Remember when you were a kid and there would be a field trip, and you would know in your heart that there are only two ways for a field trip to go. Either it is a rare taste of brilliant educational freedom and the fantastic day that you get to sit in the very back of the bus. get partnered with the boy you’re intending to marry, and hold a dinosaur bone…. OR it pours on the day that you’re going to the outdoor eco-centre and you forget to bring your boots so your feet are wet the whole time (even though it said to wear boots on the form) and your partner for the project is that kid Simon who’s always called you four-eyes and made fun of how short you are, and then you open up your lunch (your wet lunch) and you discover that your mum made a cheese sandwich even though you have explained a thousand times that cheese is gross and sweaty by lunch time on warm days and then you get picked to sit behind the teacher on the bus the whole way home and she makes you take bus attendance even though you’re already a short four-eyes with wet feet and no lunch. I’m sure you all remember. Well last week Rachel H, Denny and I had a great field trip. Better even than the museum one where they let you chisel a fake fossil out of a fake archeological dig, or the apple orchard trip where you pick a bag of apples to bring home and you get a caramel apple, and better even than the one to the sugar bush where you see how they make maple syrup, and you stand in the cold air with the big cauldrons of sap billowing steam and you get to pour the syrup on the snow to make maple candy – and that my friends, is an absolutely top notch field trip.
We went here:
Wellington Fibres, to pick up our fleeces from the Royal Winter Fair Fleece Auction. See, when the three of us went to the auction last year, we all agreed on the way there that we simply were not going to bring home more fleece. We totally promised each other, and we were really, really good until we saw that Donna and Lorne were there, and then we sort of snapped, because we took one look at them and saw the word LOOPHOLE just about tattooed on their foreheads. See, they’re fibre processors, and own a wee mill in Elora, Ontario (not far from here) and we realized that if we bought fleece at the auction, and then immediately turned them over to them for processing, that technically, we weren’t bringing home fleece from the auction, and with that we snapped entirely and may have bought coughSIXcough fleeces.
Yeah, six. Wanna make something of it? There’s three of us – and they were prize-winning fleeces and if you don’t support your local breeders then soon you won’t have local breeders and we’re committed to making them successful and they’re counting on us. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)
In any case, we bought the fleeces, handed them to Donna and Lorne and went off to eat that baked apple thing, secure in the knowledge that we were not bringing home more fleeces. That bird didn’t come home to roost until just know, when Wellington Fibres called us to tell us that our processing was finished, and they could mail them or we could come get them, and you should have seen Rachel H and Denny’s faces light up at the mention of a field trip. (Obviously, Simon the killjoy was never one of their partners and they didn’t know how far wrong these things can go.) I went along because I like them to be happy, because I had the car, and because it seemed like it would at least be a little interesting, and because it’s hard to go wrong when I’m hanging out with those two. Turns out? Best field trip ever, and I’m not just saying that because Denny brought good car snacks and because there was fibre, fibre tools and more there at their little store when we arrived.
I’m saying that because when we got up there, Lorne gave us the full tour- showing us exactly what happened to our fleeces.
Step one: Washing the fleeces.
This was really interesting, partly because I had no idea that they were running such a green operation up there. All the water (and a mill takes a lot) for the process is heated by solar panels on the roof, and the soap they use is a gentle, biodegradable grapeseed and citrus extract. It takes a few more washes, but takes way less energy and does far less damage, both to the watertable and to the fleece.
They even use solar power for their dye process. Hot water runs through the walls of the dyepot to keep the fibre and it’s water hot. Even on cloudy days that demand the addition of propane, Lorne is only ever heating the water a maximum of 10 or 20 degrees. (c)
Then the fleeces are dried, which takes only a few hours, because they use an extractor to remove all but 10% of the water. (I hope that’s right.) Behind the drying racks you can see the picker, which opens up the fibres for the carder. The fibre enters the picker, is teased open, and then is shot into the room behind the picker. The idea of opening up a door to a fluff filled closet amused us for hours.
After it’s picked open, the fibre is weighed and goes though the carder in carefully measured amounts,
and rough roving comes out the other side.
The fibre then passes through a pindrafter, which is the last step in production if you’re going to spin the fibre yourself. (Which we are.) This machine combines several of those roving strips from the carder, and combs, combines and attenuates the fibres. The result is beautifully prepared fibre that’s lovely, open, and has nary a knot or nepp in sight. Lovely stuff, and you can see that watching it come off of the machine was gripping.
If your fibre is going to be spun there (or their doing their own fibre) then the next step is the spinning frame, which looks incredibly complex, but is really very, very simple once you get Lorne to explain it. The part that blew my mind is that the roving is fed between two rollers, one moving slowly and the other quickly. “How odd” I thought, until Lorne said “and how fast one goes that the other determines how much the fibre is drafted out” and a bell rang in my head and I realized that this was just the machine version of a spinner drafting the fibre while she spins. One hand moves away (faster) than the other. Once the fibre is drafted, the twist is added by that there spinning bobbin, and it winds on… just like a wheel, only really big and fast.
From there, the last step is plying, and dudes, I can hardly talk about this machine. You’re going to have to go see it. The thing is massive, and that alone is incredible because it’s really just a sawed off chunk of a way larger machine from forever ago. Does anyone other than me remember owning a sewing machine with “cams” where you inserted this disk, a cam, and that cam was read by the machine like a template for how it should sew? That’s how this thing works, except Lorne tells it how to ply the yarn by putting in huge cast iron gears in the right combinations. He’s gotta have 60 of them, all in different sizes, and each yarn demands a specific “recipe” of gears to make it happen. Really awesomely neat.
If you look carefully at the end of the machine left of the “A” and above the “l” you can see where it was hacked off of the far larger version. Tour over, we paid the nice people for our beautiful fibre, admired the flock of Angora goats. (Angora goats make mohair. Go figure.)
and loaded up the car with our bounty.
That my friends, is how a mill works, and how Lorne and Donna turn your stinky fleeces into beautiful roving.
Best field trip ever, and I’m not just saying that because there was no beer on school trips.