Sandy and I knew the day was coming, and we have been looking forward to it. We have been buying fleeces, both for the Fiber Binder Club and for sale on Dyed in the Wool and at the various shows we are doing this summer, but we needed to get those fleeces processed. Shipping this many fleeces would have been a bit cost prohibitive, so we decided to drive them up to Zeilinger Wool Company and deliver them – and make a day of it up there as well.
Kris LeMar, a wonderful and rather new friend of ours (we have purchased several Shetland fleeces from her and it is her I am teaching sock knitting), was asked if she wanted to take some of her own fleeces up there when we went. She jumped at the chance, and we loaded up Bettie, my PT Cruiser, and headed out at 6:00 yesterday morning.
It is a nearly 5-hour drive up there, so we arrived at about 11:00.
And this sign was a welcome sight, especially to Sandy and Kris. Let me show you why.
Sandy and Kris got to know each other very well on that long drive north .
The only reason why the passenger seat wasn’t full was so I could see out the side mirror since I had no view out the back nor could Sandy help with the passenger side of the car. All said and done, there was about 135 pounds of raw fleeces in that car – 125.66 pounds of it for Sandy and I. Folks, that’s a lot of dirty wool. I did try to confine any ram fleeces to the very back so Sandy and Kris wouldn’t get asphyxiated on the trip up.
The first thing we did was get all of our fleeces sorted, organized and written up.
And, in case you were wondering, we are planning to drive back up there to pick them up. The cost of the gasoline is far less (about half) than the shipping costs would be. As old as Bettie is (210,000+ miles), she still gets pretty good gas mileage.
While we were there, Kathy Zeilinger gave us a tour. Let me begin the tour by saying Kathy is one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. You can tell, even after all of these years, she loves what she does.
Let’s start at the beginning – with washing the dirty fleeces that come in.
The gentleman in charge of washing the fleeces fills the tubs up with 180 degree water and adds in a commercial-strength degreaser. Then he uses that potato fork to lift the fleeces out of the washing tubs and into crates with lots of holes in them, places them over drains in the floor and rinses the fleeces there. Can you imagine how heavy an entire, wet fleece weighs lifting it out of the washing water? Who needs a gym if you work here?
More of the washing room. I drooled over that stainless-steel washing tub. Can you imagine that as an indigo vat? In the corner is a machine that spins out all of the water. It’s going pretty fast here, but was slowing down.
Here is a closer look at that machine. Like a huge washing machine, but just for spinning out the water. I set my camera on the fastest speed in order to get this shot, and it still shows action blur.
From there, the fleeces head upstairs to the drying room. Each fleece is tagged when it comes in and the organization of this place amazes me. You have to be well-organized in order to keep track of each of the thousands of fleeces they process each year.
Also, in the drying room, are their sock-knitting machines. These machines can knit a pair of socks in 90 seconds. Not one sock, but the entire pair in that time. Boggles the mind!
This is a bucket of just-knitted socks standing in front of one of the knitting machines.
From there, the unfinished socks go into the next room to have the toes sewn shut. After that, the socks get washed and are tagged and ready for sale. Kathy said they sell lots and lots of wool socks and this part of the business is always pretty busy.
Th other 90% of the room where the socks are finished is dedicated to making quilts and comforters. Also, batts are tacked with high-quality cotton cheese cloth all ready for duvet cover.
For some reason, I felt really at home in this room. Racks of fabric, quilt frames, quilts on the walls, lots of natural lighting… Yes, I really liked this room and could have happily moved in and gotten to work.
Other services Zeilinger’s does is washing wool-filled comforters and taking old wool filling out, re-fluffing it and making new covers for them. She said you can save about 60% by having old comforters redone this way.
From there, we’ll head back downstairs.
This is the carding room where they make the roving and batts. The machine at the far right is the oldest. It was built in 1895. The one closest to us is the “baby” having been built in 1933. They sure made machines to last back then, and they are very well cared for and maintained. Only white wool is processed in this building. Colored wool has a different building, but we didn’t get to tour that building because the machines were being serviced and she didn’t want to disturb the technicians. I can’t say I blame her. These machines look like they would take concentration to work on.
In a different building, they make the yarn for the socks and for people who want their fleeces pre-spun into yarn for them.
There is a lot happening in this room. The wool in the bags are waiting their turn at being turned into yarn.
The carder here turns the wool into very thin layers of batting.
This thin batting, in turn, gets separated up into the thin belts, which feds the thin strips into the machine.
This machine “rubs” the thin strips together into pencil roving, which is wound onto huge bobbins.
These huge bobbins, in fact. Each bobbin hold the pencil roving for one customer, so there is no mixing things up. Like I said, these people are organized!
From there, the pencil roving goes over to be spun into singles. This machine does that and places the singles onto the giant spools.
Here is a close up of partially filled spools of singles.
The singles are then coned, and
send to another machine that plies two singles together. There is another machine beyond this one for three-ply yarns.
Once the yarn has been plied, then the spools are sent into a steamer to set the twist.
The yarn not being turned into socks is then skeined up on this yarn winder and made ready to either send to the customer or go out into the shop for sale.
And that is a quick tour of the place. We found it all fascinating. Knowing what all our fleeces will go through before they come home to us has made us very appreciative of what these people do. It is all rather labor intensive, but so necessary to us smaller users of spinning fibers.
After we left Zeilinger’s, we went to a restaurant recommended by Kathy Zeilinger.
I can see why she loves this place. The food was wonderful – especially their soup of the day, lentil with sweet sausage. Really hit the spot because we were all pretty hungry when we left.
And who can go to Frankenmuth without visiting Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland. I finally found the nativity set that I have been looking for, but it was beyond my price range for the time being. Maybe I can save my money up and get it when Sandy and I return to pick up the processed fleeces.
And here we are, all tired and hungry after our long day. The nice manager at the Cracker Barrel just down the road offered to take our picture together and we thanked him for it. As you can see, we made sure Kris fit in with the theme of the day.
It was a very long day, starting at 6 AM and ended at midnight when we dropped Kris off to where her car was parked for the day. It was nearly 1 AM before I got to bed, but it was so worth it. We all learned so much about how our raw fleeces get turned into the pretty top and roving we sell. Can’t wait to get them back!!