Contact us if you would like to visit our mill. We enjoy showing off our mill and farm to visitors. If you can't visit in person to the mill, here is a brief tour of how the mill operates.
Fingerlakes Woolen Mill may not be the largest mill in the country but the manner
in which we make yarn and the equipment we use are no different than those used
in the largest mill you might know. We make yarn using the woolen system (as
opposed to worsted) and whether we are using wool from sheep, hair from angora
rabbits, silk, or synthetics, the process is nearly the same. I'll walk you
through the various steps and show you some pictures along the way.
For our yarns we purchase U.S. grease wool mostly from local
sources. Angora comes both from domestic and outside sources and silk comes to
us from China. We use a high grade of wool, meaning it is very fine, very
smooth, and has a very soft touch. If the shepherd and shearer have done their
job they have removed belly and leg wool, manure tags, and portions of the fleece
that may have excessive amounts of vegetable matter (usually the neck). The
wool normally comes to us in burlap bags weighing 150 to 200 pounds each.
Fibers to be processed can not contain all the natural oils
and greases produced by the animal. Sheep can produce a lot of grease and
fine-fibered breeds such as Merino and Rambouillet (the French type of Merino)
have more than others. Most of this has to be removed and the process is called
scouring. In our operation this washing is done either by us for small custom
work jobs and natural colored wool or, in the case of our own yarns, by an
outside firm that does commercial scouring. The wool goes through five vats of
hot water and detergent that progressively remove most water soluble oils and a
lot of other "junk." It is dried in an oven and then compressed in a
600 pound bale to be returned to the mill.
Angora, silks and synthetics need not be scoured because they have virtually
no oil on the fibers.
Once the wool is scoured it can be sent to a dye house that will
bale-dye the fibers to predetermined solid colors.
Picking and blending
From this point on all work is done in the mill. With
any one type of yarn we may be working with upwards of three colors of wool or
perhaps several different types of fibers. Two things must happen at this
point. The fibers must be opened, meaning that we must begin to separate the
fibers that hold together in little clumps and, two, we must blend the
different colors or different fibers evenly. In our operation this is a
continuous, although a two-stage process. Fibers and colors are layered in the
picker feedbox which then feeds them to the picker and from the picker the
fibers are blown into a large room for collection. Depending on the fibers
being spun, sometimes the different fibers must be picked first by themselves,
then blended with wool. Blending takes place in the feedbox, in the picker and
in the blow room as the fibers are homogenized by the blowing air. This process
may be repeated several times if necessary. Several things happen as the result
of picking - fibers are opened, fibers are blended and the picking loosens dirt
and vegetable matter in the wool which results in cleaner fibers (and yarn).
During the picking process a water soluble oil is sprayed on the fibers.
This gives the fibers a certain slipperiness that facilitates the remainder of
the yarn-making process and helps reduce static electricity during carding.
The picker pictured above is a three-foot-in-diameter cylinder with hundreds
of spikes that work against three smaller cylinders that also have hundreds of
spikes all doing their job of opening the fibers.
This is the most involved process in yarn making. The rule in
the mill is that if you card correctly you can spin. If not, then you have
The carder is actually a series of machines, linked together in-line, that
turn the picked fibers into pencil roving. Several things happen along the way.
The fibers are further opened, dirt and short fibers fall off the carder, the
fibers are further blended, and the fibers are roughly oriented in a parallel
fashion with the machinery. Additionally, the amount of fibers entering the
carder is strictly controlled and the distribution of the fibers is evenly placed
across the width of the card, thus ensuring an even, uniform yarn.
first piece of equipment is the feedbox. This machine allows us to place a
large quantity of fibers in a feed hopper and through the use of a feed apron,
weigh pan and feed table, to feed a predetermined amount of fiber into the card
line. It is at this end of the process that we determine the weight and yardage
of the pencil roving at the other end of the machine, and to a great extent,
the yardage of the spun yarn.
The picture on the right shows a weighted load of wool being dropped on the
feed table for delivery to the breast.
The next part of the carder is the breast. It is a large cylinder, 60"
wide, with sets of smaller cylinders positioned above it. All of these
cylinders are wrapped with metallic wire which has the appearance of the teeth
of a hand saw. This is very tough material and is designed to handle the work
of further opening the fibers.
Next we have the first of the major units of the card, the first breaker
unit. It is comprised of one large cylinder with six to seven sets of smaller
cylinders around it's circumference. These smaller cylinders are called workers
(about ten inches in diameter) and strippers ( about three inches in diameter).
All of these cylinders are covered with card cloth which holds lots of wire.
Carding takes place as the main cylinder passes fibers to the worker, which
passes it to the stripper, which returns it to the main cylinder. This is done
over and over as the fibers gradually move forward on the card.
are several transition points on the card as we work to get the fiber from the
first breaker to the second or finishing card. To get the fiber off the main
cylinder we use a fancy (card cloth with long wire) to lift fiber off the
surface of the main cylinder which allows the fiber to be transferred to the
doffer cylinder. The fiber is removed from the doffer by the use of a card comb
which allows the fiber to then go on to the peralta.
peralta is a set of 1-ton steel rollers. The carded wool passes between the
rollers, which results in vegetable matter being crushed but does not harm the
fiber. The fiber is then removed via a center draw frame and overhead to another
feed table that delivers it to the second or finishing unit.
fiber comes over the top on the overhead it descends to a device that lays it
on a table having first turned it's orientation by 90 degrees. This has the
effect of feeding the fiber into the second breaker sideways. This is very
important. By doing this we are able to further ensure that the amount of fiber
across the 60" card is even in terms of weight and blend. Imagine this -
suppose that on the first breaker we have red on one side and white on the
other. If we were to run this straight through till the end we would have some
red pencil roving and white pencil roving. The 90 degree turn causes the carder
to feed across the grain, so we have the same amount of color across the width.
If there was a weight difference, this too would be corrected.
From here the fibers enter the finishing card and the finishing doffer. Note
the best carding takes place here as the fibers are well separated and blended
and, typically, this is where you have your finest and sharpest card wire.
The last piece of equipment is the tape condenser. This machine takes the
60" wide web of carded fiber as it is
combed off the doffer and makes
pencil roving. It is a three-step process. First the web is divided, in our
case, into 120 strips. This is done using leather tapes that trap the fiber of
the entering web and strip it into pieces that now adhere to the leather.
the leather tapes deliver the strip of fiber to four sets of rubber-coated
aprons - 30 individual strips to each set. As the fiber goes between the apron
sets the aprons do two things - they deliver the fiber to the other side and,
most importantly, they rub the wool sideways, back and forth, causing the strip
of wool to be rolled and - condensed, which results in added strength. Finally,
the fiber, now called pencil roving, is wound on spools. It is now in a form
that can be spun.
We do our spinning on a spinning frame. The pictures will tell
you a lot about the frame but I will describe the mechanical process of how the
frame works with the spools of pencil roving to turn it into yarn.
speaking, the spinning frame replicates everything a handspinner does while at
a spinning wheel. Every basic step or consideration of a handspinner has been
thought out by an engineer and can be controlled - delivery of wool, drafting,
amount of twist and in what direction, and placement on a bobbin, even a
certain amount of cleaning. However, the frame will do this all day, consistently,
and normally without complaint. We have in effect, 90 very efficient spinning
The spool of pencil roving sits on a drive drum. As the spool turns, 15 ends
from each spool (this is what we now call the pencil roving) come to one side
of the frame and the balance to the other. The route the ends take is this -
compression point, twister head, compression point and finally, the bobbin.
Here is what happens. Drafting takes place between the two compression points.
Through the use of gears we can cause the frame to stretch out or draft the
pencil roving by causing the drive rolls at the two compression points to
rotate at different speeds. Thus pencil roving carded at 180 grains can be
drafted to produce a single strand of yarn that weighs 140 grains, for example
(weights are based on 50 yards). By carding heavy and drafting at a high
percent you increase mill efficiency.
Between the first compression point and the top of the twister head we are
able to facilitate two things. First, a "false twist" is imparted
into the pencil roving to give it additional strength and second, through the
process of making the false twist the pencil roving is vibrated causing loose
vegetable matter to fall off.
made at the second compression point. To make this happen we have the yarn
attached to a bobbin which is on a spindle. These items are rotating at a high
speed and impart twist into the pencil roving. The twist begins at the bobbin
and travels up to the compression point but can not go further. As more roving
descends past the compression point the twist constantly goes into the
descending roving which becomes yarn. To see how this works, take some pencil
roving or fibers, pinch one end and twist the other. You can see how the twist
travels towards the pinched end and if you can let additional fibers slip
through the pinch point, you will continue to add twist to new fibers but not
overtwist the first.
By changing gears and/or chains we can control draft, direction of twist,
amount of twist and other aspects of the spinning frame.
Twisting - as it is known in a mill, or plying for handspinners.
Straightforward twisting is just that, straightforward. The process is very
similar to spinning but you work with single spun yarn, not pencil roving. You
again use a machine that delivers the singles to a compression point which
limits the twist and from that point on the plied yarn, be it two, three or
more strands, is carried to a bobbin. As with spinning, during twisting we can
control for the direction of twist (almost always the opposite of the direction
of spin, known as "S" or "Z" spins) and the amount of
twist. It is possible to do fancy twists while plying, but for this you need a
Steaming or conditioning
This step is very straightforward. Moisture, normally steam, is
forced into a cabinet containing yarn still on the bobbins. Heat and moisture
have the effect of relaxing the yarn in it's present spun condition so when you
remove it from the bobbin it does not want to "un-spin" itself but
rather drapes naturally. Conditioning can also be accomplished by washing
Skeining is the process of removing yarn from bobbins and creating a
loop of yarn, a skein. This is done on a skein winder.
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