A couple of weeks ago, a local spinning group took a tour of a nearby fiber processing mill. We met at Shepherd’s Gate Fiber Mill in Louisburg, NC and it was such a fun experience! I learned so much about the machinery and what is involved with processing fiber. Shepherd’s Gate is a family owned and operated custom processing mill. They can handle almost any amount of fiber (minimum of 1 pound) and can process the fiber as much or as little as you want. They can also process different types including wool, alpaca and others.
Alesia Moore and her mom, Ann Payne, were at the mill when we arrived. Early in 2017, Alesia found out about a processing mill in South Carolina that was closing. After talking with Ann and her dad, Dan, they decided to invest in and purchase all the equipment, which they moved to Louisburg, NC. The move was in March 2017 so it hasn’t been very long!
Alesia recommends that any fiber brought in be skirted in advance - this is done by removing the bits of fiber that should not be included in the final product. Once a fleece or fiber is received, it goes in the tumbler which looks a little like a giant Bingo wheel. The tumbler tosses the fiber and allows small bits, vegetable matter and other debris to fall out. After the fiber is tumbled, Ann washes the fiber to help remove lanolin and excess dirt. From there, the fiber is arranged on large drying trays and allowed to dry.
The picker is next and it’s a machine that opens up the fibers. In goes rather clumpy locks and bunches of fiber. It is pulled through teeth and separated into a lofty and fluffy cloud. If needed, the fiber goes into the separator which helps pull out guard hairs and other short bits of fiber. Alesia said that it is very helpful in removing vegetable matter as well and she finds that most fiber benefits from a trip through.
All of these steps get the fiber clean and prepped to be processed into their final form. From here the fiber can go through the carder to create roving or batts. If the customer wants roving or batts the process ends here. Otherwise the roving can go to the pin drafter which creates pencil roving. The fiber is often passed through two times and each pass combs and drafts the fiber 2.5 times. This helps to even out any thick and thin spots in the fiber and it is ready for spinning. Again, if the customer wants pencil roving, the process can stop here, or… it can go on to the spinner where it is spun into singles and then plied into yarn. Alesia and Ann can also custom dye the final product if desired.
Now, this process is already lengthy but add into this the following considerations. Alesia and Ann have to clean each and every machine in between every batch of fiber. They also have meticulous notes and documentation throughout the mill allowing them to keep track of each individual batch of fiber in terms of who it belongs to, how it is to be processed and what it is. Many of the batches include custom blends whether is it to add another fiber type or blend colors. Everything done in the mill is managed individually and Alesia and Ann who are very hands on. I was overwhelmed by the level of organization they have to maintain (and I’m the kindof girl who likes some organization!)
I have been very tempted by some of the fleeces available in the FiberCrafty shops but I don’t want to process them myself. Knowing that there is a mill very close by to me that will take care of all the prep involved makes it a doable project!
I am so thankful that Alesia and Ann invited us to tour the mill. It was a very educational and fun afternoon and I appreciated seeing what goes into preparing and processing the fiber. If you are interested in reaching out to them, I am sure they would appreciate helping you. All of their pricing is listed on their website and they also provide relevant information for preparing your fleece. If you ever have the opportunity to tour a fiber mill, I encourage you to go!