Fussy McFussy-Pants (or why your yarn is not yet spun).

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I am there. My staff is there. It looks like we’re all headed to the looney-bin together.

“Her Majesty” as she was introduced to me, is a Roberts Arrow 14 spindle spinner/plyer built somewhere around the early 20’s. I was under the impression the title was a pet name, a moniker bestowed as a testament to her supreme power and poise.

Nope. “Her Majesty” is a disparaging, taunting label ripe with sarcasm for this persnickety, hoity-toity temper-tantrum of a machine. If you’re going to call her “Her Majesty”, you have to say it in the tone of a 13 year-old boy referring to his little sister who just got away with not doing chores because she has to go to dance practice. Most days, I have a hard time referring to her as anything but Fussy-Mcfussy Pants.

To take a fleece from sheep to yarn, you must first shear the animal. By all indications, some farmers choose to do this by first herding their flock into the workshop and rolling the sheep around in the wood shavings under the table saw, then a quick trip through last year’s rotting leaf pile for good measure.  (The milling process will not magically dissolve all that vegetable matter…you either have to pick it out before you bring your fleece to us or expect it to end up in your finished yarn. Pretty much.) (Sorry, I digress. Back to the process.)

We gently wash the fleece to get it clean. We lovingly spread the fleece on racks to dry. We put the fleece through the picker to open up the staple. We feed the fleece in to the carder and tenderly coax it into sliver. We painstakingly guide it through the pin drafter to line up the fibres and make them presentable for… “Her Majesty”.

There are many variables to be decided before we can even approach Her Majesty. What is the weight of the roving we are working with? How many twists per inch is suitable?What weight of yarn has the customer requested? How many plies will there be? This in turn determines the speed of the back roller, the speed of the front roller, and the speed of the spindles. The roving must be presented in a perfectly tidy and suitable coil. It must be fed “just so” over the dowels, under the rollers, through the aprons and the eye and finally though the traveller. Her Majesty is a ring spinner. Things have to be just so.

And we think we have it all good, hit the start and she laughs! Cackles even! Spits the roving back in our face. If she had arms, they would be folded, a head, it would be tilted up and off to the right in disgust. A “humph” in distaste of our mortal efforts.

And so we try again.

And again.

And again.

We adjust slightly, tweak a bit here, fiddle a bit there. Try again.

Every once in a while, she will actually spin something. A little tease just to keep our hopes up. Something to encourage us there is hope.

We are Charlie Brown. She is Lucy with the football. Please bare with us as we struggle to figure out a way to get her cooperation.

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Heather, attempt #347 & still smiling.

 

 

 

 

 

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Working out the Kinks

Ah, the joys of working with old equipment! We are all learning and tweaking and learning some more as we get to know this quirky, finicky and somewhat particular old equipment. Not being experienced enough yet to know whether our stumbling blocks are equipment or fibre related, we are giving all the equipment a run for it’s money. We managed to put a 7-8″ staple alpaca fleece through the picker, carder and pin drafter last week – a challenge all round. We have not yet found the sweet-spot with the pin drafter and the poor carder has a completely bare stripper that is affecting the whole process – we’re anxiously awaiting our replacement cloth from the states. This week’s focus: the spinner/plyer. We want to be confident in our ability to provide a variety of yarn weights specific to the type of fleece and the requests of our customers. Luckily, I have a good inventory of my own rovings to test out the settings with. Experiment, experiment , experiment! (Who’s idea was it to buy old used equipment anyway?)

We are now accepting orders for April 1st. If you are contemplating sending us your fleece, feel free to email us and we will reserve your spot in the queue and let you know what date to have your fleece to us by. Can’t wait to feel like we’re in full production mode!

 

 

 

Whodathunkit?

Inca Dinca Do is almost a mill! (Almost.)

Lots of time being spent on getting the machinery all cleaned up and running smoothly this week. So much excitement as each piece of equipment roars to life and begs to be put back into production! There are some quirks of course, and some parts that need attention or even replacement but who wuddathunk a non-mechanical, can-never-remember-which-type-of-screwdriver-is-which kinda gal like me could be so satisfied by the whirring of a bunch of gears? I am learning so much.

We had some concerns from the electricians over the lack of CSA certification on any of the machinery, including the 2 brand-spankin’ new pieces I just bought from Belfast Mini-Mills. Every electrical cord and plug had to be inspected and almost all of the replaced or upgraded somehow. Luckily, Mike and Wayne from Current Electric are both incredibly hard-working and up to the challenge. Matt, John and all the guys from Rimfire Construction have all put in some very long days doing everything and anything else that demands their skills and Dan and Murray the plumbers have shown up more than once over the weekend just to get things caught up. I have much appreciation and respect for all of these fellas.

Meanwhile, I believe I finally have all of the fibre-in-progress that Anna’s lovely customers had dropped off with her. It is an impressive pile of fleece in any and every stage of processing!! I will be sorting, organizing and detailing every bag this week and hope to confirm all orders as soon as possible. Those of you that have contacted me about sending more orders have been slotted into the queue – I will follow-up to let you know when to begin shipping/dropping off your fleece.

Getting closer!

Electricians are getting equipment hooked up this week, plumber hopes to finish connecting all plumbing by Tuesday. I have been blessed with a bunch of friends helping to clean the equipment and things are starting to look like a mill!

I will be contacting each and every customer who had unfinished orders with the mill in Qualicum this week to confirm requests and to let you know where you’re at in the queue. I will also contact the many lovely people who have inquired about dropping fleece off – I am keeping track and reserving your space! If you have not heard from me by Monday Jan 22, PLEASE email me at incadincado@gmail.com.

 

 

 

Mill Update Jan 5

Sigh. It seems the road to success is paved with delays.

Dry-walling delays have set everything back this week. Equipment move-in had to be rescheduled (again!). I am hoping they can get dry-walling completed and cleaned up today, floors sealed on Monday and equipment moved in by Friday.

This means we are now looking at mid-January for a week of equipment set-up, cleaning and testing. We want things to be right before we start playing with your fibre!

I thank-you all for your patience. Can’t wait to get started!

Tracy

Construction joke

 

Introducing Inca Dinca Do Farm & Fibery!

I bought a mill! (You bought a what?!)

After operating Qualicum Bay Fibre Works for more than a decade, proprietor Anna Runnings decided she’d done her time and put her mill equipment up for sale earlier this year. When I jokingly passed the idea of a fibre mill by my Dad and step-mom one day, (which happened to be just as we were winding up our annual alpaca shearing and we were waist deep in freshly shorn fleeces), they both thought about it for a few days and decided it was a darn good idea. (And when I say they thought it was a good idea, what I mean is that they both insisted! Here was a way to make the farm viable again, for me to buy the farm and keep my herd long into the future and most importantly, to live my dream of investing my time full-on into the fibre world.  As a bonus, I would be around to help my Dad with my step-mom’s dementia. How could I say no?)

As part of the deal, Anna included her wisdom on the ins and outs of the business, the use and maintenance of the equipment. Over the summer, I dragged my friend Brenda up to Qualicum for the weekend many times and went a few more times myself.  To my delight, Brenda did not run away screaming when she saw what she was getting into!

1870 Carder(2)

“The Duchess”

The carder is the heart of the mill and she is lovingly referred to as “The Duchess”. Built in Philadelphia in 1870, weighing in at just over 4800 lbs, she consists of a giant swift, 5 sets of workers & strippers and a massive doffer that together, purr like a contented kitten. This beast takes your washed fleece and combs it into manageable batts. Add the roving deck to the output end and you get a beautiful, wispy sliver ready for spinning. As a long time customer of Anna’s, I can attest to what The Duchess can do.

Raw fleece must be skirted, sorted and picked by hand before it arrives at the mill. The equipment will get some vegetable matter out but not all – like anything, the more time spent in preparation, the smoother and lovelier the end result. At the mill, the fibre is washed and spread out to air-dry. A run through the Picker will open up the staples to allow the fleece to feed consistently into the carder. After The Duchess has worked her magic, the slivers are most likely to require pin-drafting. The Pin Drafter uses very fine combs to turn multiple slivers into consistent, stable rovings – perfect for handspinners and an absolute must as a prerequisite for the mill’s spinner/plyer.

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“Her Majesty”

The 14-head spinner/plyer was originally part of a larger machine built in the 60’s. “Her Majesty” converts the rovings to singles, then later to a 2, 3 (or more) plied yarn. This is the stickiest part of the process – too thin or too thick rovings will just pull apart, too slippery and the same thing happens. In Anna’s years of experience, she has found that exotics often don’t cooperate unless they have had the addition of a small percentage of wool. As we get to know our equipment, we should be able to judge whether or not your fleece might benefit from being blended.

Blending of fibre types and/or colors can be done at any stage of the process. For a homogenous end result, the blend should be introduced as early as possible, (i.e., in the picking or carding stages). If the preference is for a streaky, variable roving or yarn, then introducing the blend at the pin drafter is advised. In many cases, we can provide the necessary fibre for blending (with a preference for local fleece whenever possible) but are happy to accept fibre procured by the customer too.

We will process wool, alpaca, llama and mohair. Our equipment does not include a dehairing machine for fibres like cashmere and some llama, nor will we be doing any custom dyeing at this time. We did however, invest in a rug core spinner. This machine will take your courser, lower-grade fibres, spin them around a cotton, jute or burlap core and spit out a strong yarn perfect for weaving into rugs. (This is a fibre-farmers dream! What to do with all your spinnable, but lower grade fleece or even seconds!)

As of today, the building that will house the equipment is a few weeks away from completion. Anna has brought me all of her not-yet complete orders and I really hope to get started on them by first week of January, with an official opening date before the end of January. This will be a long road involving a ton of hard work and a huge learning curve. I expect to work ridiculously long hours (at first), to have unpredictable things go wrong (at the worst moments) and (ideally) to be proud and delighted at the results. May the demigods of cast-iron, caterpillar drives and rotating shafts smile kindly upon our endeavours! Whether you are a previous customer of Qualicum Bay Fibre Works or are new to using a local mill, we look forward to surpassing your expectations!

 

 

 

 

Notes from an Evil-as-hell Farmer

I read an article online the other day that addressed the non-existence of ethical eggs. The author talked about how all chickens are mistreated and abused and in his opinion, that the term “free-range”is a con. Sad, but I suspect the author lives in a concrete and glass box overlooking some bustling metropolis where he has to push through a crowd of similar lost-souls, into a smaller, moving metal and plexi-glass box for his morning commute to another concrete and glass box called work. I doubt very much he has ever set foot on a real farm, let alone considered supporting a local farmer in his consumer choices.

Yes, I acknowledge warehouse farming does exist. It is ugly and I want no part of it. Hence, I make a conscious effort to buy local and to know my source wherever possible. I choose to buy organic if I can but I actually place more value in buying local. (I think the benefit of buying Mexican organic tomatoes is defeated by the carbon footprint of getting those tomatoes here. I’d rather take the local greenhouse heritage tomatoes even if they aren’t labelled organic thank-you-very-much. Our farm grows kiwi-fruit, fertilized with alpaca manure but can’t claim organic status because my Dad used treated posts when he planted the vines back in 1989.)

Real farmers have to deal with a lot of shit. We really don’t need to be lumped into a generic category with giant commercial warehouse manufacturing conglomerates. It is entirely possible to be an ethical, responsible, respectful farmer. Some of us (gasp!) even like our animals.

When I had chickens, they were let out to roam and forage freely all day, every day. They often helped me weed the garden and would delight in the sight of the shovel, knowing full well this meant free worms. At the end of the day, they would make their way back to the coop and be safely closed in for a good nights sleep. None of them ever complained. In fact, I’m pretty sure they were ‘happy’ chickens who’s eggs really did taste better than anything you can buy at the local supermarket. (And on this note, don’t be fooled by the very odd “vegie-fed” label: chickens are omnivores. Vegie-fed translates to a confined bird being fed a highly unnatural diet.)

PETA had a horrendous ad campaign in 2016 aimed at sheep farming and suggesting the wearing of wool was supporting “a cruel and bloody industry”. They posted shocking videos of sheep being abused and slaughtered with the tagline, “Sheep are killed and left to die for our wool”, and made it seem that this was the norm in the industry, that all sheep were treated this way and that you couldn’t possibly shear a sheep respectfully, nor wear wool without being a heartless, evil-as-hell consumer.

I no longer support or believe anything PETA has to say. But I also buy my wool as yarn or roving from my local sheep farming friends.

Sheep need to be sheared. Chickens need to be locked inside at night. And yes, sometimes the flock or the herd needs to be culled. These are not inhumane & cruel things evil-as-hell farmers do for fun. They are part of being a responsible farmer.

And a responsible consumer is aware of that.