America's yarn making industry was once counted in the millions. During the first half of the 20th century, not only were there millions of operating wool, cotton and synthetic yarn spindles throughout the country, but millions of Americans were employed in the yarn making industry. That figure has now dwindled to the low thousands, with the vast majority dedicated to cotton and synthetic yarn making.The current number of wool yarn makers can be counted on one hand.
On August 15th, 2016 after a nine year hiatus, American Woolen Company restarted its woolen yarn making operation in the historic Warren Woolen Company mill. Warren's yarn making facility was known to be America's preeminent manufacturer of woolen count yarns of wool, camel hair and cashmere. Restoring the mill to its former glory was a herculean endeavor involving a dozen employees with over 100 years of experience among them, three months of heavy cleaning and refurbishment, and the meticulous fine tuning of machines that were moth-balled for a decade. The reopening of the yarn making operation signaled not only the immediate employment of five skilled technicians, but the preservation and revival of the domestic craft of woolen yarn making for generations to come.
More than a science, woolen yarn making is an art that involves the knowledge and time-tested experience of the three critical steps to making a good yarn: blending, carding and spinning.
A good yarn starts with a good fiber blend. Blending involves the mixing of the various fibers to come up with a good base. A good blending operator can tell the properties of various animal fibers including its dimensions, strength and texture on sight. The next step is carding. Carding involves converting a fiber blend into a fiber web, known as a roving. Blended fiber is evenly loaded into a carding machine which softens the fibers' innate rigidity and brittleness through a mechanical process. Years of experience enable carding operators to know how various fibers will come together to form a uniform roving. Will the woolen roving be too course, too weak, too lumpy, or too uneven which will produce an inferior yarn? A good carding operator not only knows the answers, but can rework the fibers through the carding machine to achieve the desired results. The final step is spinning. Spinning spins and twists the fiber roving on spinning frames into a yarn. A knowledgeable spinning operator possesses the technical skills and experience to know yarn weights and yarn counts and is instrumental in quality control. Upon completion, spun yarns are ready to be dressed and woven into cloth.
American Woolen Company's woolen yarn collection contains fine yarns of wool, cashmere and camel hair. 100% Made in America, American Woolen's yarns and fabrics tell the American story.
Mr. Tousi has passed his craft onto his son and daughter, who work alongside him in his shop, which has stood on Guadalupe St. since 1985. We'll ask Mr. Tousi about that and more on this episode of Uncommon Interviews with your host Chuck Bazel.