Crafters, knitters and fiber artists in general can put down their shears and go straight to their spinning wheels.
In March, the Skirted Fleece Mill, located on 657 Calkins Road in Milanville, owned by Adam and Liz Thumann opened their doors to those who had fiber to process.
Why a fiber mill?
Being a life-long fiber artist, Liz was all too familiar with the wait to get fleece processed.
"A lot of times, you're looking at an eight to 10 month wait," for a larger mill to process the fiber.
With many local crafters sending fiber to as far off as Michigan for processing, "we saw the need for a fiber mill" to be located in this area. Adam added that they couple "has found their niche."
The farm also combines their love of animals and each other.
"We've been open about a month now," Liz said.
The mini mill is located on the 40 acre Skirted Fleece Farm, which they bought in 2010. The rolling green hills are peppered with with small herds of fiber animals.
The first animals to join the farm were Tibetan yaks.
"We currently have nine yaks," she said, including a calf just a few weeks old. "She came almost a month late," she chuckled.
The hair of the yak "is just as soft as cashmere," she said. It is also a very warm, strong fiber and is collected by brushing instead of shearing.
"The demand for yak is high," Adam said.
There is also a herd of eight California Variegated Mutants (CVM) sheep purchased from California. "They are one of the most endangered American breeds," she said. Also on the farm are three lovely Angora rabbits.
The fiber gathered from their herd is processed on site by the couple and turned into either fiber for hand spinning or yarn for hand knitting.
Page 2 of 3 - Once the couple decided to make their dream a reality, Adam attended training at Prince Edward Island.
"I had done 4-H as a kid, and was pretty familiar with sheep," he said, so jumping into processing wasn't such a stretch.
The first step in the process is to actually collect the fiber from the animal, which is done by brushing or shearing. "Once we get the fleece, we have to remove all of the vegetable matter from it," Adam said. Vegetable matter is anything from dirt to hay that must be removed before being processed further.
Once the large particles are removed, the fleece is then washed to remove further unwanted items from the fleece. "We use a biodegradable, natural soap," during this process, Liz said.
Once the fiber is washed and cleaned, it is ready to be placed into the picker. "This is a belt-fed picker," Adam said.
The fiber is placed on the belt which runs the product through two brushes. By picking the fiber, it opens up the locks of fiber and blows the now cloud-like product into a holding room. "It de-clumps the fiber and results in a more even fiber content."
For duel haired animals, like the yak, the yarn must be run through a de-hairing machine. "It removes the outer hair," and leaves behind the soft core, he said.
The fiber then makes its way to the machine carder. This machine performs a series of combing steps using a series of "drums covered with card cloth" that comb the fiber.
For the hand spinners, this may be where they choose to end the process.
"What's nice about our mill is we can stop whenever the customer wants," Adam said. The fiber is now in webbed strips and are collected on bats.
If the fiber is processed is furthered, it is "drawn out" by taking several strips of fiber and twisting them together to form a unified strand. "It makes for a more even fiber," he said.
The fiber is then placed on a mechanical spinner to transform the material into yarn. "The speed of the bobbin and the weight" determine the final thickness of the yarn. Once the yarn is spun, it is steamed "to set the twist" and is "winded into skeins."
Page 3 of 3 - Looking ahead
Even with the challenges of running a farm and a mill, "we don't regret our decision at all," they said. "It's nice to be able to go to work right at your house," Liz said.
She also hopes to be known for the mill's colorful, hand painted selection of sock yarns. "I love doing fun color schemes," she said. All of the prismatic colors are dyed using Greener Shades, a pigment that includes no heavy metals.
The mill features a selection of finished yarn and fiber at the Skirted Fleece Mill store in a variety of colors. The shop also offers unique notation bags and drop spindles.
The shop is open Fridays from noon to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The mill will also be hosting tours for those interested in learning more about the process.
For more information about the mill, visit www.skirtedfleecemill.com or like them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/skirtedfleecemill. You can also call the mill directly ay 570-729-8162 or email email@example.com.