Custom Fiber Processing
Many are unaware of the complexity and specialization that can be given to fleeces in processing. With the invention of mini-mill type equipment many opportunities have been created all over the world to provide artisans and farmers options for converting their fiber into value added products that are useful in the handcraft market. In 2010 we started networking with other mills around the country to spur each other on to better service and products, hosting a regular summit and daily interaction on social media platforms. We are now connected with over 175 mills from around the world. If you’ve not taken a tour of one of these mini-mill operations you’re in for a real treat!
Our mill provides the following services: tumbling, washing (scouring), picking, dehairing, carding, drafting, spinning, plying, felting, and core spinning. Our use of modern small batch equipment from Belfast Mini Mills LTD allows us to effectively process a variety of different kinds of fleeces. This follows along with our desire to specialize in breeds of animals that have a variety of colors or patterns. Much of this is lost when lumped together and handled with large older technology machines. We offer runs as small as 6 pounds. Also here is a video of what to do with your raw fiber.
During the fiber washing process, we remove dirt, grease and suint from the fleece. This does not eliminate the need for proper skirting and sorting – all foreign matter, manure tags, and matted fleece need to be removed from the fleece prior to shipping to the mill. Fleeces that arrive not properly skirted or sorted will be sent back to the customer at their expense. The use of the tumbler will remove dust and some foreign matter but this does not replace the work of a vicious skirting. Here is a video about how to do Scouring and Skirting.
Opening (Picking & Fiber Separating)
After fiber is clean it is ready for opening. At this stage the dense clumps of fiber are individualized to optimize the carding of the fleece into uniform product. If fiber has varying staple lengths they will not card well even if they are completely individualized and it will dramatically impact the uniformity of the end product. Our mill will often employ the use of our precarding machines to make sure that fine fleeces are handled as gently as possible. This step is necessary for fleeces that are finer than 23 microns. We also use these same machines to “dehair” alpaca primary fibers from the fleece, separate tog from the thel of Icelandic fleeces, as well as other dual coated fleeces like pygora, cashmere, yak, bison, and qiviut. Dehairing will require a minimum of 3 passes to a maximum of 5 passes. We offer precarding pricing and dehairing pricing based on washed weight.
Carding aligns individual fibers into sliver in preparation for spinning, into batts in preparation for felting, or into webbing that can be wrapped around a core yarn. Feed rates and speeds at the carder are determined based on the end product desired, micron, staple length and tensile strength. The carder has a fixed number of carding points and therefore can only properly manage a select number of individual fibers at one time. Tender fleeces require a much lower feed rate and speed in order to not damage the fleece. A priority is placed on carding a uniform product while experiencing a minimal lose of fiber. The carder is the best place to blend colors or fiber types together to ensure that the finished product will have an equal amount content in each unit. There are almost an unlimited amount of ways fibers can be blended together in an artisan mill but we prefer to do it at the carding stage. Our pricing structure is based on this feed rate with an additional charges for blending, as it directly translates to production in the mill.
Core yarn products are carded fiber wrapped around a core yarn. They are created at the carder and can be used to crochet, knit or weave. Uniform staple lengths in this process are not as important in this process as it is more woolen constructed. A wide variety of colors and fiber types can be blended together to make very unique products. We offer three types of core that can be used to wrap fiber around: recycled polyester, thin cotton mop yarn and thick cotton mop yarn. Depending on your intended use we will have the right core to meet your needs. While seconds can be used to create this product, fibers that are shorter than 2 inches are just as likely to fall out in carding as they are to stay in, creating high losses in processing and inflating your processing cost per finished unit.
The drawframe process is used to further aligning the sliver while reducing it’s density before being spun into yarn. This is a great place to join different colored sliver together if the staple lengths are similar to create beautifully variegated yarns. Our drafting system works best with fibers that are 3 to 5 inches.
The 8 spindle spin frame can handle fibers up to 6 inches long easily. Longer fibers can be slip drafted but this is not always possible. This process will further reduce the density of the sliver to the weight of yarn that is desired and then add the appropriate amount of twist. Nothing can be done at this stage to improve the uniformity of the sliver. So if the sliver contains sections of shorter fibers and other sections of longer fibers the resulting yarn will be thick and thin. The degree of the variance in the staple lengths will match the variance in the end yarn. However, much care must be given so that the set up of the draft zone does not cause the fiber to draft unevenly – always having to defer to the longest staple lengths in the sliver. We spin all of our yarns using the yards per pound system. It’s important to understand that 1600 yard per pound sock weight yarn takes twice as long to make as 800 yard per pound bulky weight yarn, resulting in higher pricing for these finer yarns.
The 4 spindle plyer’s primary function is to join multiple strands to form a stronger balanced yarn. Morning Star Fiber yarn is plied back with a 30 degree angle in the ply. Some yarns when they are fulled and relax from being under machine tension will increase this angle to 40 degrees or greater. The 4 spindle plyer can also be used to spin singles for lopi styled yarns.
Yarns at MSF are finished off in measured skeins based on a quarter of the yardage it was tested for at the spinner (or left on 3 pound cones – cones are an additional $.70/cone). For example, a 1200 yard per pound sport weight yarn will be skeined at 300 yards and will weigh approximately 4 ounces. While skeins might not weigh exactly 4 ounces they will always be approximately the same weight from skein to skein in a run. When they are not its more a reflection of the variance in the raw fiber used than the processing through the mill.
Wet felting utilizes batting to form a non-woven fabric. We make standard 12 and 16 ounce felt sheets. These sheets are a little firmer than prefelt consistency. This allows for the widest application of the felt to the end user. We cannot make hard felt for insoles. Our felt is entangled in a wet felting process that does not come apart easily allowing the end user to cut out projects and finish felt them to their desired firmness.