The first mill we visited was the Blackberry Ridge Mill in Vermont, WI. They are fairly small scale operation that works with fleece that is under 5" in length - lots of merino but no icelandic or other specialty fleece like alpaca.
This is their carder, which dates from the early 20th century and came from a mill in Worcester, MA. A fellow Bay Stater!
It has many moving parts but ultimately is not complicated, which is why it still works so beautifully over 100 years later.
The carder feeds the fleece to another machine that makes it into pencil roving. The pencil roving can be thicker or thinner depending on what the customer requests.
The roving is wound up and loaded onto the spinning machine - it is spun onto about 20 bobbins at a time. Apparently this is the most tricky part because one must keep an eye on all the bobbins and make sure they load up properly.
Once spun, it can be plied - usually people want 2-ply but they can make custom yarns.
Some single ply waiting to be plied.
The plying machine.
It all happens in a big barn on their property. Janine gave me a meaningful look and mentioned that her friends might be wanting to retire in a few years. Yes, with my precise mind and excellent mechanical abilities, it would be a perfect fit! Uh-huh.
Janine also generously allowed us to try milking her goats. She currently has three does to milk 2X/day. She makes cheese with most of the milk but drinks it too - very rich and sweet. I'm sure it was painful to watch us muddle through, spilling more than we captured in the bucket but Janine was the picture of patience.
Here, Lucy gives a try. She liked it - must have brought back memories of her own nursing days (years). It was a strangely intimate and warm experience. It makes the notion of hooking an animal to a machine to do that seem quite cruel.
To end on a happier note - here is a photo as we crossed into Manitoba, where we experienced the infinite flatness of the landscape for the first time.
I had a little moment of panic thinking about being so far from the ocean. Here, the land is the ocean.