Sunday, 7 March 2010
Spinning a Yarn
He explained all the processes and started up the machines to demonstrate. The company works with natural fibres - mostly wool, some cashmere - and makes yarn mostly to be woven into cloth. They do make some yarn for hand knitting as well - Shetland yarn, which is slightly bizarre considering how far West Yorkshire is from the Shetlands. In the rest of this post, I attempt to describe what the mill does - I am sure that I have got some things wrong, so I apologise in advance.
The different colours are mixed very thoroughly before going through the next stage of carding, where the wool is passed between rollers covered in wired spikes, to comb the wool.
The wool goes through several carding machine, that gradually convert the clumps of raw wool into a smooth even web. The final machine in this stage cuts this web into strips and rolls each one to produce slubbings, which look like a single ply yarn, but have no strength at all. The slubbings are wound onto huge bobbins, and then taken to the spinning machines.
The spindles are mounted on the front half of the machine, that moves on rails. It first moves away from the back on the machine, and a length of yarn is drawn and twisted, and then returns as the twisted length of yarn is wound onto the spindles. Hard to explain, but I have found video clips of very similar machines operating in a mill in Maine here. I think that the spindles of yarn are the finished product as far as this mill is concerned, and the yarn is then sent elsewhere for weaving or to be sold as knitting yarn.
Our tour of the mill was fascinating - it was really nice of the owner to spend so much time with us. The thing that struck me most, from the knitting point of view, was that the yarn is dyed before spinning and not afterwards. (John points out that it is "dyed in the wool" - hence the phrase.) That allows the finished yarn to be composed of fibres of several different colours.
I looked at a skein of Shetland wool left over from a Fair Isle jumper I knitted many years ago, and the rusty red colour is composed of bright red (or orange), yellow and purple - maybe more. I hadn't properly appreciated the subtlety of Shetland and tweed yarns before - I should do more knitting with that kind of yarn. And of course, when I knit with Shetland yarn in the future I shall know how it was made, and think that it may have been spun in Yorkshire.