It will soon be that time of year again -- you'll find a wonderful fleece at a spring wool show, be handed one from a friendly neighbor, or go through your stash and decide you just aren't going to get it all done without help.
So, take a good look at your fleece, and decide how you want it processed, and if one of these well-known mills (in the US) would be the one for it to go to. These are all places I've had fiber processed (all with good results).
- Ohio Valley Natural Fibers: sent them several large, greasy Romney fleeces and got back wonderful pin-drafted, clean roving that was great for the learn to spin kits.
- Zeilinger Wool Company: sent them several rounds of VMy and/or muddy California Red fleeces, always get back lovely soft, clean, VM-free roving.
- Wooly Knob Fiber Mill: the spinner's friend, these guys will keep a fleece to itself and give you back clouds of soft roving. They've done some of the one-fleece runs for Amelia's Mill as well as the Shetland/Alpaca roving.
- Stonehedge: lovely to work with, did a great job dealing with my VMy llama, and made a nice blend of llama/CVM wool for me -- that's the blend, shown below.
- Morro Fleece Works: wow! hands down the best there is, very worth it for your fine Cormos and Merinos that might nep on the other mills' machines.
There are also smaller mills, locally operated -- I know of one near me, Taylored Fibers in Quilcene, WA with a PG Exotica machine. So ask around, you may find something nearby that can handle your wool. Barry Taylor's done a great job on a variety of medium wools for me, Romney cross, Jacob, Ryeland, and Dorset.
When deciding if a mill is right for your fleece, consider the type of fleece, what the mill can handle (Zeilinger's says right up front that fine fleeces are likely to nep), what the mill can produce (roving, top, pin-drafted roving, batts), the likely backlog at the mill -- call them and ask, and the cost of processing -- be sure to ask about specials when you call.
What do you look for in a fleece?
What fiber preparations are there?
How do I know what sheep breed to look for?
And check out this recently updated post:
What online fiber forums are there?
© 20 February 2010 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at http://askthebellwether.blogspot.com/
When is it "worth it" to send a fleece out for processing? How much does your roving usually end up costing per pound?
@Becca, that's a very good question! I hate to say it, but "it depends". I would only send a fleece that was very well skirted, as on a well-skirted raw fleece you will lose typically 30% of the weight in processing to roving (50% or more processing to combed top). So what you paid for the raw fleece quickly gets magnified in the final product.
Some mills charge on incoming weight -- so if you pay, say, $12/pound (I'm totally making that number up!) on incoming weight and lose 25% of the weight in processing, you paid $16/pound for the processing. Yeah, I picked those numbers to make the math easy ...
With the same 25% weight loss in processing at a mill charging $16/pound based on final weight, you can see you're paying the same.
There are also shipping costs to consider when sending your roving out for processing -- both ways, to the mill, and back home again. That can add to the cost.
So, since you asked for some real numbers, let me see if I can oblige; at Taylored Fibers, I can have Barry pick a fleece up when he swings through town, and he'll drop it off at the local yarn shop when it's ready, so there's no shipping cost. He charges $9/pound, incoming weight, to produce roving. If I paid $8/pound for a properly skirted fleece, and 30% of the weight is lost in processing, then my final per pound costs are (pulling out my calculator):
8/.7 + 9/.7 = 24.29/$
That's a pretty decent price, all told, and given other factors (availability of personal time for washing & carding, price of a drum carder, water & wool scour) can be well worth it.
Given the number of fleeces I mailed out when I compiled this list, it was *very* worth it for me -- it would have taken me several years to process that fleece in my small sinks, with a table-top drum carder.
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