Thursday, August 22, 2013

Seemed Like a Typical Day; but not quite

Today seemed to start out like a typical day working on the mill.

Dad arrived a bit earlier than usual--7 a.m. instead of 8 and set to work on the picker. He seems obsessed with the picker. Today was the day to move the picker to its permanent spot and set it down off its skids. Which we did with very little fanfare and little difficulty and not too much arguing.

After being set down, we had a visit from Jessie, my 16 year old komondor. Normally, Jessie spends 23 1/2 hours sleeping in the house--a side effect of the pain medication she is on for bone cancer (in her back leg). But, today, she came outside and ventured into the shed to pay us a visit.

Jessie, resting under the picker while Dad works under the other side

The other dogs have their favorite resting spots, too, when they are in the shed keeping us company.

Kit, the border collie, likes to hang out under the doffer

Newton, the puli, likes to be within touching distance of wherever I am

The dogs are all banished to either the house or the kennel before any of the machinery is started up. I would hate to card a dog!

While Dad picked away at the picker, I picked away at some saffron colored wool/silk/nylon blend in hopes of someday carding it. 

Saffron colored wool/silk/nylon going through the little picker

Noon came and Dad decided it was time to go home and work on the mounts for the anti static bar for the carder (yippee!). He would return in the afternoon. While he was gone, I finished picking the wool, continued dyeing wool, washing wool and then unrolled the apron for the picker and applied some belt dressing to the leather. When I was finishing that up, Dad returned with the mounts for the anti static bar. 

He mounted the bar, connected it to the power source while I spliced together a belt for the doffer comb--the two final things that remained to be done before we could actually card wool. 

And, then we carded. And we attempted to feed the wool through the orifice to draft into roving. Ugh! I was highly unsuccessful. Not quite, as I tell my students, frequently. I was greatly disheartened. What if I can't make roving!

Well, a break was in order. While I made brauts, Dad adjusted the doffer comb. 

After we ate, we tried again. 

The video and pictures below tell all.....

Dad pulling the roving as fast as he can

Trying to keep up

The garden cart full of roving

A closer view of the roving

Monday, August 19, 2013

Busy, Busy, Busy

Gosh we've been busy and August is flying by. I can't believe its been a year since I bought the mill.

Hidden Valley Woolen Mill

On August First, we flew to Wisconsin to visit Carol and Paul Wagner at Hidden Valley Woolen Mill. We toured their mill, watched Carol make a 15 pound quilt batt! Observed one of their carders in action. Picked their brains. Looked over the machinery. Saw their beautiful farm and sheep. And had a fabulous lunch.

What 15 lbs of wool looks like on the roller

Gently removing the batt from the roller

Rolling the 15 lb batt

And then stuffing it into a 55 gallon bag

One thing we really wanted to see was their picker.  Our picker is now in pieces and parts and missing some parts and we needed some ideas on how to get it back together and working. Unfortunately, the Wagner's have a completely different brand, make, model and type of picker from ours. But we did get a good look at it.

We came back from Carol's and Paul's with full stomachs and lots of ideas and suggestions. Thanks to Paul and Carol for a great day and for being such kind and generous people. I highly recommend Hidden Valley Woolen Mill--they do beautiful work and I've had my fibers processed there for many, many years.

Pieces and Parts of the Picker

The picker is picked apart.

In July, Dad picked it apart and started painting it while I picked wool on the little picker (the working model).

The Picker and Blower before being picked apart

First the blower got the beauty treatment.

The blower before treatment

Powerwashing the blower

A little bit cleaner after the washing

Two coats of tractor/implement paint later (not John Deere green, btw)

Then its the picker's turn to be picked apart and given the beauty treatment.

Partially picked apart and before the bath and paint job

Two coats of paint later

In between coats of paint, while I was diligently picking wool on the Meck picker, Dad would pick out the wool from between the slats on the picker apron. All in all, he spent about three days working on that. 

Pick, pick, pick

And, pick, and, pick, and pick

 While he picked and painted and puttered about, I picked wool on the John Meck picker.

The John Meck Picker (working model)

I picked and picked white wool

I picked and picked natural colored wool

I got bored and started picking colored wools

All in all, I think I've picked about 150 pounds of wool and I now have picker's elbow in my right arm. I pieked so much, so long, and so hard, that I broke the bolt holding the handle on the picker Saturday morning. I had to make an emergency trip to the hardware store to buy bolts. 

First Official Visitors to the Mill

On Saturday, August 3, we had our first official visitors in for a tour of the mill.

Alice and Gordon Stone of Texas, formerly of Braham and Cambridge, MN, came for a visit. Gordon is my Grandmother's cousin (Dad's Mom). They attend Braham Pie Day every year and made a special stop at the farm to see the mill. It was a great pleasure to have them both here. We visited; showed them the mill; ran the carder; and greatly enjoyed them. Hope you both will come again next year!

Minnesota Valley Woolen Mill

This past week, on August 14, we flew down to Austin, MN to visit with Tom Yates of Minnesota Valley Woolen Mill. Tom gave us a tour of his mill. We spent a lot of time with Tom talking about mills, gathering information, hints, and suggestions. We looked closely at his picker in action (again, very different from our picker). We were also able to see his carder in action. Tom has a newer carder that he was using. I believe it was built by Carolina Specialty. He also has an older, 1800, carder that he was working on.  We saw Tom's retail shop full of fibers, knitted and woven goods and beautiful yarns. We also saw his wool scouring facilities in town and got a tour of the town. Tom was a great source of advice, hints and suggestions and I will definitely be asking his advice again. 

Minnesota Valley Woolen Mill also does a lovely job of processing fiber. I can highly recommend them. And, he has a pin drafter!

Faribault Woolen Mills

I thought Faribault would be close enough to drive to, but no, we flew down there on August 15 to tour the woolen mill. It was a very interesting tour and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the process of making wool into roving into yarn into woven goods. And dyeing, too. It was fascinating to me. Their woven blankets and scarves and finished goods are just beautiful. 

After the tour, we walked downtown and had lunch at the "Cheese Cave." Great cheeses from the Faribault caves. 

Then we flew home in time to work a bit on the mill (well, I picked wool and Dad did some work).

Are We Ever Going To Card?


We are so close to carding. We just need to mount an anti-static bar and power it up, make a belt to drive the doffer comb, put the chain on the drafter, power up and get going. I am hoping this week will be the week that we actually see some wool come off the carder. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Theoretical Picker vs Actual Picker

Absolutely beautiful weather today. And, with a little bug spray, the mosquitos weren't quite so bad as they have been.

I started the day, after much coffee and watching the Sunday morning news shows, with the intention of mowing the entire lawn. Everything went fine, for awhile. I mowed the orchard (plums, apples, pears, and butternut trees), mowed the front yard and mowed most of the back yard before it all went to heck; the mower blades quit turning. After a bit of inspection, I found a sheared bolt on the deck holding an idler in place. No more mowing today.

What to do; what to do.

Well, I decided I must get the mower deck off before breaking into the wine. But, while I put off that job, I murdered some burdock and thistle and miscellaneous weeds around the farmstead with glyphosate. Then I took the mower deck off and determined that a trip to the dealer was in order to buy a part. Being Sunday, the trip would have to wait until tomorrow.

So, I wandered into the shed and looked at the theoretical picker.

Theoretical picker (on the left)

I call this the theoretical picker because, in theory, it will be working someday and picking pounds and pounds of fiber per minute. But for now, it languishes, awaiting repair and maintenance. And inspiration.

Actual picker

This is the actual picker that I started using today. Its a John Meck and very small. I bought it from an ad on facebook. Today, I managed to pick about 2 lbs of wool before running out of steam. With about 200 pounds to pick, I have only 100 days of picking left at that rate. 

Our trip to Wisconsin was delayed due to bad weather--we are flying there. Now it looks like we will be able to go the week after this coming. We hope to get a good look at the doffer comb, roving coiler and picker in hopes of gaining inspiration on finalizing some of the fine tuning on the carder and starting to work on the picker. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Prettying Her Up and Cleaning the Shed

Today Dad arrived promptly at 9 a.m. with spray paint in hand. We started out by cleaning the pulleys with solvent then applying painting tape and newspaper--the carder was getting a bit of a paint job.

She looks like an 1950s housewife getting a home perm

Carefully spraying the paint

The "after" picture

The rest of the morning we threw stuff out of the shed and made room for maneuvering both the picker and the feeder. The picker will be at the far south end of the shed. The feeder will be placed against the middle of the west wall--this is actually as far out of the way as we could think of putting it. In the afternoon, I cleaned out the little garage to store the lawnmowers in since I was told they could no longer be in the carding shed.

Here's the picker which needs to be moved then renovated into working condition

Check out the teeth on this picker!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Apron Turns! We Feed it Wool! We Eat Pizza! We Drink Beer!

Picked up the new shaft for the apron yesterday. I went to a different machinist from the first one and it was about half the price this time.

We picked the apron apart, took out the previous shaft, put in the new shaft, and put it all back together again. Then we turned the machine on and watched the apron move---oh so slowly you could barely discern movement. But, that's how fast it is supposed to feed. So its working!

Here I am waiting for the wool to feed

Fed a chunk of wool through the carder. Not much came out the other end. And, without the doffer comb running, its not possible to get it off the doffer. Well, actually, the shop vac helped remove what little there was from the doffer.

Afterwards, we had pizza and beer and planned out trip to Wisconsin, tentatively scheduled for next week, to visit the Wagners at Hidden Valley Woolen Mill.

Pizza and Great Beer on the Apron

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Watching the Carder Run

Today we worked on putting the finishing touches on the feeder. We put the apron on, added a chain and then fired the carder up only to find out that the apron would not turn! DRAT!

Turns out we need to drive the apron from the front shaft, not the hind shaft (which apparently worked fine for the previous owner, but NOT FOR ME). So, I'll be off to a machinist tomorrow to have yet another shaft machined with a longer end so that we can hang a sprocket on it to turn it.

In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the video below of the rest of the carder running! We did.

Things we need to do:

  • Get a new shaft machined for the feeder
  • Set up the doffer comb
  • Set up the drafter
  • Set up the can coiler
  • Set up the picker (monster project from Hades!)
  • Tour Fairibault Woolen Mill
  • Tour Hidden Valley Woolen Mill and pick Carol's and Paul's brains
  • Have another beer or two or three
  • Wash up another 300 lbs of that 500 lbs of wool I bought last fall
  • there must be more but I just can't think of it

Friday, May 31, 2013


It seems we spend more time contemplating the machine now. Looking at it; measuring; sitting; staring; contemplating. Wondering what to do next.

Next on the agenda is to put the feeder on the front and somehow attach it. That was the source of much contemplation today. Of course, never quite so easy as just plug and play. When we brought the feeder up from the barn we noticed a 12 inch crack in one side. So, off to a welder it went last week. Made of cast iron, not just any welder would do. Fortunately, there is one in Ogilvie who can handle the job.

I picked up the welded part today and happily handed over $15 for the job!

While Dad puttered about putting the feeder back together--kind of--I skirted some more of the 500 pounds of fleece I bought last winter. I need to get more and more of that washed since its looking like soon the machine will be ready for practicing.

After some skirting on my part and puttering on Dad's part the contemplation began with much measuring, remeasuring, sighing, and then a couple beers were drunk. What to do next? How to attach the feeder to the breast? In actuality, the feeder is meant to be attached to a feedbox, not the breast, but the previous owner had it rigged up to the breast and so shall we, somehow. We have ideas! It will get done!

I'm hoping the carder will be up, running and in the mood for practice runs by the end of June. That's my new goal. Hopefully, teaching summer school will not get in the way!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Burning the Wild Hay

While the farm fields are rented out for crops, Dad and I still hay the wild grass. Each spring we burn off the old grass to make for a better hay crop. Last night we burned.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

She Turned!

Wow! Today the carder turned under its own power! Very exciting!

We did some rewiring and then turned on the converter; turned on the carder and watched her slowly start to turn; faster and faster she turned until she got up to full speed. And then the clanking of a bad bearing and we shut her down. She slowly came to a stop. Not a machine that you want to get caught in. She will not shut down immediately. And, yes, she is a she. The bearing is nothing to worry about. Its not on an important part so nothing is broken. Just a little noisy for now.

Still a lot of work to do. The workers were not yet "chained" up so we did not get to see them turn but the strippers moved very nicely along with the breast (the front portion), the main drum and the fancy.

We worked on putting the chain on the workers and the doffers later adding the three idler pulleys. It took about 25 feet of chain for this portion of the machine. We then tried to find a leather drive belt to fit but could not find one the right length. We will have to make one.

Before the end of the day, we ran the machine one last time. Still without the workers and doffer running since we didn't have a belt for that portion yet.

A very fulfilling day seeing the machine run under her own power!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Finally! Lambs!

Came home from work to find one yearling ewe outside with a newborn lamb; one yearling ewe inside fighting with a haggy old ewe over a newborn lamb.

Got everyone situated in jugs (small pens for ewes with newborn lambs). Threw the haggy old ewe out (the lamb belonged to the yearling) and took a couple photos. All are doing well. Except the old hag who still wants the lamb (she was due to lamb three days ago).

Karakul/Romanov/Romeldale ewe lamb

Karakul ewe lamb

I have a baby monitor set up in the house so I can hear what is going on in the barn. One day it was the geese honking for an half hour. Another day, all I heard was the male llama fornicating. Today, all I hear is that old ewe baaaaaaaaaaaing at her would-be lamb. She's very vocal!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Warm March Day Means Time for Electrical Work

Finally! A day spent with the carder!

Today we worked on wiring.

The motor that runs the carder is three phase so we have a converter that we moved into position today and wired. We also wired the very large air compressor I bought last summer off craigslist and tried that out. We spent the day running a bunch of wire around the shed to various boxes and stapling it in place, connecting it into boxes and to circuit breakers. All around, it was a very productive day, despite not being able to find a single roll of electrical tape.

Meanwhile, the geese were outside enjoying the warm day and the shallow pond in front of the shed.

Tonight should be the night the lambs start arriving.

Adding the air compressor to the main board

Meanwhile the geese enjoy the "pond" outside the shed

This big guy is showing keeping one eye on me and one on his mate

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Shearing Day

Today it was just me, the shearer and 28 wooly sheep waiting to be shorn, vaccinated and wormed.

My faithful helper was at a quilt retreat and refused to leave to help with shearing this spring--I don't know why. My back up helper was having a good time in Wadena. So, just the two of us to do all the work. We managed quite fine.

Before shearing. The CVM/Romeldales are wearing coats to protect their fleeces from vegetation

Jim Peterson, from Wisconsin, shearing a karakul ewe

After shearing, all fleeced out and contentedly munching hay

About 18 of the sheep are ready to lamb starting the end of March.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Mill is Not Forgotten

It's just languishing in the cold and snowy winter we've been having.

Today, I actually looked at it. Gave it a pat. Dad turned the drive wheel a few turns just to see it go (by hand and foot since it is still not wired to electricity).

Spent the morning plowing snow around the yard and sheds in preparation for Saturday's shearing. According to the weather reports, we received about nine inches of snow yesterday. I can well believe it. Very fluffy stuff. I didn't attempt to do the driveway. Since my mishap with tipping the tractor over, I've been hiring someone to plow the driveway.

Dad came over with plans to help move a bunch of mill equipment from its "temporary" storage in the lambing barn up to its permanent home in the "mill" shed. Unfortunately, the sliding door on the mill shed would only open about five feet--not nearly enough to fit most of the equipment through. So, we had to make do in the lambing barn by rearranging the equipment. We shoved and piled and moved and piled and shoved and finally made enough room for a lambing pen.

Wiring is the next phase of mill work but the weather has been very uncooperative. Then, there was that little cog in the plans when I took a permanent (half-time) teaching job that is a bit more than half time for now. But, when the weather warms up, we plan to be back in the shed, wiring, working, and getting 'er done.

Sorry, no pictures today.

But, lambing starts the end of March, so expect to see pictures of lambs when they arrive!