Working with The Natural Fibre Company
SUE BLACKER is back this evening to give us an insight to how The Natural Fibre Company works with small producers to really get the most from their product and, ultimately, their business too.
The Natural Fibre Company is a specialist, vertically integrated woollen mill and the only company in the UK that spins both wool and worsted yarns under the same roof. The NFC was acquired by Sue in November 2005 and moved from its original Welsh location to Launceston, in Cornwall, where Sue lives.
At The Natural Fibre Company we specialise in helping the owners of smaller and specialised flocks, whether pure or cross-bred, to get their fleeces made into yarns or other products. We receive many enquiries both by email and by phone, so the first thing we try to do is establish what the enquirer wants.
| The first enquiry and questions
We are sometimes asked about spinning dog, cat and other hair, though usually when we mention our minimum order size of 20kg the potential order evaporates. We are also asked about spinning very small quantities, even one fleece: for this there are several other small mills who specialise in this type of service and we are usually able to help people to find the right option, or possibly to participate in a shared batch with several similar people to make up 20kg and spin with us.
If there is enough fibre for 10kg to make scoured/carded fleece to use for hand spinning, peg looms or felt making, then we can do this and also are now able to refer people on to a batt-making service in Cumbria; or the fleece can be just left teased for stuffing cushions or quilts, or even for insulation. For those with 20kg who wish to embark on the spinning adventure, there are a few decisions to make: what sort of yarn, in what format and for what purpose: the basic decision is whether for knitting or weaving, which require differently structured yarns.
We do have a wide variety of information for download from our website, including information on smaller spinning mills, weaving, etc.
| Making a decision
To help make the right decision, we can advise on what sort of yarns can be made from the various types of wool, mohair and alpaca, as different breeds, ages and qualities can then be made into the most appropriate product. You need a yarn to suit the fibre and then a product to suit the yarn, so part of the discussion and advice will be to work back from an end result – which may in the end be different from the original expectations. The importance of getting the expectations in line with the possibilities is vital so that we and our customers end up with a good result. If the desires are for something not quite appropriate for the fibre, but the fibre has the potential to reach them with a little help, there are options of spinning differently, de-hairing, combing, adding other fibre, etc.
| Options to change a basic fibre to suit more end uses
Sometimes wool is quite coarse or mixed – it can be softened by adding softer fibre, like mohair or alpaca, or finer wool, even silk – depending on what effect is needed and whether the cost and benefit will work.
Sometimes white yarns don’t sell as well as all that, although of course there are many white sheep – so adding a little naturally coloured fibre or considering dyeing may make for a more marketable product.
If the fibre is hairy or contains a mix of coarse and fine hairs, then de-hairing or combing and possibly then making a worsted spun yarn, with a smoother handle, to feel softer to the touch, may be helpful. Coarser fibres also make better thicker, bulky yarns while very fine fibres do not always work well in thicker weights – they will also make garden twine, string for presents, string bags, etc, and these are just as valid as baby clothes or high fashion; while the stronger fibres make hard wearing rugs or upholstery which would not last very long if made with the finer softer fibres.
Then of course there are the choices between traditional balls with band or twisted skeins, or possibly the convenience of cones for machine knitting and to avoid as many joins when the plan is for a lot of knitting. For weaving or machine knitting yarns, the finish is on cones, oiled, waxed and sometimes steamed to reduce kinking in the further manufacture.
Fleeces will only make the best if they are the best – of anything – so this means they need to be clean and tidy, without undue dirt, vegetable contamination or coloured dye markets. Fleeces should be skirted to remove the short, matted or dirty bits around the edges as well as any seriously matted/cotted lumps, which will not be able to be undone by the mill machines
It is also important to avoid the use of pesticides in the last three months before the shearing date – and preferably to avoid them altogether, since pesticide resistance is growing and these chemicals are bad for the environment and poisonous scour effluent is the quickest way to stop the industry being able to scour fleeces – we have also advised many people on how to reduce or eliminate these treatments from their flock management.
We also advise people to talk to each other! Getting a view from another customer or another mill will help to inform choices and decisions. Similarly for knitwear or weaving, it’s important to talk to the knitting manufacturer, weaver or tailor to be sure of getting the best final result – working backwards may in the end mean you need to start from somewhere else … and it’s important to find this out before spending money!
The key, above all is that all wool has a purpose – it’s just a question of finding it!
Thanks to Sue for another in-depth post. I thought it was apt to include this video, made at The Natural Fibre Company. It is another example of the superlative work done at the mill and really gives a wonderful insight into the quality of work that goes into creating your yarn.
Sue and the NFC foster really great working relationships with small producers and you can read about some of the NFC customers by visiting the Case Studies on the NFC website
To contact The Natural Fibre Company click on the logo or follow this link to their contact page