Putting It Together: Mill Tour Part 5 of 5
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!