Last week, I told you about my trip to the Kraemer Yarn Store in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. You can read all about it here, but I had an amazing time learning about their company and meeting the staff. One of the greatest parts of our visit though, was the tour through the yarn mill.
I never realized how much goes into making the yarn that winds up on LYS shelves. I understood at a rudimentary level that yarn gets spun and dyed. I didn’t realize the kind of man and machine power that goes into that though. Kraemer was kind enough to take us every step of the way from fibers to finished products. They don’t open up their mill often, and we are extremely grateful for the opportunity.
So grab a coffee, get comfy, and lets make some yarn!
Me and the lovely Eleanor discussing safety before entering the mill.
- – – Step One – – -
Fiber comes into Kraemer’s mill from all kinds of sources. Some of what they spin is for local farmers who raise animals but don’t spin, some is for their own yarn, and the rest is actually for other yarn companies. In fact, Kraemer manufactures the yarn for several other yarn companies! The smallest order they’ll work with is 100 lbs of fiber.
A delightfully magenta bale of fiber getting moved into the building.
The bales pictured above are 400-600 pounds of uncarded fiber. The fibers are blended using a huge scale and then sent on a conveyor belt down to the carder. Blending is a lot like following a recipe, and it’s done to create either colors, or content blends or both. We were lucky enough to see them blending the fiber for one of my very favorite yarns: Sterling Silk and Silver. The mill staff had recipe cards that would tell them how many pounds of silver, how many pounds of silk, and how many pounds of wool to put in each batch.
Of course, not all the fiber that comes in is good enough to wind up in your yarn. The excess or waste fiber is sold to a paper mill and is used to make sheets of paper.
- – – Step Two – – -
Once the right amounts of each fiber has been measured out, it rides on down to the carder. An enormous machine swirls and mixes the fibers together, and as it works little puffs escape making it seem like it was snowing wool. I refrained from trying to catch any on my tongue.
Once the fibers are thoroughly mixed they proceed to the carder. Prior to this tour, I understood the principal of carding, but I didn’t realize just how much of a difference it really makes! They were carding some Nylon while we were there, and it was lumpy and plastic looking in the bales. On the other end of the carding machine it looked like a unicorn’s mane!
Carded to the left. Uncarded to the right.
The carder brushes the fibers and turns them so they all point in the same direction. It’s a lot like combing really unruly hair until it’s straight and shiny. Each batch goes through the carder a few times, until it is soft and smooth. After it’s been carded (now it’s called roving!) it gets coiled into a giant barrel and heads over to drawing.
- – – Step Three – – -
Drawing pulls the roving into increasingly smaller strands. Kraemer draws roving at least three times to get a uniform coil that is ready to be spun. Once the roving has been drawn into perfectly uniform coils the barrel heads over to the spinning frame.
- – – Step Four – – -
The spinning frame creates single plys of yarn (though it looks more like thread at this stage) which is wound onto either bobbins or cones, depending on where it will wind up. They have rows and rows of spinning frames that are working at a terrifying speed. Each week, Kraemer spins 20,000 or more yards of wool. That’s enough to go around the world 1.5 times!
- – – Step Five – – -
The single ply’s that were made on the spinning frame move over to another machine for twisting. Gravity pulls yarn from the bobbin or cone and anywhere from 2-16 plys are twisted together to get yarn. Some of the plys are impossibly thin, and I was amazed that they didn’t snap during the process. The twist can go to the clockwise or counterclockwise, and a clockwise twist is called an “R-twist” while a counterclockwise twist is an “S-twist”. Fun fact for any chemistry enthusiasts: this is the same system used to describe the steriochemistry of a molecule!
The yarn is then knotted or air spliced to create huge cones and bobbins of spun yarn. We met the oldest employee at Kraemer while she walked up and down a row of winders, knotting the ends as they appeared. At 78 years old, she has been with Kraemer for 58 years, and was described as their hardest and most proficient worker.
- – – Step Six – – -
The final step is to skein the yarn, and steam condition it. Have you ever tried to twist your yarn back into a skein so it looks like this?
I have, many times. I was put to shame by a woman who was turning out 3 or 4 skeins a minute without seeming to even try. And I’m pretty sure she slowed way down so I could see what she was doing. After being skeined it goes over to a terrifying “conditioning chamber” that creates an extremely hot, and steamy environment to relax the fibers into the soft skeins that wind up on store shelves. It was warm, but not lethal when we saw it. :)
Our tour concluded with a look inside the packing room where the labels get added, boxes get packed, and orders go out. It takes about a week for fiber to make it all the way through the cycle and wind up in this room.
The mill operates 3 shifts a day, 5 days a week. One of the most impressive thing for me was the endurance of the mill workers. They all seemed very laid back while working at an incredible speed. Not only that, we mentioned how hot it was the day we were there and they chuckled a little and told us this was nothing. On a really hot day it can get up to 130 degrees in the mill and everyone is required to drink water like it’s going out of style. The weather even affects what fibers can be worked with, and if it’s too hot or humid they sometimes have to change their work plan to accommodate.
We had an amazing time going behind the scenes at a yarn mill, and I’ll never look at my yarn the same way again. Even the most expensive of luxury yarns seems reasonably priced when you factor in that a team of people worked for a week to make it. Thank you so much Kraemer Yarn, we hope to come visit again soon! You can find Kraemer Yarn’s store front at:
240 S. Main St. Nazareth, PA 18064
Head on over to Ravelry, Facebook, or Twitter to show them some love, and check out their online store to get some yarn of your own. Until next time Caffenistas, knit fast, die warm, and know where your yarn comes from.
“Stop calling him the Wizard, you’ll give him a big head.”