From Sheep to Bobbin
A wool story with, ibex photographer, nelson brown
NELSON BROWN 〡 MARCH 1ST, 2022
For generations, the S&D Mill and the Dearnley Family have been spinning wool throughout their four-story brick building in the heart of Millbury, Massachusetts. A town in earlier days known for its booming mill village. Nowadays, some mill buildings are vacant, others have found new purposes as apartments or businesses and some remain in a similar condition to that of the early 1900s.
Walking into S&D felt very much like walking back in time. I had never seen machinery quite like this before. Capable of so much input and output while not being run by today's technology. These machines and their gears and belts are in great running condition after working for more than eighty years. And at the heart of the building are, of course, the people who’ve lived through all of the ins and outs of the wool spinning process.
John Dearnley, Vice President, has worked at S&D ever since he was fifteen years old learning the ropes from his grandfather. The extent of his knowledge around this operation comes from a lifetime of experience coupled with a passion for the craft.
Strickland Wheelock, a textile genius, provided a full tour of the mill and its connecting operations. He, too, has a long family history working with textiles and spinning wool in Uxbridge and Millbury, MA.
Together John, Strickland, and I walked along the inner makings of the Mill. We took the utility elevator down to the first floor and started to walk between the carding machines. Machines so loud you’d really have to lean in to each other to ask questions and to hear the answers. These machines span over thirty feet and their processes involve a series of detangling, cleaning, and separating the wool with the end goal to make this wool suitable for spinning.
The carding machines:
at Ibex, we are proud to say that the wool for our USA MADE blankets has been carded, combed, twisted and spun into yarn at this very location.
When all of the fibers have passed through the carding machine they now lay perfectly parallel to one another and are completely free of any debris. Mesmerized from the process of carding, I watch while these machines effortlessly transition from one process to the next. At this stage the wool was ready to be twisted, which binds and strengthens these wool fibers to create the yarn that is used for winding onto a bobbin.
The art of TwISTING
It was very special knowing that this same wool we were watching transform through these machines would be woven into our Ibex blankets. The art of wool truly is elaborate and it was quite inspiring knowing how many hands and processes work through this fiber to make sure the final product offers such high quality.
This craft of spinning wool is alive and well at S&D Spinning Mills, and it was a pleasure learning more about it and documenting the process. Thank you to both John and Strickland for taking time to meet and share their knowledge with us.
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