Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A New and Healthy Respect

It's no secret that I love yarn. Most of my yarn comes from my awesome LYS, and I always like to buy souvenir yarn when I visit new places. Not being a spinner, I have never given a lot of thought to how yarn is made.

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to go on a 'field trip' with the Central Kansas Knitters Guild to Phillipsburg, KS, to visit Shepherds Mill, a small fiber processing plant in north/west central Kansas, w-a-y up on the Nebraska border. Many people consider this part of the rural US as 'fly-over' country, but there are wonderful people and special surprises in the towns that sporadically dot the landscape. Shepherds Mill is one of those places, and Sally, the owner, is one of those people. A busload of giddy knitters arrived on a Saturday during harvest season, and even with two newly-adopted preschoolers at home, she still opened the mill to accommodate us. Yay, Sally!

What did I learn? I have a new appreciation for spinners and mills! A lot of hard and dirty work goes into making pretty yarn. It was really fascinating to see the process of turning fiber into yarn.

The fiber arrives from small farms all over the country - lots of it, mostly alpaca. Sally and her employees make sure that the fiber each farmer sends is bagged and tagged and eventually spun to their specification and returned to them.

The fiber gets washed and dried and the fibers get pulled apart. Some anti static gets sprayed on it. 

The machine that pulls the fibers apart ejects the output
into this 'closet'.  Anti-static is sprayed here.

It gets 'shaken down' to get as many of the impurities out as possible. 

This shows black fiber floating into the
white box from the shaker machine.
At this point, the fibers are really fine.
It was literally like a black cloud floating down!

Eventually the fiber becomes roving.

Yes, it felt as soft as it looks!
Finally, the roving is spun into the yarn that the fiber owner requested. Sally threaded this machine lickety-split and played around with tension to get just the right result. This makes threading a sewing machine look like child's play.

This is definitely an abridged version of how the fiber is processed. 

From the spools, the yarn is measured and wound into hanks and shipped back to the farmers. It must be really rewarding to these folks to stitch and weave with fiber from their own flocks. 

My appreciation of fiber processing in no way makes me want to own alpacas or sheep, shear my animals, and have yarn personally spun! Instead, I have a much better understanding of all the work that goes into a skein of great yarn and why yarn can be so pricey.  

As with most mills, there is a mill store...

She added another armload of GREEN
yarn (her trademark color), before it was all over!
 This is where we do damage to our wallets, but of course there were great deals on mill ends! 

Big smiles for big armloads of yarn!

If you are ever driving through Kansas on I-70, Phillipsburg is about an hour north of Hays. ....and from Phillipsburg, it's only another 3 hours to the Brown Sheep Mill in Mitchell, NE.... that's one I will work into another trip someday!

Happy stitching!


Penny said...

Great Recap of our wonderful weekend. Thank you for taking the time to express what I am sure we all feel.

Wool Winder said...

Thanks for the tour. It was very interesting to see the process. Was there any yarn left at the mill store when you all were finished? :)

Miss Julep said...

Wow! What a fun, interesting trip and the icing on the cake, the MILL STORE!

Thanks for sharing the interesting details & photos as there is nothing like that around here.

Chelle (Dana) said...

Oh man, it looks like you all had a blast!!! I wish I still lived in Kansas and could have gone with you all. Love the pics of Jan and Sondra with their new stash!! Tell everyone I said Hi!!!