YarnSuperhero: Gail, I have had so much fun hanging out with you and Jim at the last two Maryland Sheep and Wool Festivals! Your roving and yarns are so beautiful and many people say they will never process their fiber with anyone else.
What do you think sets you apart from other mills?
Gail White: Our customer service. We strive to give our customers what they need. If we can’t do the job, either all or part, we will find the right service for them, to get to their end product. Most of our equipment is industrial carding equipment, designed for mill laboratory production. Our card is designed for “Cottage” industry, only in size. Otherwise, it too is industrial in application. After visiting Pharr Yarns in NC, I came home and asked my husband if we could do the same on a small scale and that’s what we did. Jim is an electrical engineer, machinist and quality assurance all wrapped up in a wonderful DH. We offer all our customers a processed coil of roving that is easy to draw out of a bag and spin from directly. No ball winding, broken roving, just one continuous piece of wonderful roving to spin from. Our spinning frame makes a tighter twisted yarn that is very suitable for lace scarves, shawls, socks, sweaters, and hats, mittens in lace, fingering, sport and DK weights. We can do the heavier weights when needed.
YS: Why did you decide to start the mill?
GW: I’m from a manufacturing family. Our family had its own company; my brother is still running it 60 years later. I wanted my own business and having 15 years in fiber fun, knitting, spinning, weaving, decided I wanted to have my own mill. Also, my daughter had angora bunnies and I just couldn’t throw the fiber away, so began Ozark Carding Mill in Snohomish, WA in 1995.
YS: What was it like getting started?
GW: I got the seed money for the mill from my parents estate. At that time there were only two cottage mill manufacturers, Patrick Green and Belfast Mini Mills. I elected Pat’s equipment and we went to Canada to order it and picked it up 6 months later. I worked part time on the mill, while working full time at Boeing in Everett, WA. Did that for about 8 mos. We made a family move to Warsaw, MO to help my brother with the family business, my husband worked for my brother and I did the mill. We moved cross country with my Patrick Green card and picker and 8 Targhee ewes and our some of our household goods. We spent 12 years in Warsaw where I did the mill, raised Targhee and Targhee crossed sheep. Used the wool for my retail and sold the lambs.
YS: Without giving away any of your trade secrets, what are some of the more tricky aspects of processing wool and camelid fleeces?
GW: To get the grease out of wool and the dirt out of the camelids. We use Power Scour as a finish wash to the wool and use it exclusively on all the camelids. It gives the wool and camelids a wonderful handle. It causes the dirt to drop out of the camelids, reducing the amount of rinses we have to do to get the dirt out. We do use 150 degree water with the wools and another detergent to get the initial bout of grease out and finish with Power Scour as is strips the last little bit of lanolin out of the wool. The combination works especially well on the super fine, high lanolin sheep fleeces.
YS: Which of your products or services excites you the most?
GW: I love it all. I really like designing multi colored, multi fiber rovings the best. However, once the yarn is spin and skeined, I really enjoy coming up with different color combinations on the yarns.
YS: What things have been the most surprising, or unexpected about being in the fiber processing business?
GW: The number of mills that have started up in the last 10 years. When we started you could count the number of mills that would do small lots on both hands. Now there have to be almost 300 in the US and Canada.
YS: What is the most fun part of your job?
GW: It’s all fun, even the washing. It’s fun to put an icky, dirty fleece in the washer and see what a beautiful color it really is when clean.
YS: What is your typical day at the mill like?
GW: Busy! It’s just Jim and I. Sometimes we bring in a gal who does the twisting, splicing and skeining on large lots. So we trade off washing, picking, carding, pin drafting and spinning. Jim’s my master spinner. He makes the spinner do wondrous things.
YS: What are some of the more challenging aspects of your business?
GW: Trying to give the customer what they want, when the fiber isn’t really conducive to the end product they desire. This is especially true in yarn. Irregular fiber lengths make for slubs and boucles, not smooth evenly twisted yarn.
YS: I’m happy that you use Unicorn Products at your mill. Can you tell me what you like the most about them and what made you decide to switch from the products you used previously?
GW: Unicorn products are the best thing that’s happened to fiber in years. I’ve tried just about every product there is to get the grease out of wool. PS will get the grease out of the finest wool fleeces, when used as recommended by the manufacturer. However, PS is expensive when compared to detergents on a per fleece basis. So as to conserve, we use a detergent in the first wash and PS in the second and third when necessary on the wool fleeces. We use PS exclusively on all the camelid fleeces in both washes. It is low sudsing and rinses out easily, so there is less handling of the fleeces, which reduces the possibility of felting the cut ends. It leaves the fleeces nice smelling and they have a wonderful handle.
Thanks for the interview Gail! I always feel smarter after I talk with you! Find Gail (and read her forum posts–what a goldmine!) on Ravelry as MadamFluffy.