.

If the fiber was being prepared for handspinning, it could be taken off the machines at this stage in batting form. Below is a box of freshly carded grey fiber that wasn’t spun beyond this point. If you could reach your hand in here, you’d be amazed at how soft and fluffy this stuff feels. You might want to set up camp inside of this box.

As the fiber approaches the end of the carding machine, a large cylinder called the doffer is used to relay the bat into the final section of the machine, where it is split into several individual ropings (the term “roping” is specifically used to describe this stage in woolen spinning mills, versus the more commonly known term “roving” which is used in a worsted spinning processes.) These fine strands of roping will make up a single ply in every spun yarn, but as yet have no twist in them. If you’ve ever knit with an unspun icelandic yarn before, the plies at this point have a similar appearance.

The unspun roping strands mark the conclusion of the carding process. When a batch of roping cakes are ready, they are removed from the Carder and stored on racks (shown here) where they await the next step of the process: the spinning frame. It is there they will get their first taste of true twist.

Tomorrow, we’ll make some plies.

Shelter has two unique qualities that dictate the way in which it is made.  The first of these qualities concerns the way heathered color blends are achieved through a combination of dyeing and blending wool. This will be the subject of today’s first installment of our mill tour.

Shelter is a true dyed-in-the-wool yarn and undergoes a process known as Fleece Dying. If you take a close look at a heathered yarn, paying careful attention to the individual fibers in any given length of it, you’ll notice that  the overall color (a golden yellow, in the case of ‘Hayloft’ above) is actually a combination of blended fibers of many different colors.  When you look closely at heathered yarns, you’ll often be surprised at just how many colors you may see in one yarn, and often unexpected ones too. Some of our color recipes are comprised of up to 6 solids at a time.

Unlike dunk-dyed solid yarns that are spun first into white yarn and dyed afterwards, these wools are dyed as large batches of scoured fleece before any spinning occurs. To achieve the final heathered color, various amounts of solid-dyed fleece are blended together to create the finished hue.  This process is just like mixing paint colors to achieve a desired tone or shade when painting. And just like with painting, you can use a small number of base colors to achieve an infinite variety of finished colors. Each colorway, then, has a ‘recipe’ of solids which are blended in specified amounts to create the final result. Developing these blends allows for unbelievable nuance and was personally my favorite part of the whole development process.  Palette development is a topic for another series of posts entirely, which I hope to share more about in the future.

While our current palette has 17 heathered colors, we begin with a base of 10 solids from which all blends are created. One of the major benefits of composing a palette in this manner is that it guarantees a certain cohesiveness across the entire range. If all colors, no matter how different in appearance, are rooted in the same solids, they all resonate together in varying degrees of color harmony. I’m still amazed at how easily these colors seem to meld together in even the most bizarre combinations as a result of this process.

Dyed-in-the-wool yarns bring their own set of challenges as well. They involve more advance planning and projection (“Which colors use which solids? How much of each solid are needed to ensure all recipes can be made again? Will certain colors have higher demand than others? If so, how will that effect our dyed amounts?”), and are more expensive to make because of the larger initial dye quantities that are required. In my mind though, the end-result in fleece-dyed yarns far outweighs these particular challenges. The level of sophistication and nuance that this kind of dyeing allows is really something special.

The photo above shows a detail of a giant cube of solid dyed fleece in a rich midnight blue. One of the most surprising aspects of the solids to me was how insanely bright they are before blending (for your eyes’ sake, I’ve chosen to show one of the lower intensity solids here). When you blend colors together, whether with paint or wool, increasing color diversity within a blend will begin to ‘muddy up’ your final shade. If you begin with weak colors, muddiness takes over much faster. In order to keep a rich, saturated feeling of color in the finished blend, it is important to start with colors that are bright and strong. No matter how hard they are to look at during this stage, their loudness is essential.

To begin the spinning process of a given color, all solid-colored fleeces that are involved in that color’s recipe must be gathered together in their corresponding percentages and put through the first stage of milling, called picking.

It looks like a mess now, but these brightly colored lumps of wool are at the beginning of an amazing transformation process. The Picker will begin the mixing process as well as apply spinning oils to the wool that will allow the carding and spinning machines to process it more efficiently.

Tomorrow we say goodbye to this fluorescent wool confetti and hello to beautiful blended gold when the process of carding begins.

I’m writing this morning fresh from a magical weekend at the mill. While we’re just starting to feel teasing hints of spring in NYC, the past few days were such a wonderful reminder of the reasons I love Winter.  Journeying to Harrisville, which has recently been blanketed with several layers of snow, was like being transported to an ethereal winter fantasy land. I didn’t think the place could get any more beautiful… but then again, they continue to surprise me up there.

The trip coincided with the long-awaited conclusion of a large production run of Shelter. So the best news of the week is that, after some rather turbulent months of being in a supply and demand tail-chase, our warehouse stock is now fully loaded!  If you’ve had trouble in the past weeks getting your hands on a specific color, they’ve finally all arrived, so have at it!

Being at the spinning mill is always a bit intoxicating. An overabundance of wool is always dizzying, but in a tweedy riot of colors, it really borders on sensory overload!

Having allowed myself some extra time for photography on this visit, I finally got the chance to do something I’ve been scheming since the very beginning: an official photo essay of the yarn-making process, from dyed wool to finished yarn.

In celebration of our freshly completed production run, I’ve decided to do a special multi-part blog series this week on what happens behind the scenes at the mill.  Seeing yarn being made is such a magical and educational experience. It’s a process I think needs to be shared, as best as possible, and since we can’t all meet there for a walk through the mill together, I’m hoping to bring you the next best thing. This week I’ll take you on a virtual tour-in-photographs of the rich processes that go on every day in a bona fide American woolen mill.

So buckle up, the ride begins tomorrow morning.

 

From the very beginning I was firmly committed to Shelter being a true woolen-spun 2-ply yarn.  I’ve always been a sucker for Woolen-Spun — I find them classic, comfortable, and beautiful.  The texture, which to some degree always stays true to the look and feel of the animal’s natural appearance, gets me every time.

Before Shelter could be a reality (or even a possibility), I knew that finding the right mill was absolutely crucial.  The first unfortunate obstacle in the process made itself blatantly apparent right away: the number of remaining US mills equipped to spin Woolen are severely limited today — few exist as the last bastions of a bygone era in US textile production.

An aside: you’ll hear me throwing the term Woolen around a lot as I talk about Shelter.  This term isn’t meant to signify “something made of wool”, but rather refer to the process by which a yarn is prepared and spun.  Yarns (generally) fall into two categories – Worsted Spun (a term which, confusingly, has nothing to do with a yarn’s weight) or Woolen Spun.

As a very quick summary, Worsted Spun preparation involves combing fibers of even length so that they face the same direction and are generally well-behaved — imagine uniform spaghetti noodles laying side-by-side.  When these fibers are spun they produce yarns that are smooth, durable, and often lustrous as a result of their compressed nature (involving less captured air).  These yarns tend to be heavier per-yard due to this compression and are known especially for durability and definition

By comparison, Woolen Spun preparation involves carding (rather than combing), which creates a jumbled configuration of fibers — imagine tumbleweeds in place of your spaghetti. When the fiber is spun, the resulting yarn holds an amazing amount of air within its unkempt tangles.  As a result, Woolen spun yarns have a more rustic, “sheepier” appearance (woolly halo, anyone?) with a softer hand and lighter weight. [If you're interested in learning more about wool breeds and yarn preparation, I highly recommend "The Knitters Book of Wool" by fiber guru Clara Parkes]

The equipment needed for creating both of these types of yarn is quite different, and Worsted Spun processes tend to be more widely used for commercial yarns in both the handknitting and machine knitting/fashion industries.  Us sheep-lovers though, we have a very special place in our hearts for The Woolen.

Enter Harrisville.

Harrisville is an historic mill town located in the Monadnock Highlands of New Hampshire. Woolen yarns have been produced here since 1794 – a fact alone that is simply powerful! When I made my first visit in early Fall of 2009, I remember driving through the woods to the village and being astounded by the beautiful jewel that I encountered.  Harrisville is an historic preservation site and the only early-19th-Century industrial community that still survives in its original form in the US.  That means gorgeous brick buildings, a quaint and friendly General Store, a placid stream running through town, and a beautiful mill at the heart of it all.

Many of you I’m sure are already familiar, as I was, with Harrisville Designs’ own line of high quality knitting and weaving yarns.  Before I even got out of my car on the day of our first meeting, I was crossing my fingers that they would be open to the idea of custom spinning yarn for a complete stranger. The setting and the energy of the place felt so right from the very first moment.

A few hours later, that feeling was confirmed as I concluded the first of many meetings soon to come with the hard working and passionate folks at the mill.  They were up for the challenge and from that moment forward Shelter became a collaboration in the truest sense.  Not only have I learned so much from working with them this year, but have also been helped and guided at many points along the way when I needed advice from experienced yarn makers.

Harrisville is and has always been known for quality. I am so proud that they have been such an integral part in this process and that we, as knitters, have yet another way of supporting their efforts in producing woolen products that we can continue to enjoy.

*Some photos in this post were provided courtesy of my friend Carrie Hoge, who accompanied me on one of my first trips to the mill.

It’s the first day of my favorite month of the year. A day I’ve been thinking about for a long time — not just because October signals the true onset of Fall, but because on this day, this year, I get to share with you a very special labor of love that I’ve been nursing behind the scenes since last October.

A little over a year ago, I decided to take a risk. To give myself a challenge and a goal and pursue something that I had been thinking and dreaming of for a very long time. It’s no surprise to anyone that I’m a Wool Lover through-and-through, and today I get to introduce to you a very special new wool — one that has been meticulously and lovingly developed behind the scenes here just for Knitters.

I would like you to meet SHELTER — a new line of artisanal American wool yarn for handknitting.

As the summer ended last year, I began researching answers to very specific questions I had been asking myself for some time: With such a rich textile history and an abundance of wool and other resources, why does it sometimes seem so difficult to obtain American yarns in our booming US knitting community? Would it be possible to develop a 100% American sourced, spun, and designed yarn that could be presented in a compelling way to knitters? What would a yarn look like that was developed from Stage One by a single person with no one to answer to but his own personal wool obsession?

The desire to answer these questions sparked the beginning of a year-long journey – one that begins a new chapter today, as SHELTER takes its first steps into the real world.

Over the next few days I’ll be blogging about what has been a gloriously rewarding experience for me designing this special yarn: sourcing American-grown wools, supporting an historic US mill, developing a palette of rich heathered tweeds, and designing a collection with a yarn that I absolutely love knitting with. I hope you’ll stick around for the story — but in the meantime, I’ll let you in on the highlights below.

SHELTER is a woolen-spun 2-ply yarn made from American Targhee-Columbia fleece, grown in Wyoming. The yarn is spun in historic Harrisville, New Hampshire in the heart of New England, in a mill town that has been producing woolen yarns and fabrics since 1794. I have developed a palette of 17 shades including both rich, autumnal colors as well as natural sheep-colors (you didn’t think I’d forget the greys, did you?) The yarn is a very lightly-spun lofty material that, as a result of it’s woolen-spun process, knits at a variety of gauges comfortably without losing fabric integrity.

Starting today, SHELTER is available for purchase online through (the new and improved) Brooklyn Tweed, as well as in 9 very special Flagship Locations around the country. These exclusive stores carry all 17 colors of SHELTER as well as pattern support from the new Fall collection. They are shops whose efforts I’ve admired for a long time as having vision for the possibilities of knitting’s exciting future. I am honored to have SHELTER on their shelves!

Globally speaking, I think that knitters should be able to procure wools of high-quality that support designers, farmers and mills in our own back yard. I think there is now becoming an opportunity for yarns to tell us a story, and offer us a connection to something deeper than just the experience we’re having on our needles.

Consider this my contribution to that cause. I very much hope that you enjoy it.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all of you, for showing up here year after year. This effort simply would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the encouragement and continued support I receive from readers, customers and students. For this I am always grateful — thank you. (and stay tuned!)