Evenin’. We all here? Good, good. Do have a seat… NO, NOT THAT ONE! Sorry, didn’t mean to shout, but that’s the chair the twinnage have booby-trapped. What’s that you say? Oh, um, trust me, you don’t want to know, but… you’re not scared of worms, I hope?
Help yourself to some wine. You’ve brought yarn? Ha, silly question: of course you’ve brought yarn.
Speaking of yarn, would you like to see round an old woollen mill? It’s just that a few of us knit/crochet bloggers* were invited to Yorkshire at the weekend by the fine fibrous folk at Stylecraft for the inaugural meeting of the Blogstars programme. (More on that over the next few posts, including a giveaway, and some rather exciting insider gossip about future yarny developments…) So I loaded up the ol’ Stinkwagon with knitting paraphernalia, a toothbrush, and a change of socks, and headed up to Slaithwaite. Look!
The first thing we did on arrival was tour the mill with Richard Brown, owner of Spectrum Yarns (which produces Stylecraft, Yarn Stories, and some luxury merino clothing treats). Want to see? The mill is oldish – 1907. Spinning skills in this area run deep amongst local families, so it’s no accident that Spectrum’s spinning happens here, whereas its knitting operations are over in Derbyshire. (Their acrylic is made under licence in Turkey, just in case you were wondering.)
If you’ve ever knitted with Yarn Stories yarn (as I have), it was spun here.
See this stuff in the picture below? It’s ‘tops’ – undyed, untwisted, sheep fluff. Yes it does feel as nice as it looks.
The yarns produced here are worsted-spun, i.e. comprising tightly twisted, neatly parallel, same-length fibres, producing a smooth, dense, hard-wearing yarn. (Stop me if you know this already, but the alternative is woollen-spun, in which fibres are all over the place prior to spinning – making a fluffier, wilder, warmer, but less hard-wearing product.) I remember reading all about the two processes in this book, but it was interesting to see worsted spinning in action.
So yeah. The machines here can combine up to ten feeds of tops, mixing light with dark shades as required. By the way, some of the tops is sent off for dyeing as soon as it arrives, and the rest is dyed as yarn.
Next, the spinning frame draws the fibre out to its correct width, and applies twist. So by this stage we’re dealing with something resembling yarn, rather than just a hairy bucket o’fluff. Progress!
The exact width and quality of the product is monitored electronically. Also, there’s a whole lab dedicated to micro-assessing of the quality of yarn.
They take their work seriously in the lab:-
If I had a job there, I’d demand to see a lot of yarn samples:-
Or I might just sit and drool at the display on their wall:-
Anyway, back to the shop floor. After spinning, the yarn is twisty – a little too twisty, to be frank. If you hold up a length of yarn, it fights you to ravel itself into a spirally knot. So the next stage of the process is to pop it in a steam oven to persuade it to calm the heck down.
The result is a lot calmer and more biddable.
I could look at this yarn all day.
On one floor of the mill are boxes (and boxes) of yarn, ready for dispatch. I tried to linger behind the group as they left, hoping to get locked in with more yarn than I could conceivably knit in a lifetime, but unfortunately somebody noticed.
Oh, and d’you see that lovely wooden floor there? Richard had a tale to tell about that. The six-floor building was originally constructed as a cotton mill. Cotton dust (‘fly’) is a notorious risk for explosion, so in order to prevent any irritating infernos and loss of life, the floors were made of beautiful solid maple, which carried a low risk of sparking.
Meanwhile workers at the time wore iron-soled clogs, and over the decades, their footsteps wore two deep dips in the sandstone staircase:-
So that, my friend, is the basics of the process. More soon on the Blogstars programme, and a giveaway!
∗ Lucy from Attic24, Julia from Hand Knitted Things, Sandra from Cherry Heart, Sue at Susan Pinner, Kathryn from Crafternoon Treats, Sarah from Annaboo’s House, Helen from The Woolly Adventures Of A Knitting Kitty, Heather from The Patchwork Heart… and present in spirit if not in person, Jane Crowfoot, Angela from Get Knotted, and Emma Varnam.