Yolo Wool Mill

I’ve saved our best adventure from my weekend in CA for last: a visit to and tour of the Yolo Wool Mill.

Yolo Wool Mill Office

It was a really interesting visit.  The Mill processes wool for consumers at every stage: it’s situated on a farm that raises sheep, goats, llamas, and alpacas (although not many of the last two) …

Fiber animals

… and has equipment for skirting, washing, drying, picking, carding, forming batting out of, spinning, and plying wool.  You can buy yarn they’ve made from from the farm’s animals’ fiber, or bring your own fleeces to be processed through as many steps as you don’t want to do yourself.

Best of all, for an interested traveller, is that they were willing last Monday to drop everything for an hour to give us a tour (although the sign’s a little faded).

Mill Tour

 

Welcome

We saw the skirting table, the industrial sized washers, the picking cage – which is probably not the right name for it, but that’s what it looked like – and then the super cool machines.  They had three different carders, which weigh out a certain amount of wool before rolling it over increasingly fine brushes until it’s smooth and clean.

Carding Machine

Here, you’re looking at the scale (on the far left) that drops open when the specified weight is reached – and the bristle-covered rollers on the right, through which the wool proceeds before being extruded, nicely smooth, at the far end.

Card

There are two other carders, in the second barn, one of which is set up to make batting – in other words, there’s a flat, smooth roller at the end that squishes the combed wool into a flat sheet, appropriate for inserting into quilts.  Here’s the second card, which was built in the 1920s …

Card

… and the end piece that creates batting.

Batting Roller

Sadly, the third carding machine (that would feed onto the batting roller from the opposite direction of #2 – on the right side of the above photo) cracked the concrete floor when it was delivered, and unless the mill finds a way to move such a huge machine, it’s just acting as a gigantic paper weight.  It’s a shame, although I can’t remember the particular reason they wanted that card.  Maybe it had something to do with the set up – having two facing each other?

Even if it can’t be used, it’s got some cool looking gears.

gears

Back in the first  barn, we saw some machines for processing roving – one that stretched it out into thin coils, and another that processed the coils into “top roving,” which has only long, well-aligned fibers left in it.

French Comb

We particularly liked the huge coils of roving snaking into the comb.

French Comb

After the wool is washed, carded, and combed, it’s time for … spinning, of course!

Here’s the main machine that’s used for spinning; they use it exclusively for single plies (spun clockwise).

Spinning Machine

If you want your yarn plied, then after it comes off this first spinning machine in single ply, it moves back into the second barn to the ring spinning machine, which they usually keep set up for plying (counter-clockwise).

Ring Spinner

Ring Spinner

 

The end is open, showing exactly how to change the setup from spinning to plying and back again; as it shows on the little yellow sign, you just change which three gears each belt encloses, and voila – it’s switched direction.

counter-clockwise

 

Some pretty single ply behind the ring spinner, in place and waiting to be plied together….

Single Ply

 

After you have your yarn spun up – either single or multiple ply – the last step is to wind it into skeins for convenient dying, storage, and sale, which is the only machine that I got a shot of in action.

Skeining

 

And of course the last step for the mill visitor is to stop by the tiny mill store and pick out a skein or two to bring home and knit into cozy mittens, which we each did – although somehow I’ve made it to the library this afternoon without a photo of my yarn.  I picked up a very pretty taupe and cream, alpaca/sheep 2-ply, which I’m triply excited to knit with, having seen where and how it came together.

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16 thoughts on “Yolo Wool Mill

  1. I really enjoyed the painted store front! How appropriate and inviting. I find the machines amazing and wonder how such a complex looking thing keeps working and can handle such fine wool without getting permanently clogged up. Fascinating!

  2. This looks like a pretty neat place! I’m glad you got to tour and thanks for all the pictures and your explanations. I don’t know a thing about wool processing, but somehow all those old machines and especially the green paint on all of them and the many gears & sprockets reminds me of my grandfather, who was a clockmaker (Geppetto style.)

    • Wow, a clockmaker. Was that his profession, or a side hobby? Did you get to watch him work? It sounds fascinating.

      I can see how this would be similar/reminiscent for you; the whole place seemed to bring back a more hands-on, self reliant time. (Their machines are all so old that they have to make parts or jerry rig fixes for old ones when they need repairs.)

      • It was his profession and he just retired a couple years ago at age 93! (clockmaking has..um..petered out as a income creating profession, as people usually just use digital & disposable clocks now.) He now spends many hours a day doing yard/vineyard/orchard chores, although I think he’s taken to napping in the afternoons now as well. In addition to the property work, and the naps, he’s building a new clock at home as a hobby, designing it himself. I’ve seen his schematics, but he’s still drafting the plan, hasn’t started the actual building of the clock yet.

        I love how almost all old machines are that green color. That wool carder looks like it belongs in my grandfather’s workshop.

        • Wow, now I’m really impressed. It’s too bad that clockmaking is probably dying out – or at least becoming a very rare profession. And I don’t really know, but it seems like it’s probably too complicated, and requires too many specialized skill to be picked up by hobbyists or enthusiasts. I’m glad your grandfather is still getting to exercise his craft for himself!

    • You’re so much better at cataloging your stash than I am! (Since you have it all down concretely, you could keep a little running tally of how many miles of yarn you’ve knit…) The best I’ve done is keep one ball band from each yarn I’ve knit with.

      Anyway – yes – a great visit! I’m so glad you suggested it.

      • FYI, I linked to this post on the Yolo Wool Mill facebook page, and they said this:

        “Great post! Thank you for visiting! One correction, we only have two cards, not three. The unused portion is part of the card we use to make batting. They’re the same machine which has been split in two pieces.”

  3. Schlberger is now large oil exploration service co. Started in town near Mulhouse fr that I had project visits . These are great machines
    Are there lots of sheep ranches in the area?

    • Interesting! Yes, Dixon, the next town over to the west of Davis, is a big sheep-farming area. They have a lamb fest every year. To my understanding, it includes some kind of sheep rodeo where little kids actually ride them? I’m going to try to convince Julianne to visit for it this fall so we can check it out :)

      • Thanks for answering the sheep question – I was just going to have to guess.

        If the sheep rodeo is Mutton Bustin’ then you definitely have to go see it. We saw it once as the halftime show at a real rodeo in Austin and it was hilarious and slightly horrifying: little kids clinging to sheep that are trying to buck them off…. (I’d totally be up for seeing it again!)

    • Hmm. I know Schlumberger the oil company, since they used to recruit heavily at UT, but I didn’t connect them to wool-processing equipment. I wonder if they still make machines, or are they just into oil now?

      • Ok the family had wealthy cotton weaving origins. I am pretty sure they still have a mfg facility in the town north of Mulhouse. Can’t recall the name. Son studied physics and invented electric oil well logger . I was a bit off

  4. Pingback: Carding | puddle-wonderful life

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