I’ve saved our best adventure from my weekend in CA for last: a visit to and tour of the Yolo Wool Mill.
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) …
… 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).
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.
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.
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 …
… and the end piece that creates batting.
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.
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.
We particularly liked the huge coils of roving snaking into the 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).
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).
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.
Some pretty single ply behind the ring spinner, in place and waiting to be plied together….
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.
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.