I had this post mostly done but, due to the wifi conditions on the island, I lost the draft so will start again!
I had arranged to meet Jane, the person who runs the wool mill, at the mill first thing in the morning. She is a lovely person and showed me all around, running each piece of equipment a little so I could see how it all worked together to produce the roving, yarn and batts from the beautiful North Ronaldsay Sheep wool.
Some of the equipment was familiar to me and will be to those of you who have visited other mills. But there were some differences, too. I really appreciated Jane taking me through it as I know how busy it is at a wool mill! Here is a brief “tour”.
The equipment in this mill came from Canada and Jane spent a couple weeks there learning how to use the equipment before it all arrived on the island (which must have been quite an operation as everything that big comes in by ferry and has to be lifted off at the pier – no roll off facility).
It starts with washing. No agitation, of course, but the wool is moved through the wash and rinse cycles.
There is a very nice little drying “closet” and Jane said it usually only takes overnight for it to dry.
Next, a picker and then a de-hairer. I had not seen one of these before so we had a bit of a chat about that. The wool moves through it and the heavier hair falls out below with the finer wool shooting through. Jane uses the hair discard though as there is still wool attached and she spins it up as a coarser product.
The carder is next. Jane has a very specific system for this. 60 gms of fiber are laid out in a marked off section of the belt. When this comes out the other side as roving, it goes into each barrel in 60 meter lengths. She also has the capability, with an attachment of making “bumps” at this point instead of roving. Also batts can be produced here.
Two strands of roving go through the “draft frame” which stretches (or drafts) the roving a bit. At this stage, Jane is also able to blend two colors of roving together.
From there, spinning (Aran weight or 2-ply weight), then plying, a steam finish to set the twist and onto the skeiner to produce “hanks”.
With the batts Jane makes, she can make felt using a wet felting apparatus. A visiting artist created a piece of decorative felt using it.
A lot of equipment to show you but it was very interesting to see some of what I had seen before but also some new things in a very different place! The mill is next to the lighthouse, the tallest land-based one in the UK.
And, of course, no post is complete here without a few sheep walking by! More about them in the next post.