The Mill Process

Unfortunately to process yarn it is not as simple as feeding the raw fleece into a machine one end and have it spit out the finished yarn at the other.

There are a number of different machines involved, each doing a specialised operation to insure a quality product at the end.

  1. Washing & Drying.

  2. The first thing that happens is the fleece is washed gently for a minimum of 3 hours before being dried. Washing only removes the loose dirt but not the vegetable matter. The twisted suri locks and matted huacaya tips also encase the dirt making it very hard to get it totally clean. On average, I wash out 10 -15% of the initial weight.

  3. Picking.

  4. The fibre is fed through the picker to break up the staples and loosen any dirt or vegetable matter that is entangled in the fleece. From the picker, the fibre is sprayed with conditioning oils to assist with the rest of the process.

  5. Dehairer.

  6. This is definitely the slowest and most time consuming of all the processes but one of the most important machines. The fleece is fed into the dehairer and it separates the course and short fibres and vegetable matter from the rest of the fleece. It stands to reason the coarser a fleece is, or if a fleece has a low comfort factor, or it contains fibre that could have been removed by hand skirting, the more that will be lost in this processing cycle. Unfortunately the dehairer canít remove all the vegetable matter, I believe it only removes approx 80%. Heavily contaminated fleeces will have small pieces of vegetable matter left in the finished yarn. Also, the finer the micron the harder it is to remove vegetable matter, particularly with cria fleeces . This process takes the longest time but it is worth the wait when you feel the fibre coming out the end of the dehairer, it is well, simply heavenly!

  7. Carding.

  8. This is the most important process. Here the randomly placed dehaired fibres are aligned and transformed into a continuous web. This web is consolidated into a roving that is then further processed into yarn or it can be packaged as a bump for hand spinners. The web can also be turned into batts, which can be used for felting or quilt making.

  9. Drawframe.

  10. The rovings from the carder are fed a number of times through the draw frame. At each pass the fibres are drawn out further making a finer, more consistent and uniform roving ready for the spinner.

  11. Spinner.

  12. Transforms the rovings into a high quality spun yarn. Here the thickness and twist of the yarn (strands) can be fully adjusted to suit individual requirements. Here I need to find the balance between softness and durability of the yarn. Less twist and the yarn feels beautiful and soft, but doesnít wear well. Too much twist, very durable but feels harsh. If the micron or SD is high, the yarn can also feel harsh, no matter how little twist I use. I also need to have a higher twist on short yarns just to hold them together. Our climate is also a major factor in processing fleece, with both the fleece and machinery impacted by weather conditions Ė too hot, too humid, too cold, and too dry or even too windy There are no auto settings and each run needs to be adjusted to suit the fleece and conditions. The fact that no two fleeces are the same can make the process of spinning up fleeces quite a challenging proposition. Spinning the yarn is also one of the more time consuming processes, with the finer the yarn required, the longer it takes to spin which also flows on to increase the time with all the remaining processes.

  13. Plying.

  14. The individual strands are plyed back on themselves producing a well balanced yarn.Again the twist is fully adjustable, the yarn has to have enough twist to hold the strands together and not too much that it isnít balanced, ie it doesnít twist back on itself when it is held loosely.

  15. Cone winding and Steaming.

  16. The yarn is wound onto a cone and any knots or breaks are spliced together ensuring a continuous yarn for the end user. The yarn is then steamed to set the twist.

  17. Skeins/ball winding

  18. Finally the yarn is wound into skeins or balls depending on individual requirements.