If you’ve ever bought a fleece, chances are you’ve had at least a fleeting dream of owning your own fiber mill. What’s it really like to run an operation like that? Today, Kim Biegler of Ewethful Fiber Farm & Mill gives us the inside scoop!
People who come to tour Ewethful Fiber Farm & Mill often ask me, “How did you ever get into doing this?”
My fiber story is short and sweet: It involves a love for animals, knitting, and a husband who I refer to as my “supportive enabler.” My mom taught me to knit when I was young and my aunt taught me to crochet; fiber and needles have been in my life for as long as I can remember. I knitted on and off throughout my life but always seemed “too busy” to devote much time to it.
Once my husband, Mitch, and I moved to the country, my passion for everything fiber progressed quickly. I had more peace and quiet time, which naturally evolved into more knitting time. One day I saw a Shetland sheep for sale on Craigslist, and Mitch encouraged me to buy him. Turns out, you can’t have just one sheep, so more came to live on the farm. Mitch then bought me a spinning wheel for Christmas and my love of spinning was solidified!
I thought long and hard about opening a mini fiber mill. The main reasons for my hesitation were
- Financial – starting a mill is very expensive.
- The level of setup involved – electrical, plumbing, air circulation – all seemed very overwhelming. Not to mention that there is serious mechanical equipment involved.
- I was concerned that at the end of the day, I would be too tired of fiber to knit or spin.
Eventually, I worked through these concerns and challenges, and with the help of my husband and family, Ewethful Fiber Farm & Mill opened in the spring of 2017.
What’s it actually like to own a mini fiber mill? I’m not going to lie, it’s absolutely amazing. I’m still able to write that, even after spending a whole day trying to get my first real attempt at “the perfect yarn” to come to fruition. A 2-ply fingering turned out as a 2-ply sport – a little overplied and a few more slubs than I’d like. So goes the life of a spinner!
I’ve only just started my milling career and some days the learning curve feels huge. I anticipate learning until my very last day at the mill. While I’m sure there will be fewer hurdles over time, I’m not sure they will ever get less frustrating; however, even with the challenges, there are many highs in the fiber business. As I get more familiar with my equipment and its capabilities, I try to have a game plan before I walk in the door of the mill. As with any business, establishing your priorities for each day will help keep your head on straight.
As other fiber addicts know, it can be overwhelming to walk into a space full of dirty fleeces needing washing, clean fleeces needing carding or blending, and roving needing to be spun into yarn. It’s easy to run frenetically between machines, all the while accomplishing very little.
Running the Mill
Now, I prioritize starting the washer and the spinning machine. These two machines are capable of running on their own. After I get them up and running I turn my attention to either the picker, carder, pin-drafter, or dehairing machine. The picker is the machine that opens up the locks and blends fibers prior to going on the carder. The carder is a larger version of the handcarders we’ve all used – with lots of rollers, swift and fancy. After the carding, the fiber moves to the pin-drafter, which is an essential part of making yarn. The pin-drafter aligns the fibers into more parallel roving. Next is the spinner. As opposed to handspinning where lumpy bumpy fiber is manipulated inch by inch, the spinner needs the most consistent and even fiber possible to create an even, slub-free yarn. Finally, the dehairing machine is capable of pulling those scratchy guard hairs from alpaca, pygora, qiviut, and other similar types of fibers. The dehairer is a slow and steady machine that processes about 2 pounds of fiber per hour.
I love going to work every day. I fall asleep thinking about what the next day will bring and what potential there is to accomplish in the day. Some fiber types give me a little more trepidation than others, but each day I continue to develop my skills – and that is good for the fiber soul. As part of my business plan, I’ve incorporated time to knit or spin for myself every day in order to keep my passions alive. This helps me reorient myself and rejuvenates my creative inspiration around the fiber arts.
About the writer:
Kim Biegler is the owner of Ewethful Fiber Farm & Mill in Halsey, Oregon. Ewethful processes fiber for sheep, alpaca, llama, Angora rabbit, dog hair, bison, and goat. Ewethful’s retail shop sells handmade goods, fiber products, and local antiques, and also offers classes in knitting, spinning, and fiber arts. Visit the website to learn more and to browse the online shop. Follow along on Instagram and Facebook for the latest fiber happenings!