In 2001 we purchased a mini-mill. What’s a mini-mill ? It is a small scale version of a commercial processing mill specifically designed for small quantity, custom fiber processing. The mill is located in a building on our farm. The roof of the building is oriented due south and sloped at an angle of about 41 degrees, which is our approximate geographic latitude. This allowed for optimal placement of the 84 solar panels that help power the mill – due south is for maximum sun exposure and the 41 degree angle optimizes the angle at which the sun encounters the panels enabling the most efficient production of power. Two power usage meters are in use with regard to the panels
— one keeps track of power produced, the other of power consumed in the mill. So we are easily able to monitor our production of solar power as well as our use. The panels, at full production, produce 10K of power. In 2010 we added an 11K Gaia Wind Turbine. The turbine has its own set of usage meters that provide an accurate record of wind power production. The addition of the wind power has allowed us to increase productivity in the mill while still using only alternative energy sources for that power.
We process all of our Complete Farm Products™ in the mill. The sheep are sheared in the spring, the goats spring and fall. This harvest of fiber is then washed, opened,carded, pin drafted, spun, plyed, and skeined right here. Our mill produces a semi-worsted form of yarn.
- Washing – the skirted fleece is weighed and placed in the fiber washer. Good old fashioned soap and very hot water are the only things used in washing. The soap we use is a product called ECCO Scour and is produced by the Eastern Chemical Company in Rhode Island. The water is heated in electric hot water heaters powered by our solar and wind. The washed fiber is then set out to dry on old aluminum framed window screens re-purposed as drying racks.
- Opening – Once the fiber is dry, it is opened( meaning the locks separated) using one of two machines — for mohair we use a “picker”, for fine wool we use a fiber separator. The picker simply opens the locks of fiber so the result is a fluffy cloud of mohair. The picker is a bit too rough in handling fine wool. The fiber separator gently teases the crimpy wool locks apart and at the same time will remove vegetable matter from the fleece.
- Carding – The opened fiber then heads to the card. The card is a large machine with many rollers or drums. Each drum is covered with a distinct and special wire cloth that in some respects is similar to the wire studded cloth on a dog or cat grooming brush. The fiber is passed through the card from roller to roller and in the process is essentially combed into a form called roving or sliver. Roving is a continuous, loosely held together, ribbon of fibers. This roving can be used by hand spinners or can be further processed in the mill. The card is also equipped to produce batts of fiber for hand-spinning or felting.
- Pin Drafting – Roving is processed through the pin drafter prior to spinning. This machine drafts the roving and at the same time parallels the fibers along the length of the roving. This is one step in the process that produces the semi-worsted yarn.
- Spinning – Now the pin drafted roving is ready for the spinner. Custom spinning is accomplished by further drafting of the roving and setting the twist of the single ply yarn. If the end product is a single ply yarn, the next step would be skeining or cone winding. If a plyed yarn is desired, then it’s onto the plyed.
- Plying – The single ply yarn is twisted in the reverse direction to make a plyed yarn. Plys can be 2,3,4,5 or greater depending on the contemplated use of the yarn.
- Skeining – The finished yarn is either custom skeined into specific weight and yardage units, then hand tied in 3 or 4 places for washing and dying. The final yarn product should be washed to help “set the twist” of the yarn and to also remove any spinning/processing oils used.
The vast majority of what is processed in our mill is our own fiber. Occasionally we will accept fiber from other producers. Please refer to our processing order form and costs sheets for more details. See our products pages in the On-Line Shop for detailed product descriptions and availability.