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A Day in the Life of a Fiber Mill

A Day in the Life of a Fiber Mill

Last Friday, Cathy (Luvswool) and I took a lovely drive out to Belvidere, Illinois to tour the Illinois Wool and Fiber Mill.

Nestled in the midst of farmland, we were surprised to turn into a  homestead driveway. I guess we were expecting a huge factory, but it was a quaint store and small facility crammed with custom made machinery.  The idea for the mill started when Jane Zeien’s family purchased two ewes  for a 4 H project.  The family enjoyed working with the sheep and began raising Cheviot, Hampshire, Shetland and Cotswold sheep. They decided to expand their services to help promote the industry.

The Illinois Wool and Fiber Mill can handle everything from washing fiber, blending, picking, carding, pin drafting, custom dyeing, preparing batts and spinning.  All types of natural fiber are welcome  unwashed or washed.  And no order is too small and each fleece is processed individually.

Jane greeted us and led us into her workspace and into wool heaven.

We were surrounded by fleece waiting to be processed in a variety of  breeds and blends and piles of roving in a potpourri of colors and blends.

The picker has a big enclosed space behind it where the fleece piles up ready for the next step.

PickerThe carder dominated the center of the room.

front of carder carder back











Batts can be made on the carder by changing out the parts on the back of this machine shown here making roving.

This is the pin drafting machine.

pin draftingDepending on the job finishing the wool can be done on the spinning machine, then the skeining machine.

Spinning Skeining machineWhen the tour was over we visited the shop where everything is related to sheep from skins to finished good by Pendleton and Woolrich along with handmade items, books, roving and yarn. If you want to learn more about the mill visit their website

Of course, we both bought some new wools to play with. One of my treasures was an English Merino wool batt.

Eng Merino batt

Here are Cathy’s new treasures —

Cathy treasures


Wool Gathering

Wool Gathering

This past weekend, my husband and I went to pick up 200# of wool and took it to the processing plant. This is the wool that I will be using to build a yurt this summer. It was really exciting to get started on this project.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWe got up early on Saturday morning and drove to Florence, MT which is about 3 hours from our house. We arrived and the little white trailer is where the wool we were buying was stored. We loaded it on to our trailer and strapped it all down.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAHere are a few of the sheep that were on Suzanne’s farm.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAMost of the wool is this dark color. This is either a Targee or Black Welsh breed of sheep.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe dogs wanted to get in on the act, so here is Suzanne trying to calm them down a bit.


All of the bags of wool were labeled with the sheep name for the fleece. This is Sophie and there was also Elmo and Ernie and a few others I have forgotten.


Here’s some of the darker wool. I got a mix of Targee, Black Welsh, Romney and BFL.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThen we took off for Hall, MT. We had to make a stop for a cargo net to go over the tarp as we were afraid all the wool was going to blow away. Once it was strapped down more tightly, we were back on the road to Hall. After another one and half hours of driving we arrived at Sugar Loaf Wool Mill.


Here I am helping to unload the wool from the trailer. It was cold and windy.


Once we got inside, Ed weighed all the bags of wool. We had 206#.


Here’s Sue and her assistant adding up the wool amounts.


Here is the carder and it is really huge. Ed was really nice and turned on the carder to make a batt that will be similar to the ones I will be getting back. The videos below show the carder at work. I wasn’t able to edit the videos because I need a better editing program but I think they are worth watching if you haven’t seen a big carder running before. The videos are fairly short and the last one shows Ed cutting the batt off the carder.


This is a rolling felting machine that Ed built himself. I need one of these 🙂

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