Making Forge + Weld
Both Forge and Weld are spun at Battenkill Valley Fibers in Greenwich, New York, by Mary Jeanne Packer and her team. MJ is an industry veteran who has spun many of our favorite small-batch yarns, so she was an obvious choice to partner with when we were looking for a mill (and we admit it: we’re also pretty into the fact that she’s a fellow female small business owner, and we appreciate that Battenkill is within close driving distance of H+W HQ East).
Getting fiber from sheep to skein is a multi-step process (and a bit of a messy one). Our sheepy friends are not the world’s cleanest animals, and finewool sheep like Merinos produce a significant amount of lanolin (an oily substance that coats the fleece and ultimately protects the fibers as they grow). So, once the fleece comes off the sheep, it has to be scoured to remove (most) of the lanolin and vegetable matter (hay, grass, etc.) that sheep pick up throughout the year. Finewools like Merino (which have shorter staple lengths) need special processing equipment to process the raw fleece, so we purchase what’s known as “combed top,” or Merino fiber that has already been scoured and carded.
We purchase Corriedale fleece from wool pools in the Hudson Valley, and that raw fleece is scoured, carded, and pin drafted directly at Battenkill. We then combine natural colored and Corriedale fleece and white and grey Merino in various ratios in the later stages of the process, depending on the colorway we’re trying to produce. Our yarn is what’s known as a semi-worsted yarn, so the fibers are combed before spinning to be more “organized” than in a woolen-spun yarn, but not as much as in a traditional worsted-spun yarn, where the yarn would be pin drafted until all the fibers were lying flat and pointing in the same direction before spinning. The yarn is then spun and plied, and the neutrals (Ash, Fawn, Aspen, and Charcoal) are scoured again to remove spinning oil, before they’re hanked, labeled, and prepared for sale.
A significant portion of our light grey yarn then goes on the next step of its journey: it heads to Caledonian Dyeworks in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Kim Livingston and her family have been dyeing yarns and textiles since 1911. Kim and her team dye our eight heathered colors over our grey base, which gives them their distinctive, grey-flecked tones. Dyeing over grey adds depth and complexity to the colors we’re able to get, as does our mix of fibers: the Merino and Corriedale fibers in our yarn absorb dye differently, producing a multidimensional color and the slightest hint of sheen in some of the shades. After dyeing, these shades get washed (again!), hanked, labeled, and sent back to HQ East.
We think our manufacturing partners are the best at what they do, and every time we see new colors come out of the dye house or more natural skeins come back from the mill, we’re thrilled. We’re also psyched about the fact that manufacturing in the northeast corridor allows us to minimize our carbon footprint as much as possible (recognizing that a product with this many steps in its process is always going to involve some shipping), and allows us to support what we hope is a resurgence in American textile manufacturing. American wool—and the farmers who produce it(!)—is amazing, and we want to be able to honor both that raw material and our values by turning it into the best yarn we can as traceably, sustainably, ethically, and environmentally responsibly as we can, and to us, this means doing it right here at home. It is not the cheapest or the most straightforward way to make yarn, but to us, the benefits of ending up with a product that both feels amazing to touch and that we can feel amazing about are worth it.
We’re happy to answer questions about our supply chain and our process, and we’re open to your feedback about ways that we can better serve both our customers and our values as we work on producing future batches of our yarn. We expect that there will always be evolutions in this process, but our core commitments remain the same, and we hope that knowing a bit more about who you are supporting along the way helps you get to know both us and our yarn a little bit better.