A Visit to the Mora Valley Spinning Mill
How Yarn Is Made.
Location: Mora, New Mexico
The textile industry is the world’s oldest branch of manufacturing for consumer goods. Over recent years, however, there has been growing concern about the environmental impacts of textiles. Many traditional natural fibers once used for textiles have been replaced with synthetic materials. Approximately 30-35% of the chemicals in the world go through the textile industry and in the categories of products that cause the greatest environmental impact textiles rank fourth .
The modern world needs textiles for a vast assortment of applications, from the carpets beneath our feet, to our clothing, to the household and architectural textiles used everyday. While a hundred years ago the majority of textile production was concentrated in Europe and North America, today, the bulk of textiles and clothing is manufactured in Asia. This shift of the industry, particularly to China and India has all but destroyed the textile business in Europe, the U.S. and Australia. Hundreds and hundreds of textile weaving and spinning mills have closed. Jobs have been lost and towns deserted. Sheep and livestock ranchers have also been affected as local textile production needs have dropped. As you can see, textiles are heavily intertwined with environmental and social issues.
The agricultural industry has shown us that people have sickened of corporate farms and processed foods and increasingly support local farms that provide organic produce. A large proportion of society is also sickened by synthetic materials and hungers for quality natural fiber products. There is a niche to be filled.
The Mission at the Mora Valley Spinning Mill is to build a sustainable economy around the wool industry in New Mexico and across the nation. Sustainable communities are those that wisely manage resources right in the places where they grow or are found. Through education, through rural communities committed to raising fiber animals and caring for their lands, an important and practical employment—processing fiber, can become an integral component for a sustainable community.
At the Mora Valley Spinning Mill the process starts with the raw material laid out on the sorting table. It can be the wool shorn from sheep or fleece from goats, alpaca or any other fiber producing animal. At the sorting table burrs and other large vegetative material is removed by hand and fiber pieces that are too small are discarded.
Baa, baa black sheep have you any wool? Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.
One for the Master, one for the Dame, one for the little boy who lives in the lane.
old children’s rhyme
Washing. Washing the wool is a multi-step process. In large tubs of very hot water the wool is washed, then washed again and then again. The lanolin and oils that are dissolved in the wash waters are strained, captured and diverted to a grease trap, keeping the matter out of the sewer waste stream.
Drying. Once the fiber is washed it is spread onto drying racks and left to air dry which usually takes a day or two. The actual drying is not a sophisticated process but to keep things organized each shelf is labeled so that each batch of fiber is thoroughly tracked.
Carding. The carder is the largest piece of equipment in the process and is the first part of the operation. It is often referred to as the heart of the spinning mill. The carder takes in clean and randomly disorganized fibers and aligns them in a parallel fashion. The carder creates a clean even web of fiber that can exit the machine either as a batt as roving or a sliver.
Prior to being laid out on the carding machine the wool is fed into an enclosed box with a high volume of air blown into it. The air separates the fibers into a cloud like mass of fluff. The fluff brought to the carding machine is then laid out in a thin blanket onto rollers that start to feed the wool onto a rotating belt of metal teeth.
The thin mat is pulled through a series of rollers with ever finer teeth that align the fibers in one direction. At the tail end of the carding machine the mat is separated into long individual ropes of material that are of equal thickness.
The rope like roving or slivers is collected in large barrels ready for the next step in the manufacturing process. These long lengths of material are held together by the simple cohesion of the aligned fibers.
Drawing. The draw frame takes the sliver from the carder and creates a new sliver that is absolutely consistent in size over its entire length. It also further aligns the fibers to be parallel, and makes a stronger sliver for ease of processing.
The next machine draws out the sliver to the desired size required for the particular yarn to be spun. The draw frame accepts several rovings at once and in a brushing action further aligns the fibers.
Spinning. The spinner draws in the prepared slivers and directs them through a measured and controlled process that produces an extremely consistent fiber stream. This fiber stream is then twisted into a finished single ply of yarn and wound on bobbins. Yarn size and twist per inch are easily controlled.
A single ply yarn on the spinner can be produced or a combination of two or more plys to create a thicker yarn. This is a place to create interesting and unusual yarns by combining single plys of different colors to create variations in visual appearance. The most common yarns are 2 and 3 ply.
All of the equipment at the Mora Spinning Mill has come from older mill operations that have closed their doors, predominantly from the east coast of the U.S.. Replacement parts for these antique machines are often no longer available but because they are of basic technology and material, parts can be improvised to keep them in service for many years to come.
Coning. Yarn passed through the cone winder is metered and wound on cones. The speed at which the cone is built, tension at which the yarn is applied and length of yarn on each cone in yards or meters can be preset. Cones are a standard delivery means of finished yarn.
Skeining. Skeins are a delivery method for yarn that is prepared by using the skein winder. This process meters and winds the yarn into one and one half yard skeins. Skeins can be produced by the yard or by approximate weight.
Each sheep breed has wool with special properties. These differences should be valued and utilized in processed products. From start to finish each order and shipment of raw fiber is tracked through the entire spinning process. The integrity of batch individuality and source of the fiber can be protected at small operations like the Mora Spinning Mill.
Changing the way we think of how to use resources creates opportunities for innovation. The more awareness of the small-scale, local fiber industry the more people will create products, the more people will sell and trade, the more people will process the raw material, the more people will raise fiber animals.
At the Mora Valley Spinning Mill they wash, dehair/deveg, pick/blend, card and spin your fleeces and return your fiber to you. They hope to show people that local processing centers can do what growers and artisans need done with their wool, so that it becomes a desired product for its beauty and usefulness. The mill is open to the public for tours and is located on the corner of route 518 in Mora, New Mexico. Mahalo to the folks there for showing me around.
In order to build sustainability in our rural communities we need to think how we use local resources and create opportunities for innovation while protecting the animals, the land and the people.
Happy Trails, Dohn