Reading this week:
- Slaves for Peanuts by Jori Lewis
- The Brutish Museums by Dan Hicks
- Blockade and Jungle, edited by Christen P. Christensen from the Letters, Diaries, etc. of Nis Kock
For Thanksgiving week my super amazing girlfriend brought me back up north to her family’s ancestral home. We had a lovely time, I assume for the whole week, because it is actually Thanksgiving when I am writing this but will be the deep dark depths of winter by the time you read this (for the record it has snowed twice here already so maybe the Deep Dark Depths are already upon us). Anyways what I am driving at here is that to get out of town and to feed, irresponsibly for not, my super amazing girlfriend’s yarn passion/obsession we went to Green Mountain Spinnery!
It is a lovely place. It was started a long long time ago (the ’80s) by a group of knitters who were in a book club and the book that week was Small is Beautiful. Inspired to get into small business they started a small spinnery in a gas station. The small factor here is important because what they mostly specialize in is spinning the output of relatively small flocks of sheep (or other fiber-producing animals). Bigger spinneries have much larger minimums so the boutique flocks can’t get their yarn spun. I am gleaning all this information from the tour they took us on. Turns out you can just show up and ask for a tour and the extremely nice lady behind the counter will take you on one along with the other nice patron who happened to have also travelled up from the same town as you which is also where the aforementioned counter lady got married. New England is a small world, apparently.
Anywho it is a very interesting process involving a lot of old machines. When Green Mountain was setting up shop a lot of other shops were taking down shop and so the founding knitters travelled to and fro across the land buying the requisite machines. The process started in a rather large sink where the lanolin on the wool is removed via a good long soak in a mild soap. Then comes the tricky part, which is rinsing and drying the wool without turning it into a large lump of felt. That is the specialty of the above machine, which rinses and presses it firmly but gently before it is moved into the oldest machine in the shop (not pictured), a washing machine from 1898 which spins it right round baby right round. Then it goes into a regular ole’ dryer.
After being dried it then goes into a picking machine which opens and blends the fibers (so the website tells me, I missed that bit during the tour) and also moistens them nicely. The wool can go through this process a few times and this, I am to understand, is where you can figure out the colors so they’re all nice and stuff. The spinnery apparently goes through a cycle where they start with natural colors and gradually move to darker or bolder colors over the course of a few months. The day we were there it was clearly a bit early in the cycle as you can see from the pictures. How long it takes to go through the cycle depends partially on how often the machines break down. They are old and worked hard and there are also little bits of wool flying everywhere so I can imagine the works get gummed up regularly. When we were there two guys were working on fixing this neat-o conveyer belt that goes between the two carding machines and as you can see above there is an in-house mini machine shops decorated with extremely twee hand feed lever covers.
But like I mentioned the carding machines. These things were impressive. I imagined at one point making a tiny little one because even the tiny little ones can cost like several hundred dollars, but seeing this on an industrial scale, even if that industrial scale is relatively small, is extremely impressive. All the chains and belts and stuff! It comes out of this carding machine in a sheer layer of wool. That neat-o conveyer belt I mentioned gathers it up and spins it 90 degrees and then feeds it into another carding machine. This apparently makes the fibers extra strong and cross-linked and stuff which is cool.
The output of that second carding machine are these “pencils,” which are approximately pencil-width bundles of yarn. These get put on giant bobbins and then finally these bobbins are put on the actual spinning machine. The spinning machine takes these relatively fragile pencils and spins two or three of them together to finally produce the yarn. It is just a little bit more steaming from there before the yarn is finally split into skeins and then either distributed back to the people who sent them the wool (70% of their business) or else sold directly by Green Mountain (the other 30%).
My super amazing girlfriend threatened at one point to do this whole process in our spare bathtub, and I am disappointed that she hasn’t carried through with this threat both because I think it would be extremely neat and also because I would be excited to brag about our in-apartment sheep to shawl process to all the yuppie friends I would make specifically to brag about my super amazing girlfriend, not that I need an excuse. But if my bathroom fantasies can’t come true seeing it in person all the way up in Vermont is a very nice (if distant) second-best plan. My super amazing girlfriend of course bought a few (four) skeins of yarn from the shop they had there and we had a lovely time touring the place. I highly recommend a visit if you are in town even if you don’t like yarn. I forgot to mention the place smells like sheep. That isn’t really apropos of anything besides the artisanal authenticity of the spinnery. They are nice people who think a lot about their craft and hopefully if my super amazing girlfriend ever lets me raise a flock of sheep in our apartment I can use their services. Until then I will simply have to admire the shawl she’ll knit from the yarn.