Connecting the dots along the local fibre supply chain immediately brings us to the importance of the fibre processing mill. Once a thriving industry in Ontario, many small towns in the rural Ontario landscape are situated along rivers with falls or fast current needed to turn the drive shaft that powered the machinery. During WWII, mills such as the Dominion Woolens and Worsted Ltd in Hespeler, employed mostly women to support the war effort. All of these mills have long since closed their doors, but there are a couple of wool processing mills locally that have since opened to serve fine fibre producers. One of which is Wellington Fibres located just outside of Elora, owned and operated by Donna Hancock. I sat down with Donna to discuss her mill and how it connects into the fibre supply chain of the Upper Canada Fibershed.
Donna opened Wellington Fibres in 2005 as a way of meeting her own demands for Mohair processing, and quickly expanded to serve the needs of the fibre community by offering custom work for small batches (the minimum input is 1 fleece). This insures that the wool you deliver is the yarn returned, and is of huge importance for continually improving the fibre quality. As well the mill has a unique plying frame that provides different spin such as lopi or bouclé and brushed finishes.
Employing three women, the team is passionate about what they do and continually strive to improve the process. Donna explained to me how this past summer they discovered a more efficient way to spin a certain type of fibre. Even after 10 years, there is something to be learned. “It belittles you.” says Donna, “You can’t get too comfortable or things don’t improve.” Learning how to do any job well involves trial and error, but growing up on a farm and being trained as a scientist in Plant Agriculture at the University of Guelph, where she also concurrently works in research, the scientific method is evident in her approach to the mill.
Dyeing fibre is a very technical skill that involves a deep understanding of chemistry and biology. It is both an applied science and a pure science. Once the rules are understood, then you can figure out how to break them. “It then becomes intuitive and is a creative process.”
Understanding the wholistic context of the fibre as a way to provide the best product is what left the most lasting impression on me. Donna is a hand-spinner, weaver and knitter and is a member of the local guilds. She also understands breeding, pasture management and animal nutrition. When she gets a fleece to process the first question she asks is “What will it be best as, not what does someone want it to be.” Yarns looks best when they show off the characteristics of the fibre, which is determined on an individual basis. As well, breeding must take into account the finished product as a yarn, and select for characteristics that enhance the innate qualities of that particular breed. Luckily, we have a many producers in Ontario who breed for high quality fibre and Donna is skilled at showing off the best characteristics of that fibre in her yarns.
Thank you Donna for continually providing the highest quality of product and expert advice and your commitment to environmentally sound processing. For more information about the mill, or to view the services and products offered, please visit the website by following this link: WELLINGTON FIBRE MILL