Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fiber 101

Instead of staying home and working, I took a field trip today to visit The Fiber Factory near Alfred, NY, where Jen, an artist friend of mine, works and where sheep and alpaca wool is processed. At one point in my checkered career, I was a spinner, even hand carding a fleece (although that was the first and last one I ever did), and then knitting my yarn into sweaters and hats. Although I now work mostly in cottons and silks, all things fiber still interest me, and the afternoon at the mill became even more interesting when I realized that cotton probably follows a similar process to end up as fabric or the thread that I sew with everyday.

Our tour began where the dirty fleeces begin--in the washing machine. One does not want to investigate too closely what exactly is in the fleece.

Then on to the drying rack--still maintaining a bit of the home turf.  

  The dried fleece goes through a cleaner/fluffer-upper machine

and the now cleaner, fluffier fleece is placed on a belt that moves it into the carding machine. I know how much wrist-wrenching labor this machine saves and my chest and back muscles can easily start aching thinking about it.  This was a very touchy, feely afternoon, by the way, since you couldn't help wanting to sink your fingers in this stuff and try out all the changes in texture that take place.
All those drums, and teeth and gears and belts produce roving

that is doubled or tripled in the next machine to make a bulkier roving.
And now, to really put the handspinners to shame, comes a machine that takes not one roving but four at a time and turns them into yarn.
The one-ply thread can be twisted with others to form two or three-ply on the above machine and put on cones. The yarn on the cones was wound around the arms of this machine
to make skeins that were washed a final time and hung up to dry. This is undyed alpaca, their specialty, since they own an alpaca farm.
Jen has been doing some beautiful work with felting and showed us one more machine--the needle felter. Remember that large carding machine? It can be set to produce not long, narrow roving, but flat batts. Here Jen is feeding three layers of thin batts--that were dyed in the wool--under  the many needles of the machine.
and here's the finished product. It felt like a very soft blanket at this point and Jen will run it through several more times to join the fibers more tightly. Later--perhaps this is already obvious to many of you, but sometimes it takes me a while to find the light switch--I realized that a similar machine must produce the cotton batting that I use that is labelled as needlepunched.

Quite the day! And I got home in time to do about an hour's worth of stitching. And if you are still  with me, thanks for the company.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow...what an experience. Facinating process....I'm so glad they didn't wait for me to invent it...LOL