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Fiber Mills

Updated: Jan 9

How did you choose your fiber mills? What mills do you use? I was recently asked these questions on a fiber page. I spent a quick minute answering her question, and the minute turned to 30 when I realized all the mills I use and appreciate.

When I started mill processing our wool, I was intimidated by everything: shipping huge amounts of wool, the cost of shipping and processing, what to order: roving combed top, yarn… what weight or ply of yarn, the completion time, sorting and skirting fiber. Is my fiber good enough? Will I have to pay extra fees for processing? Will the mill reject my fiber blah, blah, blah.

You can look at my comments as recommendations. I'm only focusing on mills I currently use, and have used repeatedly. I won't share negative comments publicly, but I've had some negative experiences. That was part of my learning process. I learned about the quality of their product, and I came to understand the type of relationship I wanted with those people processing our fiber. I am grateful for those people who helped me along the way. Corinne from Crosswinds Farm who I questioned at her farmer’s market stand. Kathy of Frivolous Ewe who I questioned at her dyeing station at the fiber fair. Natasha of Esther’s Place who brainstormed with me while she was teaching me how to spin and weave & probably others, but I’m forgetful. I hope you all know how much I appreciate your guidance.

How did I choose the mills? Location, recommendation, and seeing others' final product drew me to the mill. My final product and customer service is what kept my wool heading to their mill.

Location: Our farm is in NW Illinois, I looked for local Illinois mills and then moved to surrounding states. Shipping is expensive, day tripping and dropping off is a nice option if time is available. Dropping wool off at the mill also allowed me to meet the miller. A good relationship with those who help make my wool beautiful is important. Keep in mind, there are many other wonderful mills in the US. These are just my recommendations.

Zeilinger Wool Mill in Frankenmuth, MI creates beautiful clean combed top out of our beautiful dirty wool. Our wool comes from sheep that spend time in a feed lot or on pasture uncoated, so the wool is strong, healthy and dirty. If you've ever used Zwool, you will know exactly what I mean when I say they have the ability to turn dirty fleece into beautiful spinning fiber. Check out photos of my combed top in our shop. Their customer service is wonderful. Jon is super helpful and gracious. Their turn around is like clock-work for combed top: almost 4 months on the nose!

Ewetopia Fiber Mill in La Farge, WI opened in 2017 at the same time I started looking for mills to process our wool. I stumbled upon Kathryn's mill on accident, and it was a wonderful accident. I think what originally caught my attention was her Pride sheep sticker from Ysolda! No kidding. The one month turn around (at the time, currently it's more like 3-4 months for roving 4-6 for yarn) really got my attention. I heard from all other mills anywhere between 7 months to a year… which didn’t settle very well with me, but that’s reality. We live about 3 hours away from the mill, so the shepherd and I delivered many pounds after hours on our way to pick up Christmas trees. She most graciously met us and took our fiber and turned it into beautiful roving. Honestly, I love spinning roving over combed top since I don't have to pay as close attention. That's me... too much going on to focus on one thing. Roving allows me to spin like a boss while bossing... sort of a joke. Kathryn creates beautiful yarn for us as well. Once I asked for mini skeins of 1 oz to have for a dyeing class, and she made me a box full of 1 oz skeins. She also made animal specific yarns with my certain favorite ewes or rams. We have yarn from Trouble, Elizabeth, Gunsmoke, The Reserve Champ’s son, A Pines End Ram, Shirley, Gunsmoke/Babe blend and several others. All of these yarns have since sold out. But believe me, they were all beautiful. I highly recommend Ewetopia Fiber Mill!

Round Barn Fiber Mill in Durand, Illinois creates sock yarn for us. They create other products with wool, but we are happy with the roving, combed top and yarn from the other mills. Their sock yarn is excellent. So mills put yarn in skeins or hanks, some wind the yarn onto cones. Different machines pull off different tasks. I needed sock yarn on a cone in order to send fiber to the sock making mill. Which is why I gave Round Barn a try. They did a test run and sent it off to the sock mill to ensure their product would work with the sock mill. It did… and since our first sock run they’ve collaborated with the sock mill to adjust and improve per recommendations of Northland Woolens (more to come on them). Round Barn adds just enough nylon to our Columbia and natural colored wool to create the perfect combination of fiber to stay in place. Who likes socks that fall down? Turn around is about 8 months to a year, so plan ahead. Margie is helpful and guides you through your order. She's responsive to phone calls or emails.

Alpaca Pines in Poplar Grove, Illinois is the mill we choose for alpaca fiber processing. No, we don’t have alpacas, but our neighbors, Brad and Mary Jo, have them. Brad and I traded alpaca fiber for my service. I spun and wove a poncho for Mary Jo and he gave me tons of fiber! Vicki @ Alpaca Pines is the alpaca expert. She raises them, shows them, and processes their fiber, so why wouldn’t I choose that mill? It’s a nice day trip or a quick USPS delivery. Her communication thru the process was sufficient. There was a delay in production, a delay that was unavoidable and she communicated the delay to me, no problem Her final product was exceptional even though I sent some pretty dirty fiber. Have you ever skirted alpaca…? Yikes, it’s way different than skirting wool, and I was not very proficient.

Finally, Northland Woolens in Nelson, MN makes our product called Sammons Socks. They have a pretty sweet operation and their business story is a good one. If you haven’t tried Sammons Socks, you will want to! Our socks are created with our Columbia and natural colored wool and the right amount of nylon. The turn-around time for Northland to make our sweet socks is weeks… not months. Wool in wool out… They have several sock heights to choose from, and can create colors for you with an add-in for a minimal fee. Just don’t put them in the dryer… insert cringe emoji here… they may need to be repurposed as a can or bottle koozie. Speaking of repurposing, a large part of Northland Woolen’s work is turning sweaters that others no longer want into mittens and hats. Pretty cool!

Finally, Get Bentz Farm or Badger Face Fibers I tried her mill when she first started because I like supporting women run businesses. I also like to support mills so we continue to have options. A mini mill is a business that seems like a challenge to remain viable. Theresa is creative and clever. She enjoys creating blends with wool and add ins, and she understands how the properties of each breed works well with the others. She's made Polypay-alpaca roving, Rambouillet/Columbia + silk roving for us. Right now she's got a Polypay + silk yarn in the works for me. It's going to look like Confetti yarn. She makes rug yarn out of the skirtings, cool!!! no wool left behind. When she first started she wasn't able to clean our really greasy wool clean and I asked her to rewash and reprocess. She did it for freeeeee! Yeah, great customer service to support a great product.

Other thoughts not specific to one mill:

  • Some mills have a minimum amount of fiber for an order or you have to pay a small batch fee. Read the mill order form to learn about other expectations from the miller.

  • Have a different mill order paper for each run. Be specific so the millers know what you want.

  • Processing time may be lengthy, and it's hard to wait, but worth it!

  • Millers are helpful and take time to answer questions. They want to ensure you understand the work you are expecting of them. Ultimately you are investing a lot of $ and your resource. They want to ensure you are satisfied.

  • You will be in awe of your product!

  • Yes, mill processing your fiber can seem expensive, but so worth the process.

  • The photos included are a small sample of our mill processed items... all beautiful

  • Shipping is expensive. Learn how to use a vacuum to suck all the air out and compact the wool as much as possible. Check out Darkside Shearing's vid on how to pack a lot of wool into a little box. I use this strategy to package 30 LBS at a go!

Thank you mills for your service!! Please let me know if you have any questions about my information. I'm happy to help.

Anne Sammons

Leaf Livestock Wool Co

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