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Friday, 4 May 2012

An update from Charlie: off to the alpaca mill!

Our new team member Charlie gives her first impressions of a trip to the mill.

‘Monday morning saw us - Kerry, me, our new intern Olivia and Pete the Dog - piling into the Toftmobile and heading to Banbury to pick up some of our latest batches of yarn from the mill. 
Cheeky Pete!

Having been at Toft for just under three weeks I’d managed to get a good overview of the way this fantastic organisation is run – since arriving I’d got used to being greeted every morning by a field of friendly alpaca faces, had a whistlestop tutorial in fleece sorting, and spent time in the shop and on the website getting to grips with the gloriously unique products on offer. But something was missing. How does the meticulously sorted fleece come to be spun into the top quality yarn gleaming in rows under our newly installed workbenches? The answer could only be found at the mill!

Laura and Richard met us on arrival, and after the requisite fussing Pete always demands we were taken on a tour. The mill is an impressive centre of traditional engineering – all the machinery has been painstakingly adapted from the equipment used to spin sheep’s wool in order to process the far finer alpaca fleece in which the mill specialises.

A waterfall of fleece
Laura led us past vast flues, rollers and vats, explaining how each particular machine works to soften and refine the fleece flowing constantly through it.

Yarn ready to be spun
 She demonstrated the giant bobbins onto which the refined fleece is rolled before being spun into yarn on long rows of whirring spools.

A school of spools
She talked us through the minute changes that had to be made to ensure particular weights of yarn weren’t over-or under-twisted, and spoke with pride about the difficulties the mill had overcome in this area in order to produce Toft’s unique chunky weight yarn.

And then there we were, at the finished product – all boxed up, freshly returned from being laundered and ready to be loaded and taken home. I’ve still got a lot to learn, but another piece of the puzzle has fallen into place, building up a complete picture of Toft’s field to fashion production ethos.’

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