…. As luck would have it, Troy and Annette invited me back to Wild Red Clover for their pilot artist in residence program. I was honored for the opportunity and in June 2021 I hopped back on a plane and drove down to Koosharem.
A bit of background - I am a textile artist and designer that typically chooses to weave; specifically with a jacquard loom. As an Associate Professor at Wayne State University, I am fortunate to be able to teach many fiber processes and I am encouraged to conduct research within my field. I was interested in the residency opportunity at Wild Red Clover to expand my knowledge of how a fiber mill is operated while creating a custom yarn for my weavings.
I knew the basic timeline and sequence to create yarn from the animal to the product, however, experiencing the entire process firsthand, my knowledge was expanded with essential details. Washing the fleece (I brought raw alpaca) by hand instead of using machines you realize the amount of effort that this small mill goes through to stay committed to their vision, and this was just the first step of processing! It took 3 wash cycles to get the alpaca cleaned, dried, and ready for the machines.
Washing the fleece (I brought raw alpaca) by hand instead of using machines you realize the amount of effort that this small mill goes through to stay committed to their vision, and this was just the first step of processing!
We moved into the machinery room and started on the carder. Our fibers did not need to go through the fiber separator or picker, I mention these machines because some fibers need those extra steps, which adds more time in the sequence of creating a final product. Prior to placing our alpaca on the carder, we had to condition the fibers – this helps prevent static on the machine and helps the fibers engage with the carder properly. Once the conditioner sits on the fibers for about 20 minutes it was time to start laying out the alpaca on the carder belt. Annette – the Calculation Guru – helped figure out how much weight should be distributed per section on the belt. I wanted to create a few different types of yarn, 1 – a lopi style yarn with chunks of sari silk mixed in, 2 – a 2 ply yarn that had variegated thick and thin sections made of all alpaca and plied with a thin 60% alpaca 40% Tencel yarn, 3 – a 2 ply yarn that had a smooth 1 ply 100% alpaca and a matching size 1 ply yarn with the 60% alpaca 40% Tencel. I chose to blend alpaca and Tencel based on how the fibers will absorb dye. Alpaca is a protein fiber and Tencel is a man-made cellulose fiber. Due to the inherent nature of protein and cellulous fibers they will naturally absorb dyes differently creating depth within the yarn.
To create these specialty yarns, we planned everything prior to the fibers entering the carder. The sari silk had to be cut and laid on top of the fiber, the weight and density of each batt would need to reflect the size of the roving that was created in relationship to the ending yarn size, and to blend the alpaca and Tencel I hand-carded the fibers so that the two fibers would be dispersed through the batt during the carding process. We created roving directly from the carder and then moved to the drafting machine – which stretches the fibers a bit more to create thinner and more balanced roving.
If you have ever been to Wild Red Clover Fiber Mill and had the opportunity to meet Tory and Annette, you know that the conversation and knowledge that are shared are truly inspiring.
Once the roving was ready, we moved to the spinners! This is what we all had been waiting for. The spinners had just arrived 3 weeks prior to my arrival. Annette and Troy were still learning/experimenting with different fibers and yarn styles. Each type of fiber will act differently on the spinners, so taking extremely detailed notes on the entire process is crucial to replicate the yarn again. We did a lot of experimenting and had some frustrating afternoons in the mill, but of course, Annette got the spinners to spin my yarn visions; we even had 5 spinners spinning at once!!
If you have ever been to Wild Red Clover Fiber Mill and had the opportunity to meet Tory and Annette, you know that the conversation and knowledge that are shared are truly inspiring. This was the best rabbit hole algorithm I could have asked for ;).