Where does wool yarn come from?
The short answer is from sheep. But the reality is much more complicated than that. Let me take you on a tour from sheep to yarn at Joybilee Farm.
Shearing day takes place in the Spring for sheep and angora goats. Then again in the Fall the angora goats are sheared, again. If the yarn is being processed through the wool mill, the length of fiber is limited to 4 inches and so how often to shear is determined by this limitation. Angora goats grow about an inch of fiber a month, so they are sheared twice a year to keep their fiber within the limitations of what the mill equipment can handle.
The wool fleece are skirted, sorted by colour and fiber fineness, and then bagged to go to the mill. Some of the exceptionally interesting coloured fleeces are saved for handspinners. Some of it is washed and carded here on the farm, too, and we handspin this into yarn for our own use and to sell from the farm store. But with only 3 handspinners on the farm and not as much time to play with fiber, as we’d like, more of our wool goes to the mill for processing.
The trip to the Woolen Mill
The trip to the mill is 850 km each way and it’s a two day trip from Joybilee Farm – about 20 hours of driving. Our closest mill is Custom Woolen Mill in Carstairs, Alberta. It’s a very scenic drive with lots of Mountains, and wild life, through the National Parks.
We spent the first leg of the trip in Invemere, where we stopped for a 3 day conference for Municipal Governments. Then at the close of the conference at 12Noon on Friday, we carried on to Calgary, and then Carstairs Alberta. Google maps was a lifesaver, as we were able to get directions to the mill from Google. The road signs that used to direct us to the Mill, were gone, and the range roads lack easy to identify landmarks. We arrived at Custom Woolen Mill at 4:15pm on Friday – in plenty of time to unload before the mill closed for the weekend.
You don’t have enough wool?
At the mill, we handed the girls our list of what we wanted done with our raw fleece. 3 orders of 2 ply wool yarn in natural white, brown, and grey, 20 lbs each; 2 wool mattress pads, 3 wool sleeping bags, and a generous amount of roving in 3 natural colours. She just looked at our tiny red Honda Fit, and said, “You don’t have enough wool for all this. You’ll need at least 80 lbs.”
We smiled, and said, “I think we have enough wool.”
She shook her head. “I’m sorry, but there is no way you could fit that much wool in that little car.”
The twinkle sparkled in Mr. Joybilee’s eyes. Now the fun was starting. He opened the hatch. Then he removed our suitcases that were stashed in the back of the car. All the while the gal had a doubtful look in her eye. Then her sister came by.
Mr. Joybilee pulled the first bag of wool to the back of the car, ready to lift it out. He was having fun now. Fenn’s two daughters changed from incredulity to surprise. One went to get the dolly. “I think we have about 250 lbs of wool,” I said.
They were still shaking their heads. “You couldn’t possibly fit 250 lbs of wool in that little car.” They said. Mr. Joybilee lifted the first bag, but asked for help to get it on the dolly. It was over 100 lbs. That cleared the view of the other two bags of wool. All doubt vanished.
The girls started helping to get the heavy wool bags on the dolly. “What kind of wool is this?” one of the girls asked.
“Rambouillet – Romney cross bred,” says I.
“Can we exchange wool for the mattress pads and sleeping bags? Suffolk is springier and will be better for that.”
“Sure, but could you please take the exchange from the bag of brown fleece. I have more of that than of the white.”
Once the wool was loaded on the cart, I asked, “Do I have enough wool?”
“Oh, yeah, no problem. You’ve got more than enough wool.”
I did some shopping in the Kaleidoscope wool shop, picking up 3 skeins of natural alpaca colours, and went inside the mill building to pay for my purchases. The wool yarn will be ready in about 6 months, the roving in about 4 to 6 weeks. And the sleeping bags and mattress pads will be ready sometime in between. They’ll ship it out by Greyhound as it is processed. All the paperwork was done before 5pm closing and we were on our way to do some shopping at Iron Cross Mills, just North of Calgary.
The Scenic Drive Home
We had dinner at 8pm, West of Calgary and got a motel in Canmore around 10pm. The Calgary Knitters guild was having a retreat at the motel and Mr. Joybilee had fun visiting with them on Saturday morning, before we headed for home.
The final leg of the journey included a stop in Banff for lunch at the Spaghetti Factory, and some shopping to pick up a postcard of the National Park for my granddaughter Celia. We had a scenic drive through Banff National Park and Radium National Park, but now we were on a mission to get home. Short of stopping to take some photos, we just kept driving. We arrived home around 11pm on Saturday night. Mission accomplished.
The Long Wait for wool
In about 6 weeks we’ll get a shipment of 3 natural colours of wool roving from the mill. Then about November we should get our yarn in the same 3 natural colours, just in time for Christmas Sales.
That’s where natural wool comes from. Happy Earth Day.