A Day in the Life of a Fiber Mill Owner

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  

  1. Financial – starting a mill is very expensive.
  1. The level of setup involved – electrical, plumbing, air circulation – all seemed very overwhelming. Not to mention that there is serious mechanical equipment involved.
  1. 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!

Sneak Peek of the Autumn Issue!

Did you get an email from us that it’s time to renew your subscription? If so, all renewals must be in by Friday, August 25, 2017, in order to get the next issue, which comes out September 10! Remember we have digital subscriptions now!

Semi semi semi!

Yarns exist on a spectrum with the most intimidating (and sometimes unattainable) ones at each end – TRUE WOOLEN and TRUE WORSTED. Everything else is in between, and it’s this everything else that the Semi issue is focused on. Honestly, it’s probably what most of us spin most of the time, so get ready for an issue that’s about your yarn.

It’s packed full of information, experimentation, and opinion but very few hard and fast rules (because there are very few of those in spinning). It begins with prep: changing or drafting against the prep you currently have and, more importantly, why in the world you’d want to. Of course, there’s lots of semi- spinning, again with how, why, and what, if any, difference it makes on the yarn. You’ll want to read the illuminating articles on the actual wear and tear of different types of semi- yarns; it’s not what you might expect!

With those results in mind, what about end uses? Which semi- yarns are best for which applications? We’ve got that, too! We’ve also got Russian spindles (like you’ve never seen them before), a hot button where nobody really agrees, semis for weaving, a Guilded about spinning embroidery thread, and 2 fantastic projects, one knit and one crochet. So don’t miss this informing and gorgeous issue where we give you the information to finally decide: is the yarn semi-woolen or semi-worsted (does it rely on prep or draft?) or, and this is a new one, is it really the fiber?

Announcing: PLY Books!

BIG NEWS!

PLY is doing something new and exciting!

Are you ready? Brace yourself, it’s big!

PLY is publishing books! We’ve wanted to publish books from the beginning but we had to learn how to make a magazine first.  Then we had to learn how to throw an event. Now that we’ve got a pretty good handle on the magazine and PLYAway is a runaway success, it’s time to turn our hearts, hands, and brains to publishing spinning books.

PLY Books will offer books for spinners who want to dig even deeper into a topic, who want full immersion with an author, and who want to challenge their spinning and how they think about fiber and yarn.

We believe we can make beautiful and smart spinning books that the community will love, that support PLY Publishing, and that provide a fair wage to our authors.

PLY Books is being built on the same passion and attention to detail that started and sustains PLY Magazine and PLYAway. Some of our books will be deep and smart and technical. Other books will be fun and sexy and intuitive. All of our books will be beautiful, useful, and intriguing.

We hope you are as excited as we are!

The PLY Books team is made up of the same smart and talented folks that bring you the magazine with the addition of Jillian Moreno, who’s helping head up the new division. You know her, right? She writes a lot, teaches all over, and has a fantastic book herself — Yarnitecture.  We’re excited to add her to the team and know her expertise, creativity, and organization will only make us better.

Do you want to write a book?

We’d love to talk to you about it. Head over here to get all of the information on submitting an idea to us.

Do you have ideas for book topics or authors we should consider?

Yay! Here is a survey you can fill out to get your ideas to us.

Questions or comments? Contact PLY Books: plybooks@plymagazine.com

Make sure you download your digital issue

It’s come to our attention that many of our readers haven’t been downloading their issues but rather just using the link we give them to look at it. You should be downloading your issues to your own device, not using the link to access it over and over. You purchased it and it’s yours! If you use the link we give you, you won’t be able to access it anywhere anytime and it will be annoying for you (and it bogs down our servers and causes the craziness of the last few days). I didn’t figure out that this was happening until just now. The link we give you is just to download it and you should just use it once per device (like, once for your computer and once for your ipad, or once for your phone etc).
 
If you are unsure about how to download, read on!
 
When you have the magazine opened up from the link we give you, put in your password and it will open. Now in the upper right corner (run your mouse over that area if you don’t see it), there will be 3 icons, the middle one with the arrow pointing down is what you want to click on — that’s the download button. It will ask you where you want to download it, choose somewhere you can remember, maybe your desktop for now. You can move it anywhere any time.
 
Once it downloads (will take a minute or so), open it up, put in your password, and now it’s yours and will always open!

PLY is going digital!

You’ve been asking us for years, and we are so excited to be able to deliver what you want: digital issues of PLY!

Since this is new, we’re going to try to answer all the questions we can, so keep reading! (Be sure to make it to the end, because we’ve got a giveaway to announce, too!)

Why digital?

Some people really love the feel of a good magazine in their hands. They like to flip through the smooth, sturdy pages and feast their eyes on all the glossy glory of a print magazine.

Other people really prefer to take their magazines in digital format. They like being able to carry all their favorite issues on one device, and to store PLY without taking up any shelf space.

We like serving both kinds of people, so we’re offering digital issues to anyone who wants them! We also know that this will be really helpful to overseas spinners, who will now be able to subscribe to PLY or pick up individual issues without the hefty cost of international shipping.

 

How does it work?

The digital version of PLY will work just like the print version – you can subscribe and get each new issue as it comes out, or you can pick up individual issues that strike your fancy.

If you want to subscribe to the digital version of PLY, you can click here to check out our subscription page like you’ve always done; you’ll see the option to choose digital or print. When a new issue comes out, we’ll send all current digital subscribers a link to download the digital version using a special password.

For individual back issues, you’ll find the digital version right alongside the print versions, on this page. Just pick an issue and choose “digital” in the drop-down menu. Every single issue is now available in a digital version, so pick your favorites!

We’ve also got back issue bundles! You can purchase every issue we’ve ever printed or buy them by the year, for a discounted price. You’ll find those on the back issues page as well.

 

What does this mean for the print version/my subscription?

If you’re already subscribing to the print version of PLY, nothing is going to change! You’ll have the option at renewal to switch over to digital if that’s your preference, but you can keep on getting that print edition for as long as you’d like. We really love printing this magazine, and we take a lot of pride to make it a high quality publication that feels as good in your hands as it looks! So don’t worry – we won’t be giving up on our print edition any time soon! We are, first and foremost, a print magazine. Going digital is simply a way for us to serve more spinners, which is what we aim to do with everything we create. It’s an add-on, not a replacement!

If you’d like to change your remaining subscription to digital instead of print, we can do that. We can also ADD digital issues to your remaining print subscription, if you’d like to get both! Just send us an e-mail (contact.us AT Plymagazine DOT com) and we will hook that up for you!

 

How much will it cost?

A digital subscription will be $36/year, which allows us to produce the same quality you’ve come to expect from PLY‘s print version, and continue to pay our contributors fairly, but also offer a price break to those folks who can’t afford the international shipping prices for the print edition. Individual digital issues will be $10.

Just like with the print version, we’ll be offering a discount on bundled issues! You’ll be able to buy a full year of issues (a calendar year containing 4 issues, spring-winter) for $30, and you’ll score a big discount if you buy the full bundle of all back issues (that’s 17 digital issues of PLY!) for $85 (a 50% savings off the regular price). We’ll update this price with each issue but buying the whole lot will always be 50% off.

 

How will I get my issues?

You’ll purchase an individual issue from our shop or a digital subscription just the same way you would with the print version, on our subscription page. Then you’ll be directed to a page with your download link and we’ll also send you a link via e-mail with a personal password unique to you (and on record with us) to download the PDF of your issue(s), which you can read in your browser, Adobe reader, iPad, phone, or your favorite way to read – both in single page or 2-page view. Your password is attached to the PDF and the PDF can’t be opened without entering your personal password. These issues are copyrighted so please don’t distribute or share.

 

After you Buy: Digital FAQs

If you don’t get an email with the download code:
Please just be patient! The system sometimes isn’t able to respond immediately, but you should get your e-mail from us within about 24 hours. If you don’t have it, please search your email: it should have a subject line of “Your PLY Magazine purchase of DATE”. Still don’t have it? Email jess.cook@plymagazine.com to get your download links!

If you don’t know your password:
For subscriptions, we’ll send you the password when we send you the link to download the newest issue. For back issues, the password you’ll need is the e-mail address you used when you bought the issue(s).

If you’re getting an error message or can’t open your magazine:

You should be downloading your issues to your own device, not using the link we give you to access it over and over. You are purchasing it and it’s yours! If you use the link we give you, you won’t be able to access it anywhere anytime (and it bogs down our servers and causes the craziness of the last few days). I didn’t figure out that this was happening until just now. The link we give you is just to download it and you should just use it once per device (like, once for your computer and once for your ipad, or once for your phone etc).
 
If you are unsure about how to download, read on!
 
When you have the magazine opened up from the link we give you, put in your password and it will open. Now in the upper right corner (run your mouse over that area if you don’t see it), there will be 3 icons, the middle one with the arrow pointing down is what you want to click on — that’s the download button. It will ask you where you want to download it, choose somewhere you can remember, maybe your desktop for now. You can move it anywhere any time.
 
Once it downloads (will take a minute or so), open it up, put in your password, and now it’s yours and will always open!

If you still have questions or something isn’t working right, please get in touch! Jess.cook@plymagazine.com

Our apologies

Hello, fabulous spinners! As you probably know, we work really hard to bring you what we feel is the best the world of spinning has to offer, from our articles to our fiber choices to the products & services we recommend in the pages of PLY. Since we are human, though, we are susceptible to errors, and it looks like we’ve made one in the winter issue.

In the SCENE section, we recommended the iSpin Toolkit app. Jacey herself has and uses this app regularly and has never had a problem, but a few of you have written to us to say that you purchased it and now it’s not working. If you find yourself in this situation, we recommend you contact the designer, mgolden@mac.com. If you don’t get a response that satisfies you, we’d recommend disputing the charge with your credit card company.

We’re sorry if we’ve caused any of you a hassle because of this recommendation. Unfortunately we couldn’t have foreseen this, but we regret any trouble it may have caused!

Desert Island Spinning: 3 Small Tools

If you were stranded and limited to only three small spinning tools, what would you choose?

What are the tools you can’t live without, at least this week?

I have never grown out of playing ‘what if’ games. It’s just fun and I always want to know what other people would choose.

I will add the caveat that you already have your favorite spinning wheel and all of the fiber you could want. And don’t choose books, we’ll do that one on a different day.

 

 

Here are mine:

  • oil – to keep my wheel happy and humming along.
  • a solar powered scale –  for measuring weight and grist. I can measure inches and yards with parts of my body, so I don’t need a wpi measure or yardage counter.
  • tags – to remember all the yarn and fiber details for me. I have to write everything down.

Your turn, if you were limited to just three small spinning tools what would you choose?

Little Tricks

So, last week I was trying to spin on my Norm Hall Saxony wheel. I love the wheel but I’ve never really been able to spin fine on it. It’s been frustrating. I’m in the midst of trying to get the last bit of weft spun for the skirt project and weather changes and all kinds of other issues made me get out another wheel.

Anyway, I was struggling to get the yarn as fine as it needs to be. The Norm Hall wheels have pretty giant bobbins and big flyers that go along with the bobbins. The ratios are good though so I am able to get a lot of twist easily. 

I know how to spin fine but sometimes I’m too stubborn to put my knowledge in play. I just want the wheel to do all the work. Sometimes that isn’t good enough and so I decided to put my money where my mouth is this time.

First, I changed to a finer drive band. That helped a bit but it wasn’t the solution I was after.

I oiled everything again. Still no luck.

So, I got out my secret weapon. Pipe insulation. 

I’m humming right along now. Why did I make myself suffer for 4 days?

PlyAway registration is open and there are lots of people already registered. One of the classes I’ll be teaching there is how to spin fine yarns. I’m going to go right out on a limb here and tell you that my fine spinning class is a little different than the classes other spinning teachers’ and I happen to know that there are a few more spots still available.

If you sign up, I’ll teach you every one of my fine spinning tricks no matter what wheel you are working with.

How to make a 2,000 year old slipper (part 1)

Today Christina Pappas returns to the blog to walk us through the process of replicating a 2000-year-old slipper!


 

Today we are going to focus on getting to know the slippers for this project. (Have a look at my post from last week to learn more about my replication project.)

Footwear from 2,000 years ago is really different from what most of us wear today. Going barefoot was probably not uncommon, but there were times when you wanted something on your feet. For example, imagine exploring a cave barefoot. How far could you walk barefoot? Probably not very far. Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is the longest cave system in the world (over 400 miles and counting!) and ancient peoples had explored much of it thousands of years ago. We know they wore slippers because we have found slipper fragments inside the cave.

 

Several of the slippers were excavated from rockshelters in the 1920s and 1930s as a part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). These images are from a rockshelter in Lee County in Kentucky that produced three of the slippers. Images courtesy the William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology, University of Kentucky.

We also find fragments of slippers in dry rockshelters. Rockshelters are places along rock walls where you can find shelter from the elements – the kind of place you would rest while hiking to get out of the rain. Kentucky has many rockshelters that are dry, and archaeologists have been able to recover perishable artifacts, including slippers, from these kinds of sites.

A twined slipper from a rockshelter in Kentucky.

For the slippers we’re going to make, we have to look at several examples to piece together all the necessary traits. All the slippers we’ll be looking at are in the collection of the William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology at the University of Kentucky. They are all from archaeological sites in Kentucky, and most from rockshelters. Only a couple of have been radiocarbon dated directly, but all are approximately 2,000 years old (give or take a few hundred years).

All the slippers are made from plant materials. I can see that the fibers are long, and there is a bit of the outer stem left on some fibers. That tells me that these fibers were not subjected to a lot of processing and appear to be bast fibers. Unfortunately, I can’t completely determine what plant fiber was used; I would need to cut samples and examine them with a microscope to be certain. I do know that these are not from milkweed or nettle fiber, since those fibers are finer than what was used in these slippers. The ancient craftspeople who made these slippers used something woody and hard-wearing, quite possibly fiber from the pawpaw.

A (slightly different) twined slipper from a rockshelter in Kentucky. Image courtesy the William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology, University of Kentucky.

These slippers are all chevron or countered twined. Twining is one of the oldest textile structures with examples dating to over 40,000 years ago in the Old World. In twining, two yarns twist around a third stationary yarn. You can twist every row in the same direction, or you can alternate the direction of each row to create a pattern as was done in our slippers. Twined slippers are made both ways; chevron twining just happens to be my favorite.

The paired yarns that twist are our wefts, and the stationary yarns are our warps. The weft yarns on all our slippers are singles, with a slight Z-twist of 20-30 degrees. The average diameter is about 0.5 cm (about 0.2 inches). The warps are a bit tricky to see and learn about.

A close-up of the heel of a slipper where you can see the plant fibers and the twining structure.

Slippers had to be durable and hard-wearing, so they were twined very tightly and the wefts covered the warps. In the places where the weft has rubbed away, the warp was also damaged and the original yarn structure is not always clear. What I’ve been able to see is that both plied and unplied yarns were used in the warp. A plied yarn was used for the warps near the edge of the slippers, and unplied yarns were used for the warps in the middle. A plied yarn was also used at the toe of the slipper. It functioned like a drawstring to snug the slipper up around your foot.

Using plied yarns makes sense at the edges and as a drawstring – those are the areas where the slipper would take a good amount of abuse and a plied yarn would stand-up better over time. The plied warp yarns are two Z-spun singles S-twisted together, and the unplied warps are Z-spun singles. The warps average about 0.8 cm (about 0.31 inches) in diameter. The plied yarns average about 1.5 twists/cm and the unplied warp yarns average 0.5 twists/cm. I wasn’t able to get a measurement for the twists/cm for the weft yarns. The dense twining made it difficult to get consistent measurements.

A slipper toe where you can see the drawstring. You can find a drawing of a completed slipper here.

So, what have we learned so far?

I know that my slippers will need to be made out of a ‘harder’ bast fiber. Pawpaw was used prehistorically for slippers, and I know a few farmers who still grow them. My fiber will need minimal processing. I will use chevron twining to weave my slippers. My yarn goals are:

  1. Z-spun single, approximately 0.5 cm thick, 0.5 twists/cm
  2. Z-spun single, approximately 1.0 cm thick, 0.5 twists/cm
  3. 2 Z-spun singles S-plied together, approximately 1.0 cm thick, 1.5 twists/cm

I’m going to have to figure out how to process my fiber, how to spin my yarn, and how to weave my slipper. These are all steps that will be based on what I’ve learned from other fiber artists and early historic descriptions of spinning in the Southeast, not on anything we know for sure from the archaeological record. This is where the real trial-and-error begins!

 

Next time we chat, we’ll get to know the other textiles for this project.


 

Chris Pappas is an archaeologist by day and a fiber fanatic by night who is happiest when she can be both at the same time. She lives in Kentucky with her husband, adorable baby girl, and two crazy beagles.