New mill in Randall will support local wool farmers

Janelle Johnson, left, and Linda Thesing are excited to expand their business “Old Creamery Quilt Shop” in Randall with a woolen mill. Their minimum requirement of five pounds of wool to process will make them the only woolen mill in Minnesota to accept smaller quantities.

Linda Thesing and Janelle Johnson, a mother-daughter team who own the Old Creamery Quilt Shop in Randall, know their latest business decision will have a positive impact on local farmers.

After Thesing found out a year ago that the woolen mill she used to process wool was closing, she started searching for another mill. The search would prove to be more difficult than she had anticipated.

While looking for mills throughout Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, Thesing learned none of the mills were taking on new clients as they were booked solid.

Besides being behind in production, they also required a minimum of 10,000 pounds of wool to even process anything.

“That’s how I knew there was a demand for it. When I told my mom I couldn’t find a mill, she just said: ‘Why don’t we do it?’” Thesing said.

The timing to get into the woolen mill industry couldn’t have been more perfect. An auto body shop located behind their store was for sale and the large space provided adequate room for the large wooling equipment.

“Our main purpose of this mill is to process for those small-scale fiber farmers that want their roving,” Thesing said.

Many times farmers may want products with their own sheep’s wool, but haven’t been able to process it at mills because of the large volume requirement.

“So many just send the wool with the shearer. A lot of them don’t get anything for it,” Thesing said.

The mill seeks to buy wool from local farmers and will pay what the wool is worth depending upon its quality.

“Generally you’re looking for a low micron count, like in the 18-22s. A good, low micron count is considered to be a next-to-skin wool. It’s something you can wear without it being scratchy,” Thesing said.

The two will also buy wool that has a high micron count. That wool will be used for wool batting (the padding between the layers of fabric in a quilt). It can also be used to make other various products, such as hunting and ice fishing seat cushions.

Thesing said the micron count varies from breed to breed, but a lot depends on how the farmer feeds and keeps the animals, genetics and whether or not they are going through a birthing process or are sick.

Thesing and Johnson will process wool 3- to 11-inches long, with a minimum limit of five pounds. The wool may come from a variety of animals, such as sheep, alpacas, llamas, angora mohair (goats and rabbits), elk, buffalo and even from dogs.

The equipment will arrive in about three weeks and Thesing and Johnson anticipate the mill will be up and running by Sept. 1.

Going into the woolen mill industry has also been a learning experience for the two. Not only finding the right equipment for what they want to do, but also to receive training on how to operate the machines.

“We found a mill in Michigan that fabricates the milling equipment, so that really helped us. We were able to train in their mill. Once the equipment is here, they’ll provide on-site support for a week, as well,” Thesing said.

When it comes to making yarn and fleeces, Thesing said the process begins with washing the hair. After that, the water is extracted similar to a washing machine’s spin cycle. Next, the wool is laid out on large fishnet holders to dry.

Once the wool is dried, it goes through a picker machine.

“The picker machine opens up the fiber, so any vegetable matter, like hay, gets cleaned out,” Thesing said.

If the wool is used to make quilt bats, it is processed through a carding machine. But if it’s made into yarn, then it is sent through a pindrafting process, which aligns the fibers in the same direction.

“It gives the customer a stronger yarn and may help with less pilling (the yarns in a fabric that stands up or out from the weave),” Thesing said.

With the new mill, Thesing and her mom will produce their own brand of batting and yarn, which will be sold at their store.

“When we opened this we had an idea. Not just to sell fabric, but things with fiber in general, so this goes with yarn,” Johnson said.

Those who are interested in selling their wool or who want more information, may call (320) 749-2420 or visit www.oldcreamery woolenmill.com.