I recently had the privledge of visiting two of New England’s wool spinneries, S & D spinning mill in Milbury, Massachusetts and Jagger Brothers spinnery in Springvale, Maine. I just love New England’s textlle history, from cordage plants to dyehouses, spinneries and weaving mills. Sadly, few of these mills still exist today, but a few treasures still spin on, and S & D is one of them. They occupy an amazing old brick building that is America’s oldest continuously running mill. Talk about patina! S & D is a woolen spinning mill, which has to do with the style of yarn they are able to produce. They take raw materials and process them into yarns. Below is a mountain of wool that has been sprayed with an oil mixture to condition it and control the static. It will rest like this for a day or so before heading to the picker.
The picker is a big messy machine that fulffs up and picks apart the wool so it is nice and loose. If the yarn is going to have more than one fiber type, they throw it all into the picker and the blending begins.
After the wool has been picked, it travels to the next set of equipment, the carders. The cards are a series of toothed drums, which blend and, well, card the wool into a homogenous webb known as a batt. As a handspinner, I was enthralled with this step. And here’s a little of that patina I mentioned.
The wool batt is progressively thinned, until it is the diameter of the yarn they are planning to spin. It gets wound in this state onto bobbins, then heads to the spinning frame where twist is added. 2 or more of these twisted yarns are then plied together, and there you have it! Interestingly enough, S & D’s largest client is Major League Baseball, they are responsible for spinning the yarn that gets made into baseballs. Apparently they use a lot of baseballs, because they spin many thousands of pounds of wool per month into baseball yarn.
Jagger Brothers, the other mill I visited, has some distinct differences. While also a spinnery, they are not a carding mill. This means that they use prepared fibers called top, which come from a separate facility. Top is wool that has been carded, but then taken one step further and combed so the fibers all align in a parallel fashion. They must use such fibers because Jagger Brothers is a worsted mill, as opposed to a woolen mill. Woolen spun yarns are lofty, somewhat rustic and a little bit fuzzy. Worsted spun yarns are smooth, with excellent drape. All of our knitting yarns are worsted spun yarns.
My friend Kathy inspects a bump of ultra fine merino with Scott, our excellent tour guide.
The equipment at Jagger Brothers is modern and sleek, quietly humming out miles of yarn as we toured the facility. It was marvelous and amazing.
Join me next time for a behind the scenes look at our natural dyehouse in Northport. Until then, finish up that Christmas knitting.
Be well, Jackie