Guest blog by Ronan Moore – New Lanark Marketing Intern
You may not know it, but New Lanark is still a working mill. What once started out as a small part of the restoration process and Visitor Centre experience has now became one of the core revenue generating activities for New Lanark Trust. The village has reclaimed its title of being a spinning centre by using the same traditional methods using spinning woollen yarn instead of cotton and other modernistations along the way! The production is extremely efficient here in New Lanark and the woollen yarn produced can be recognised on a global scale. New Lanark’s wool has been used in a Harry Potter movie and Carbonised White woollen single ply yarn is added to other yarns and woven into cloth used by Chanel for their garments.
For some of our yarns we add silk our Donegal Silk range. In the silk range there will be up to 10% silk in the yarn.
New Lanark’s Harry Potter Knitting Pattern
The Raw product
The New Lanark woollen yarn process begins in the basement of Mill3 with the raw prodcut – sheep fleece. There are more than 60 different breeds of sheep in Britain, more than in any other country. Their wool is very different often depending on where they live, on hills or lower land, and some are naturally coloured. Different sheep also produce different quantities and weights of fleece. At New Lanark we work with a range of different fleece for different breeds, for example: Kent Romney, Shetland plus many more.
Our fleece is bought from a broker and arrives in large bales or bags which are stored in the basement of Mill 3, where most of the production takes place. Most of our fleece comes scoured (cleaned) and if we, or any of our commission customers, want the fleece dyed, it is done before it is delivered here. All of the brokers, scourers and dyers we use are based in Yorkshire. For some of our yarns we add silk (our Donegal Silk range) which softens the woollen yarn. In the silk range there may be up to 10% silk in the woollen yarn.
To create our woollen yarn range we work to a recipe book of finely tuned combinations of weights of different fleece. To create a batch of a particular yarn, particular amounts of specific wool shades are selected, weighed and blended. Our final shades have up to 7 different colours in them.
The fleece is weighed and laid out in a large metal vat on the floor, usually with lighter colours at the bottom. Vegetable-based Oil is then added to lubricate the wool and replace the natural lanolin which is removed during the scouring (cleaning) process. The blended wool is left to rest for around 8 hours (for 500 kilos) then transferred to a large metal Blend Room, ready for the next step – Carding.
Large Metal Vat where the oil is added to lubricate the fleece
Carding is the next stage of the woolen yarn production process, the carding machine is located in the ground floor of Mill 3 at New Lanark and can be seen by the public through a glass partition. The carding machine continues to blend and refine the wool but the main job of the carding machine is to align the wool fibres. It does so by using its many hundreds of ‘teeth’ on the surface of the large rollers which comb and blend the fibres and colours together, and also remove any waste material – even particles of sand from the Shetland sheep’s fleece! The man who is in charge of the blending and the carding process is Robert.
The end of the carding machine.
Robert showing us how the carding process is done!
Then we move on to the Spinning floor! This is the main part of the woollen yarn production process, that visitors can see at New Lanark as part of the Visitor Centre experience and is located on Level 4 of Mill 3. The traditional methods are still in place with spinning as you will be able to see with the Headstock.
The Headstock is what keeps the process moving and can be described as a large gear. To simplify the process, the carded spool feeds out,is spun out and wound onto a pirn Scott, who has worked here for five years works on the spinning mule and was kind enough to show us how it works!
The spinning mule is stopped regularly to check the quality of production in order to make sure they are the correct thickness and that they are even.
Scott operating the spinning machine. Notice the Headstock behind him.
A close up view of the pirns on the Spinning Mule
A Pirn ‘full’ with wool is called a ‘Cop’
Winding & Plying
Once the cops are created they are sent through to the savio machine, also known as the winding machine. There are 8 units for cones on the machine and it takes 18-20 cops to make 1 cone. This machine ensures the quality of our yarn and removes any knots or inconsistencies. Unfortunately, this machine is not on public display.
The Savio ‘winding’ machine creating single ply cones
Once the cops are created they are sent through to the Savio winding machine .There are 8 units for cones on the machine and it takes 8-10 cops to make 1 cone. This machine ensures the quality of our yarn and removes any knots or inconsistencies. Unfortunately, this machine is not on public display.
Once the cones are produced, they are either stored until ready to be used or sent directly back over to the Twisting Frame. The twisting frame’s purpose is to create the thickness (or ply) intended for the type of wool the customer would like. Single thread(1 strand), Double Knitting (2 strands), Aran (3 strands), Chunky (4 strands)
The Twisting Frame where individual strands are twisted to create the desired thickness of yarn
One of the last processes is the Hanking Machine which does exactly what you would think, it creates hanks. The Hanker rolls yarn into big loops that weight just over 1 kilo and then they are sent down to Yorkshire to be cleaned/scoured.
The Hanking Machine- customers can purchase hanks or hanks can also be balled
This is what a Hank of yarn looks like!
The Finished Product
We sell our finished product in many ways – in our Mill Shop, at Trade Shows, via our online shop and to wholesalers or commission customers.
Stockroom of New Lanark wool cones
The Mill Shop’s New Lanark Wool & Textiles department
The quickest turnaround from start, blending, to finished product including hanking and balling, is 6 weeks. However, as New Lanark has a wide range of shades available, it could take a few months for a specific shade to be reproduced if our production schedule is full.
All proceeds from the sale of our wool and textiles are returned to New Lanark Trust to be reinvested in the care and development of New Lanark World Heritage Site.
The New Lanark Textiles team – Robert, Colin, Jim, Alan, Scott, Stewart and Wilma (Janice not pictured)
You can read a lot more about the production of New Lanark wool on the ‘Wool Process’ page of New Lanark’s online shop.
Ronan – New Lanark Marketing Intern