2009 - Volume #33, Issue #3, Page #08[ Sample Stories From This Issue | List of All Stories In This Issue | Print this story | Read this issue]
Farm-Based Fiber Business Uses 160-Year-Old Woolen Mill
"I call her Tess, because she tests my patience a lot," Elaine Hendrickson explains.
The big old woolen mill works best in high humidity and high heat and has lots of rollers and chains that need plenty of grease. It cleans wool and opens up the fibers, lining them up parallel to produce quality custom-size batting for quilts up to 108 in. wide. That's different than other mills, which wind up batting like toilet paper that needs to be stretched to size.
Elaine is comfortable with the big machine now but she was pretty nervous when Tess arrived in seven pieces in 2000. They spent a lot of free time that summer putting Tess together with the help of a couple of experienced welders who made needed parts. They also put up a building for her.
Tess may be the oldest working mill of her kind. Last year, Hendrickson hired a consultant who has fixed mills for years in the U.S. and England, and he told the Hendricksons he had never seen an operating machine that old.
Hendrickson's venture into running a woolen mill began in the 1980's when she purchased two male llamas and became fascinated with fiber arts. She learned to clean and process wool and fiber.
"If you want to use any wool or fiber, you need to make it marketable," she says. "I'm the go-between person between the farm and market stage."
Hendrickson doesn't use any harsh chemicals for cleaning and has discovered a growing interest in wool for batting because it's natural and lasts a long time. Many customers send her old wool battings, which she adds wool to if needed and fluffs them up by running them through Tess.
Hendrickson buys her wool from local farmers, but she also cleans and processes other fibers into pencil rovings ready for spinning.
"I can process mere ounces," Hendrickson says, explaining some customers send her hair from their cats or dogs. She also processes alpaca, llama and other unusual breed fibers.
Hendrickson charges by the pound for washing, carding, dying and batting rejuvenation. She charges $20/hour for cleaning debris from the wool or fiber. She sells wool battings from crib to super king sizes that range from $14 to $70.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Elaine and Phil Hendrickson, N6787 Cty. Rd. B, Cambria, Wis. 53923 (ph 920 348-5594; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.coed mawrwoolenmill.com).
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