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July 19, 2021

Purpose of the Mill

Finding our flow in all the noise

By: Peggy Allen

Suddenly one day at the mill I thought, “something’s changed.” At first I couldn’t pin it down. Had we gotten used to the insane heat? The elevated humidity that makes the fibers behave? Well, behave for the most part. Was it that my feet no longer hollered at me to sit the ##%%# down or they’d quit on me? Here’s what I think happened: We unlocked the purpose of the mill. We not only learned the equipment, we learned how the other one likes to work. We know wool now like never before and have built a rhythm that some days hums in the air. Gone is the anxiety that comes with working with sharp objects moving at wicked speeds. We know what finicky fiber is like, how to deal with it when it jams the equipment, and we know how long it takes to card and pin draft ten pounds of wool, and when a fiber needs babysitting and when it doesn’t.

We both wear headphones and can rarely hear a full sentence from each other but in few words, sometimes no words, we know when to step in with an extra hand or when to pick up a task midway through a process. I don’t mean to get hokey here, but when the mill is running on all cylinders – meaning the two of us have all the equipment running while also scouring wool and twisting skeins – it’s a beautiful thing. Despite the noise, it is calming and I feel content.

Don’t get me wrong: Some days are lumpy and frustrating. A big order needs hours of undivided attention. The humidity in the air isn’t doing enough to calm fine fiber. The picker is jammed. Again. And then something fun happens.

The pin drafter dies. We check the mechanical action of the machine and it’s fine. A rescue call to the prior owner assures us that a felt piece we thought was the issue isn’t. We’re not electricians and haven’t a clue how to rewire a thing. Just after I agree to call the electrician, who himself has never been inside this pyramid of gears, grease, combs, and wiring, Amanda says, “wait a second” as she inspects a metal tab that is intended to swing gently when the machine is running. If fiber somehow gets into the main mechanics of the machine, that tab should swing far enough to hit the electric knob that kills the motor. Amanda realizes that the tab had been nudged so that at rest it was too close to that knob ensuring that every time we started the machine, it would bump the knob and shut the machine down. It was simple enough to set the tab right and we were back in business. But not before we grinned at one another and did a hi five. Silly as it sounds, learning how to diagnose and fix the equipment has been crazy rewarding. And that morning, Amanda nailed it.

We have plenty more to learn, but the purpose of the mill is now clear. Work with wool, all kinds of soft, straight, crimpy, colorful, fabulous wool. Make gorgeous yarn with some of the very best mill equipment out there, solve problems as they arise, pay attention to your partner, and embrace the calming, sometimes challenging rhythms of mill work.