On arrival I was directed through the offices to a gallery, above the factory floor, where I joined Lara – our tour guide, a group of ladies who love yarn, some holiday makers and lots and lots of dumpy sacks full of fleece.
Lara told us that the Natural Fibre Company is a relatively small yarn mill that spins both woollen and worsted yarns and has a dye plant licensed for organic production by the Soil Association. The company also includes Blacker Yarns which market yarns and textile products made from British wool, mohair and alpaca.
The Natural Fibre Company accepts qualities as small as 20kg of fleece to process. The processing is pretty much the same as turning a fleece into yarn by hand, just bigger machines and bigger amounts.
First the fleeces are washed in the scourer, which washes the lanolin out of the wool then rinses it.
At The Natural Fibre Company the scoured fibre is dried in an industrial tumble drier, but a larger mill would have a machine that does this. It is then put through a giant drum carder, which, just like hand carders, breaks up the clumps of fleece and aligns the fibres ready for spinning. The scoured fibre may also be blended with other fibres at the stage.
After carding the fibre is woollen or worsted spun. If you want to know the difference between woollen and worsted Sue Blacker gives a great explanation here.
The spun fibres are then plied as required.
After plying, yarn is wound into hanks, balls or onto cones.
It was wonderful to see the whole process of fleece being transformed into yarn, but very noisy and little like being in one of those films they used to have on Playschool – showing my age here – except Lara had explained to us what the heck was going on, so it was far more fascinating.
Once Lara had patiently answered all out questions, we
stampeded headed for the Bargain Baskets, full of end of line bargains, in the Blacker Yarns pop up shop .
All in all a wonderful and interesting morning. A huge THANK YOU! to Lara for a fabulous tour and to Sue Blacker and everyone at The Natural Fibre Company for opening the doors to let us have a peek inside, for being so friendly, welcoming and informative and for making all that fabulous yarn!