Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Alberta trip - part three

After seeing more of Alberta, including many pump-jacks,

a visit to the hoo-doos and Drumheller (including the awesome Tyrell Museum), we were sadly nearing the end of our trip.

We planned to fly out of Edmonton, which allowed us some time to stop in Carstairs to visit the Custom Woolen Mill.

I was in shock. I'd heard from my father - who has visited before - that this was a cool place to visit. I expected to see wool being processed, but really didn't expect to see the machines that I did.

These machines are from the 1800s, and were brought to rural Alberta by Bill and Fen more than 25 years ago. The whole history is available on their site.

What a fun place to visit. It's in the middle of nowhere, luckily we knew about it, and it wasn't too much out of the way on our drive to Edmonton. It's definitely worth the detour if you're in the area.

As we drove up, I saw a few barns, and it looked like any other farm in Alberta. Then I saw the wool shop, and the bags of wool. I knew I was in heaven.

As we walked into the processing plant, it was like we were walking into a part of history. It wasn't a big huge commercial wool processing plant. Actually, when I walked in, there was no one there to greet us 'officially', you just kind of walk in to the wool washing room. When we asked one of the people there if we should just walk around, she asked a nice looking gentleman (with a hand-knitted hat) to show us around the place. It wasn't until later that I realized that he was one of the owners.

I didn't get any pictures of the washing process, because it was too hot and humid and my camera got all fogged up. Here is the washed yarn getting ready to be carded.

After the wool is washed in two different baths to remove the lanolin, it goes to the carding machines. They can either card it into roving for you crazy spinners out there (actually I have a spinning question coming in the next post), or they can card it into batting for making quilts (which they also make on the premises).

After the wool is carded, it's spun into singles on the spinning mule. They can spin up to 192 bobbins at a time.

I was fascinated by the process. The bobbins go back and forth on the floor on special tracks. This allows the wool to be spun, and then is relaxed as the spinning mule goes back on its tracks.

After the singles are spun, it can also be plied into 2 or 3 ply yarn. I didn't get a picture of the plying machine :(

They sell all of the yarns in the yarn store, but they also make their own socks there using these funky sock knitting machines. The lady (I forget her name - I should really write this stuff down) showed us how the socks were made on these machines. I think she said that she could make one sock in about 3 MINUTES!!! I can't even cast on for a sock in 3 minutes.

It was pretty cool, the machine does the leg of the sock, turns the heel (some version of a short row heel) and then goes on to make the foot. The toe is another short-row toe, which is then sewn together on another machine. I was tempted to buy a pair of ready made socks, but decided to get the alpaca sock yarn instead and make the socks myself.

Here we see three socks that just came off the machine. They're sewn together using a clear thread by the sock knitting machine so that the stitches don't get dropped, but the clear thread gets cut off during the finishing process.

There are these funky little remnants from each sock that they give/sell to a local artist who makes rugs and other things with them. Erika got a few to play with, and was tickled pink. She was amused for almost an hour with these things.

We then got to go to the quilting room where they make their mattress covers and quilts using the same techniques that were used 50 years ago. There is a pattern that is made into a wooden template.

This is then outlined with spikes as a guide, and the sewing head is attached to an arm that travels along the spikes to sew the pattern. It has to be reset to a different part of the pattern a few times in the process so that the whole quilt has design on it.

I had gone to the mill with the intention of buying enough of the Alpaca Lopi to make myself a sweater, but ended up walking out with an entirely different set of purchases. (though I will be making an order for some of the Alpaca Lopi sometime this winter if anyone is interested).

My dad's neighbor raises Alpaca and has the Alpaca wool spun here, so I thought it would be neat to have a sweater made from an animal that I've actually seen in person.

I saw a cute sweater kit for Erika for $35 (yes, $35 for a whole sweater kit!!),

some alpaca sock yarn, (enough for two pair of socks)

the kit for the hat that Bill was wearing (I couldn't resist),

a kit for some funky socks (socks of many colors)

and a whole bunch of belly button warmers.

These belly button warmers are the coolest wool shop advertising I've ever seen. On the back, there's a brief - and humourous - description of how the belly button warmer can be used and the contact information for the mill.