VACATION WITH A TWIST OF FIBER
My Mother and I have been planning a trip to Ohio to visit family for several years now. It was way past due, but circumstances always seem to create delays, and plan changes. Between deficits in time, money, or both, moving and surgeries; each planned trip seems to get pushed back. This time we plowed forward with plans, even though November can be a bit nippy in Ohio. As it turned out, it was perfect timing. We spend almost two days in Helen, Ga. Georgia and Tennessee was in full Fall color, it was spectacular! Ohio’s color was just past its prime, but we were there to see family not leaves, and see family we did.
For some reason I thought I would have a great deal of extra time on my hands once we were in Ohio. I looked up fiber, knitting, yarn and weaving resources in the Ohio Valley area so I could occupy my spare time with something I could lose myself in for several hours. I also took a few small carry along projects too (didn’t want my hands to go stiff, of course). The Ohio Valley Natural Fiber mill popped up. A custom fiber processing facility in the Ohio Valley area? Less than 40 minutes from my hometown? How convenient! The largest custom processor in the country. I visited their website and YouTube site, read their story and knew that I had to make this a destination. I immediately sent an email out to Ginny asking if they have a store front that I could make purchases (Lord knows, I don’t have enough sacks full of fiber laying around my house already) and that I’m a fiber artist that will be visiting and was interested in her facility. She promptly replied letting me know the store hours and kindly offered to have someone available to show me around if I let her know what day I would be there. I was ecstatic, what a kind and generous offer, I couldn’t pass it up and Heaven knows when I’ll be back to Ohio.
As it turns out, every day was full. FULL! I was amazed how the time flew and how busy we were. I was even more amazed how many family members were interested in going to the mill, including my Mother. So two Cousins, a dear friend of a Cousin, my Mother and myself piled into an SUV and took off for breakfast and a trip to the fiber mill. Ginny wasn’t there, so we never got to meet her, but there were two other ladies there working and expecting us. I cannot for the life of me remember their names or find the paper I wrote them on. However, they were wonderful. The prices in the store were great! Their products are high quality, and the processing part of the operation is connected, so convenient.
Basically, to go from animal to yarn the process goes something like this: Shearing the wool or hair from the animal (sheep, Llama, alpaca, angora bunny, goat, dog, cat- you name it), then its sent to the processor. The processor will wash it (unless this was done by the customer), then it gets dried, usually on a rack with circulated air. It’s sent through a mechanical picker, this will take dense clumps of fiber and pick it out into smaller fluffier pieces. Then it may be blended with another fiber if the customer wishes. It is sent through a carder. The carder is a set of rollers that have brush like teeth. The fiber is taken across many of these rollers and passes between them. The fibers are aligned and a thick length of prepared fiber is produced that a yarn can be spun from. The customer can either take this roving and spin their own yarn from it or they can have it reduced further into what is called a pencil roving, where some of the drafting and attenuating of the fibers is already done for them (this takes the enjoyment of spinning out of it for me). They also produce pin roving which closely resembles a top preparation. They have a machine that can produce a large batt useful for felting and quilt batting. They are able to further process the fiber into a finished spun yarn into as many plies requested by the client. Finished yarn can be wound onto cones or wound into skeins accordingly. It truly is a CUSTOM PROCESSING facility.
There were several things that stood out a great deal to me, that will stay with me every time I think about this place. The machinery was mostly manufactured in the 1900’s. In a disposable age, its good to see good vintage machinery being utilized in a practical purposeful way. This machinery works quite well, and it works all day long. The lovely lady that showed us around, was warm, patient and informative. We were quite a group, all with different backgrounds and she took her time with us, and answered all our questions, and the phone, we kept her quite busy. Through her it was obvious that the heart and soul of this business is the people that maintain it. We got a sense that this small team is like a family and they care about the product they produce, a quality that sadly lacks in so many other places. She graciously shared her background with us and we can’t thank her enough for taking time away from her work to see to us. Another thing that stands out is the amount of customization that they offer. You can have your fiber processed as much or little as you need. You can have it blended with a great variety of different fibers. Two different put-ups (cone or skein) for finished yarn, and as many plies as you need. They even have someone that does custom dying! It seems that they can do everything but feed the animal for you.
Through this visit, my mother fell in love with alpaca. I guess if you’re going to love a fiber, it may as well be a luxury fiber. So I bought some alpaca roving for her. Of course, I get to spin it and knit it into something for her, but she’ll have her alpaca garment when its done. I also got myself some raw alpaca fleece to card and spin, its been washed and that’s about it. It’s a lovely natural color with creams, caramel, cinnamon, and a tinge of misty blue. A pound of Merino wool roving, and some hand cards. They carry Cushings Dye, which I like to use too. Lots of beautifully hand dyed roving and yarns, books and knitting supplies there too. When we were all done, we were too close to Amish country not to drop in for some shopping. Always the multi-tasker, of course. I will have to make Ohio Valley Natural Fibers a regular haunt whenever I’m in Ohio, or in serous need of mail order therapy.