For the past 6 months or so Jennifer has volunteered at a local fiber mill helping to process fiber of all sorts. It's a very basic, but interesting process and with all the cool fiber folks around, it's a grand time. Here's a look into the Wooly Knob Fiber Mill in Laotto, Indiana.
Folks from all around North America ship or drop off fiber at the mill to be processed. Most are sheep and goat fleeces but angora rabbit is not uncommon nor is companion animal's fur or plant fiber such as cotton. The fiber usually arrives in a sealed plastic trash bag, which is checked in and given a card to document who the fleece belongs to, what type of animal it came from, weight, etc. All fiber is to be skirted, or cleaned of vegetative matter, animal poop, insects, etc. prior to arrival, but if it is not Wooly Knob workers will skirt the fleece for an additional charge.
Step 1 - SKIRTING
The skirting table is basic plastic snow fencing stretched across a wood frame to allow the discarded material (vegetative matter, etc) to drop through or be pushed through or thrown under the table where it will later be cleaned up and discarded. Pictured below is alpaca fiber.
A view of the skirting table with Matt's (one of the owners) fiber sculpture.
A close up of the alpaca; it's so different from wool! From what I've gathered alpaca is usually processed with wool so the fiber will hold together. Alpaca almost reminds me of human hair.
My pal Julie and local fiber artisan extraordinaire skirting a wool fleece.
The fiber that's been picked through is put into a bag, weighed with weight noted on the documentation card and moved on to Washing.
Step 2 - WASHING
Fiber is split up into about 1 lb sections and put into netted laundry bags, three per sink as shown below.
Hot, hot water is released into the sink with washing soda and detergent to clean the grease and other dirt off the fiber. The bags of fiber go through successive washings and spins in the washer to remove the water until the water is clean and the bags float. This may take anywhere from 3 - 7 or more washings.
While the fiber is floating in the hot water the bags are gently agitated with a paint roller to get the water and soap to move through. Here is Jamie (the other owner) working on a batch.
Step 3 - DRYING
After the fiber is washed and clean, it's time for drying. Large racks made of more snow fencing and wood frames are located in the middle of the front room of the mill. The fiber is laid on these racks until dry.
Step 4 - CARDING
The point of skirting, washing & drying is to get the fiber ready for the carding stage where it is made usuable for spinning, felting, etc. This can be done by hand carders or with a carding machine. At the mill, Jamie runs a carding machine day after day to get everyone's orders turned into the roving or batts they want to make their handcrafted fiber projects. The carding machine consists of a belt on the backside where fiber to be carded is laid.
A series of drums pick up the fiber, spins them around, arranges the fibers in the same direction and spits it out the other side where Jamie is ready and waiting. Look at that jovial guy!
This order called for roving and you can see it coming out in a nice long line that will be wound into a ball by Jamie. Batts are also possible on the carding machine and look the same as roving, but are much wider. Think fabric batts. At this point the fiber can be spun, felted, etc.
If you ever need fiber processed, you know who to go to. The folks at Wooly Knob are the best!