Today’s journey was deeper into the Maritimes, to MacAuslands’ Woolen Mill, a fifth generation family-run mill that has been processing our fleeces for over twenty years. We use MacAuslands for the blankets that we sell (you can see them in the farm store), as it is the only mill on the Eastern Seaboard that will give us our own fleeces back in our blankets (and since our fleeces are exceptionally soft, that’s pretty important). We also use them for the yarn that we sell above in the farm store, as well as for our wool webbing (which works beautifully for spinning, wet-felting and dry-felting). As many of you know, I am a habitual knitter, and never travel anywhere without a ball of yarn at hand. However, nearly every project I knit or spin comes from this mill’s fibers, because I like the feel of it so much. The secret is in the lanolin that still coats the fibers. It is almost as though the yarns are coated with a soft layer of butter. And hey. I like butter.
But I’ve learned that feeling the lanolin is indicative of other good things about the yarn. In many conventional mills, wool is carbonized in order to remove the vegetable matter (this is the bits of hay, grass, burrs, and chaff that naturally collect in the fleeces). Carbonizing is the process of, first and foremost, dipping the fleeces into a solution of sulphuric acid to dissolve the organic bits, to get a super-clean fleece for dying. So it comes as no surprise why most yarns today no longer have that soft, buttery feel, or that comforting scent of lanolin. Interestingly, as knitters become aware of this process, some mills are actually spraying lanolin or other conditioners back into the fibers after washing, in attempt to restore that pleasant hand-feel. In my opinion, it is simply better not to take it out from the start.
Instead of carbonizing, MacAuslands’ has chosen to be fussy with the wool that it accepts from farmers. While mills that utilize carbonizing will accept any fleece, the MacAusland family will reject fleeces that contain too much vegetable matter. Then, they handle their own fleece washing on-site (many mills no longer wash their own fleeces, sending them out hundreds or thousands of miles to specialized companies, because the carbonizing is so toxic). This family mill simply uses old-fashioned (“inefficient” aka “Non-Chemical’) pickers. Sure, I may find a little vegetable matter present among the plys as I knit, but I know that’s a sign of doing things right. The result is great yarn, super-soft wool blankets that wash beautifully and grow softer with each washing, and wool webbing that drafts easier than any fiber I’ve ever held (the lanolin plays a big part in this). I just love this mill and what they do. I guess that’s why we’ve been working together for so many years. Below are a few pics from our visit there today, along with a little selfie of Bob and me, taking in a little ocean time (why do we only make it to the waters’ edge when there is snow and ice on it??).