Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Journey to Ohio Valley Natural Fibers

Since beginning my fiber foray about 15 years ago, I have made the long trip to this fiber mill, Ohio Valley Natural Fibers, in Sardinia, Ohio dozens of times.  It's where I take much of our alpaca fiber to be carded into a more usable form (roving) so that it can be hand spun on a wheel into yarn, used for making felt, or prepared in a way so that it can be sold to other hand spinners.

The owners, Kent and Ginny Ferguson, are very focused, fun and unique people that run a great operation, using equipment from old textile mills, some of which dates back to the early-mid 1900's.  Their carders are LARGE, taking up a small warehouse space, and they welcome visitors to look around and see the big machines in action.  On a typical visit, they start with weighing and going over the order with me.  I had spent the prior afternoon sorting through the fleeces overflowing in the barn loft, "skirting" them to remove unwanted "vegetable matter" (VM) and coarser fibers, and deciding which ones I wanted to combine or blend with other exotic fibers.

Each lot of fiber that will be blended first goes onto a "picker" which helps to open the fleece's locks, fluffs it, and throws it into it's own little "room", mixing it with the added fibers as it goes.  Then it is taken to one of the giant carding machines.
The machines require constant attention and maintenance as the fine fibers float around.  Here, Kent is checking the machine and lightly spraying the fleece to help it go through the series of dozens of spiked rollers more easily.  Ohio Valley works hard to produce a clean product, and doesn't use acids or other chemicals to dissolve the vegetable matter as the large commercial mills do, resulting in a more green product which we can offer to our customers.  The process requires a lot of manual labor to keep all of that fiber cleaned up, which is why they're slated to be featured on the Discovery Channel show, "Dirty Jobs" this season!
As the fleece goes through the final roller from which the fiber comes off in rope-like roving, a person is there ready to carefully lay it into a box.  I love this part, as I can see how the fleece turned out, which is usually beautiful!  I'm always anxious to get home and start spinning on the most special fleeces.  I do believe that having this much hands-on with our fleece has helped me be a better alpaca breeder.  I'll soon post pictures of some of the projects I've already completed using my favorite fibers.

Thank you to Kent and Ginny for their many years of quality, friendly service to Seldom Scene Farm!
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