John's dad and special lady friend visited us in early September and as one of our outings, we headed to the Northern Woolen Mills in Fosston, MN. It was about 1.5 hours east of Grand Forks and is one of only a handful of operational woolen mills in the US. It was recommended to us from one of our fellow Pilates students, who is also a fantastic knitter.
The building was not impressive from the outside, but the young lady who came to help us offered to give us a tour of the facility - starting with the very beginning, when the wool is dropped off at the facility. They work with all sorts of wool, regular wool from sheep, merino wool, alpaca, llama, bison, and even elk. The bison wool was the softest.
The first stop for the wool is the cleaning room where it is first hand-picked to get rid of burrs, etc. and then put into small bags that are beaten by hand to release the lanolin. Then the bags are soaked in the sinks and finally run through a well-worn washing machine for a rinse cycle.
Then the wool is put into the drying room on racks for at least a day.
The wool is then put into a carding machine that takes the little tufts of wool and turns it into a long strand of wool.
Then the long strands are spun into single threads. Here on the machine right now is 100% alpaca, which apparently was very difficult to keep together. She demonstrated by just pulling it apart with her hands, which she then put back together by just rubbing it with her hands.
From the single spinning machine, the spools were brought to a new machine where multiple strands were wound together into the yarn.
Finally, the yarn was spun into skeins.
And then the skeins were washed again, though this time in long tube socks to keep their shape. I ended up buying a few skeins of yarn for my mom. One was 50% bison and 50% merino, one was 100% merino, and one was called Baby Jacob - made with 30% baby alpaca and 70% Jacob sheep wool. And if I ever need them, I look for knitting needles and knitting supplies on Amazon.
We all enjoyed our visit/tour and we will visit again to buy more wool!