In my travels, I sometimes have visited fiber crafts shops, and noticed what seemed to be incredibly high prices for the woolen items they were selling, that were made in the "old fashioned" way, rather than at a big manufacturing plant. Well, after touring the Zeilinger Wool Company ( www.zwool.com ) in Frankenmuth, Michigan, I am surprised that such items don't cost even more! I had no idea all the labor intense procedures that these handcrafted items required. I took this photograph of a poster hanging on the wall at the Zeilinger Wool Company, that illustrates where the process starts---with the shearing of the sheep. In addition, Zeilingers will process goat hair (mohair), rabbit hair (angora), llama, alpaca, dog hair, and other exotic animal fibers. Although I do not know what the "politics" of the 4 generations of the Abraham/Zeilinger families are, that have operated the mill since 1910, I think it would be cool if they processed some wool from an animal known for its highly-prized "long wooled" fleece---the Romney ram. Then they could make it into "Mittens" to give to U.S. Presidential Candidate, "Mitt" Romney!
My earliest experiences with caring for 100% wool clothing items was seeing them shrink to half their size when I unknowingly put them in the regular washer/dryer, with the rest of the laundry I was washing. Our guide pointed out that this machine is a steamer, where they can put the newly woven yarn, and "preshrink" it BEFORE it is made into a garment. This reduces the amount of shrinkage the finished garment is subject to.
The Zeilinger Wool Company is set up to give tours of their mill operations to both individuals and motorcoach groups. The trailer outside with their name on it is a reminder to mention that they also travel to various craft fairs/fiber fairs around the area to showcase their products and services. For example, there is mention on their website of the upcoming North Michigan Lamb and Wool Festival, in West Branch, Michigan, on September 29th and 30th, 2012.
Each of these giant bags of wool has a customer's name on it, and their brochure promises that the customer WILL receive their own wool back. They also note that the quality of the order will improve if the customer removes as much chaff, burrs, and vegetable matter as possible, before sending it to Zeilingers. Another reason for removing such debris is shipping costs. Sending a 100 pound bag of wool to Zeilingers can cost from $100 - $400 in shipping costs alone! And that is just to GET it to the processor! Then you have to figure $7.90 per pound for medium/coarse fibers to $8.85 per pound for raw mohair, alpaca, llama, dog hair, or other exotic fibers.
Once the wool is cleaned, it is put onto machines that process it into roving and yarn. Rovings are a form of wool that can be put on a spinning wheel, to make yarn for knitting or weaving.
Considering all these fibers have been through (and the many hours of labor involved!) to make it to this point of being a pair of socks for sale in a shop in Michigan, $15.00 seems like a bargain!
Zeilingers also lets guests tour the large room where their quilting is done. They can custom make large mattress pads, comforters, pillows, and other bedding accessories in this room, each filled with wool batting processed on site.
Zeilingers also has a service that will renew, recard, or renovate your USED woolen comforter or mattress pad.
This machine illustrates a yarn-making process that is more advanced than a single spinning wheel, but yet not of the scale of today's large, industrialized woolen mills.
Although this old-fashioned spinning wheel was only for display purposes, it is a reminder of how far we have come in the manufacturing of textiles from the time the first settlers came to the United States. It is also a reminder to me of the passage in Matthew 6:28 that says "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or SPIN. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?" Based on all the fashion magazines and television advertisements, however, it appears that people will continue to be mindful of what they are wearing. One thing is for certain---from now on, when I am wearing a garment made of wool, I am going to have a MUCH greater appreciation of what it took to manufacture this all-natural textile, and I will be giving thanks to the animals God created to provide the raw materials to make it possible! If you would like to find out more about the Zeilinger Wool Company tours, and many other attractions in the Frankenmuth area, just log on to www.visitgreatlakesbay.org . Miles of smiles! Tricia