Fitch Fibers of Bozrah hosts first-ever Fiber Fest

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Bozrah - posted Mon., Jun. 10, 2013
Clara Kalnitsky feeds washed and dried alpaca wool into the picker to fluff up the fibers. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Clara Kalnitsky feeds washed and dried alpaca wool into the picker to fluff up the fibers. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

Connecticut Open House Day was definitely a hands-on event at Fitch Fibers, where the spinning mill’s first-ever Fiber Fest attracted a touchy-feely crowd eager to experience firsthand a wide range of fibers, yarns and fabrics, from silky to fluffy to wooly. The Bozrah spinning mill opened its doors June 8 to let visitors see the how raw wool is turned into strands of lustrous yarn.

Mill owner Linda Adelman said that the mill, which opened in December, has been busy processing fleece from sheep, llamas, alpaca, and “any kind of animal fiber whatsoever.” Unlike most U.S. mills, hers is a worsted mill, which aligns the fibers more accurately and which can handle shorter or finer fibers than most, she said.

The facility has some unusual equipment, including its washing device, which hails from New Zealand and is the only one of its kind in North America, according to volunteer Abi Christina. She said the device tamps the wool down in the water bath and scoops it back up to agitate it gently. The clean fibers are spread on mesh shelves to dry with assistance from fans.

Their next step is the picker, which separates the fibers “just like you picking your hair,” said Clara Kalnitsky. The picker helps the fibers double or triple in volume, like cotton candy, emerging into a small closet-like room, where Kalnitsky gave it a spritz of anti-static spray. The fluffy mass is fed into a carder, which aligns the strands, like a hairbrush, and from there into a machine churning out long continuous ropes of ready-to-spin roving.

Outdoors, Elizabeth Conway of Putnam sat in the summer sun treading a steady rhythm on her small Polish spinning wheel, twisting strands of variegated purple wool fiber into a fine yarn in the booth for her Putnam fiber mill, Fibers 4 Ewe. She was one of about 15 fiber artists attending the event, offering wool, alpaca and other fibers ranging from just-cut fleece to yarns, fabrics and even dog leashes.

Lois Wordell of Salem’s Ransom Farm sat in her booth knitting what looked like a tam-o-shanter for a giant. She planned to felt the piece, she said. “After the item is finished, you get real tough and put it into the washer with hot water and full agitation,” she said. As anyone who has inadvertently ruined a wool sweater knows, the piece will shrink and the fabric will get denser. “You may have to do it two or three times,” she said. “Then you pull it out, shape it and let it air dry. You never put it in the dryer.” Wordell was selling her felted hats and handbags.

Other vendors sold colorful knitted mittens and scarves, hand-woven table runners and placemats, and even small felted toy balls for cats. Patricia Fortinsky’s Tidal Yarns booth was hung with hanks of soft wool yarns in subtle colors created by dyes from nature. Walnut hulls make a rich brown, dahlia flowers give a barn red and yellow tones come from marigolds and carrot tops, she said. “I do 100-pound batches of yarn at a time,” she said. “I like to overdye; it gives a beautiful effect. It’s a rustic yarn.”

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