V ä v a! V e v e! weaving cloth one thread at a time

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Local Sourcing and Fibershed.com

We are finally seeing some sunshine here in Minnesota, after more than a week of dull gray, low ceiling clouds.  People have been getting pretty crabby without the sunshine, so today is a special day for everyone!! 
 It is like being reborn!  It is joy in a sunbeam!!  Today people will be in such a good mood!  Perhaps springtime has finally reached us.  (it snowed this past week!)  

Such unpredictable and unusual weather!  This is why I am working with Fibershed.com and involved in getting our textile industry back to our country.  We need to change some basic ideas in order to shift our current impact on climate change!  I am currently working with Rebecca Burgess, the founding member and Executive Director of http://www.fibershed.com, and Dustin Kahn, also of Fibershed, and second in command, to develop the fiber community in the United States.  Besides having a good and huge impact on the greenness of the textile industry, my motivation is to eventually establish the first linen fiber mill in the United States since the Civil War!  I don't know that 'local' linen will be any less expensive in terms of $$ but I do know it will cost the earth a lot less in terms of fuel used for shipping, not to mention the horrible working conditions forced on people in 3rd World countries.  We have a lot of work ahead of us before we can approach my linen mill dream however.

Currently we are researching and working on the Hemp project, establishing it's uses, setting up farmers willing to grow it, finding out what equipment is needed for harvesting, and processing hemp into fiber, and learning about the characteristics of hemp blended with other fibers.  It will help reduce the carbon footprint of such a massive industry.  And by connecting farmers to local processing mills to small local textile mills to the end users, we are creating a small economic hub with a very small carbon footprint.  Also by encouraging farmers to grow organically, and by encouraging the mills to process with little waste, again we are reducing our carbon footprint.  By doing this, we will help reduce the carbon footprint of a very massive industry.  It is an incredible opportunity to work with people so concerned about our earth and to actually be making a difference!

I recently gathered a group of accomplished fiber artists to tour a newly established northern Minnesota woolen mill located in Fosston, MN to find out about the various machinery used in processing wool, and to learn a bit more about what type of machine would be needed to blend hemp and wool.  The mill is aptly called Northern Woolen Mill and after a 4 hour drive we finally arrived, late and a bit disheveled.  But the energetic owner of the mill, Stephanie Anderson still took the time to take us around the whole operation, telling stories of the birth of a new woolen mill. Some of the stories were humorous, some were agonizing, but all helped us to see the determination, creativity, genius and sometimes just pure luck that Stephanie Anderson has had in starting this new business of hers.

Stephanie is explaining how she heard about a place where bison were being raised for meat, but were burning the hides. She negotiated a deal where she bought the hides, and is now processing bison fiber into yarn. Bison fiber, that is taken when the winter coat is thick, is as soft as cashmere! Her mill is also singular in accepting black fleece.

First stop is the receiving dock, where we saw bags and bags of various fleeces. Here Heidi Goldberg, Professor of Art at Concordia, listens to the stories being told by Stephanie.

The washing room has a screened surface as a picking station on the right where organic animal matter and vegetation is removed from the fleece to ready it for washing. Sharon Marquardt and Charlie Hovde view the Washing Room.

The impressive array of sink stations available for different fleeces is located on the other side of the room.

The large dye vat and table are just the start of the dye lab that Stephanie envisions.

As we proceed into the drying room, we are struck with a wall of heat. The right side of the room was lined with racks of merino that had been washed and were drying overnight. 

 The left side of the Drying Room was lined with racks drying multiple levels of Bison fiber.

Each piece of equipment throughout this facility was often designed on-site, put together on-site, and even constructed on-site.

Stephanie told one story that would have made most people walk away from this project in defeat. It left me absolutely amazed at this slight woman's strength of character and determination. She had contracted with a man who's credentials she had thoroughly vetted, to find the various machines she needed, bring them to the facility, put them together and teach her staff how to use them. Well, she got most of the equipment, but the man skipped the country, and she was left with crates of machine parts.

 What she does next is amazing! She decides that the only thing to do is to dump each crate out on the floor and try to figure out how to put it together. Each machine's operator was empowered in this process by now knowing exactly how their machine works, down to each nut and bolt!

This Roller Machine is next in the line-up. It takes the picked and cleaned wool fiber and rolls it in a combing action through 6 different rollers, with each pass processing the fiber to a higher, cleaner state each time, until it comes out the end in what is called a sliver, which is about a 4" X 2" fluffy batting of fibers all running in the same direction.

 This sliver is inserted into a combing machine, for further alignment.

The sliver runs down this channel and through the combs, coming out the other end as roving.

This is one of the Spinning Machines, spinning the roving into yarn. Yarn can come in either an 'S' or a 'Z' twist, which can be done to order at this mill.

Bobbins at the ready by the Spinning Machine 

 Bobbins needed for the spinning and plying process.

Dawn Tommerdahl inspecting a spinning/plying machine.

Some of the freshly spun and plied yarn is wound onto cones via this Cone Winding Machine. Cones are usually used by professionals needing yarn in larger quantities, in an easy form to use. 

 Other yarn is wound into skeins for use by hand knitters and other fiber artists. 

We learned so much during our trip to Northern Woolen Mills, and I plan on going again, if only to luxuriate in the wonderful yarns made there!  

They are spinning wool yarn for Bemidji Woolen Mills, and spinning private label yarn, and they even have spun yarn for Ann Taylor! They are experimenting with Bison (which surprisingly is as soft as cashmere!), They need to get a few suppliers who can provide enough wool on an ongoing basis to last throughout the year. I am hoping to work with Stephanie in the future to see if we can get a Hemp blending experiment off the ground.

Northern Woolen Mill has been featured on CNBC!  'Crazy' innovative: How one entrepreneur is reviving 'Made in USA' wool


No comments:

Post a Comment