CNCHnet . . . The Textile Arts Webzine of the Conference of Northern California Handweavers

Got Fleece?

Last month on a trip to the beach, I happened to drive through the little town of Valley Ford (population 126), I stopped by chance at the Valley Ford Mercantile and Wool Mill.  Browsing through the Mercantile part of the IMG_3423operation was inspiring.  It’s a great store with a wonderful selection of roving, hand spun skeins, handmade clothing and accessories, bedding, great gifts, cards, and something for everyone.0

Maya, who works up front,  recommended that I visit the Wool Mill in back, where I met Casey Mazzucchi who grew up on a sheep ranch, has the gift of being a machine wizard, and has all the machines in smooth working order.  He welcomed me into the wool mill, which is a spacious building, perfumed with the smell of freshly washed wool and filled with drying racks, the “pick”, the carding machine and the needle felting machine.  There was also a table where they were hand sewing a comforter and the newly carded wool batt was peeking out. I immediately wanted one.



Casey also showed me a variety of custom finished products, including batts, roving, and felted wool of various thicknesses.  The Wool Mill offers many services, including:  washing wool, picking, carding wool to batts or roving, felting wool into “fabric”, repairing wool mattresses, and making new comforters.   He also mentioned that they also, on occasion, a need to buy fleeces.  I left the Mill, my brain in over-drive, thinking of all the possibilities ahead.




Well, we have a closet full of wool at home and I imagine, you, my dear reader, might also have a stash of wool.   Ours has been collected over the years.   I have forgotten the stories of each bagful and I could see that most of it would never reach our spinning wheel. Some of it, unfortunately, has already reached the end of its “usefulness”.

I emptied the closet, reviewed all the bags, and filled the back seat of my car with the ones that were most likely to succeed at the Mill.  I returned to the Mill, and met Ariana Strozzi, co-owner of the Valley Ford Mercantile and Wool Mill and who has a lifetime history with dairy farming, horses and sheep.  I felt a little sheepish (pun intended) inviting her to look in my back seat and to tell me, honestly, which wool could be made into felt.  My daughter is the spinner, knitter, weaver…I am the “sewing type.”

The first bag was too rough and had too many guard hairs.  I agreed.  The second bag, Ariana guessed, was washed by someone with the wrong kind of soap, and that it was too old.  I had to agree with that as well.  The third bag, she analyzed, might be Icelandic, and had possibilities.  The 4th bag had lots of vegetable matter, but there wasn’t too much lanolin, and might be Romney.  The 5th bag was probably Corriedale, and also had possibilities.

So we took the 3 “good” bags into the mill, where Casey also evaluated it, agreed, and then weighed it and gave me an estimate.  It’s best to bring at least 5-7 lbs of wool at the minimum, because there is a price break which works for both the Mill and the customer.  I had 6.5 lbs. total.

suyin's Felt note the yardstick in the center

Suyin’s Felt.  Note the yardstick in the center

Over the next few weeks, I was able to drop by and witness our wool being processed in various stages, see the machines operating, and in the end, I received 11 yards of approximately 36” wide wool felt. I was amazed at the quantity of yardage 6.5 lbs could produce.   I had asked that some pieces be very thinly felted to let me experiment with making different garments, and then some are thicker, yet pliable, and I hope to hand needle felt and embellish the wool in a thousand different ways.

My daughter happened to be home on spring break.  She dyed one of the batts with indigo and it looks beautiful.  So now I have white, brown and blue wool felt!

This was a very successful experiment, I am extraordinarily pleased with the outcome.  Many people have asked me how much it cost.  I must say that it would be best if you took your wool to the Mill.  The estimate varies on the condition of your wool and what services you require.  The price was very reasonable.  I have organic, untreated beautiful wool felt and I know exactly where it came from.  Every day I look at my new stash of fabric and imagine new design possibilities.   I no longer have a closet full of unusable wool, and I can move forward with creativity!-3

I hope my experience will help you on your fiber arts journey!  Take a trip out to the Valley Ford Mercantile and Wool Mill.  It’s only 15 minutes from Sebastopol!

Valley Ford Mercantile and Wool Mill 707-338-9817.  PO Box 415, 14390 Hwy 1, Valley Ford, CA  94972.

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