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.