Frankenmuth part one: Zeilinger’s Wool Mill

May 26, 2011 § 6 Comments

Almost two (!) weeks ago, before my big move, I decided that it was time to visit a lot of the places that I should’ve been visiting over the years, but didn’t. One of those places was Zeilinger’s Wool Mill in Frankenmuth, Michigan. I also wanted to go visit the home of one of my favorite yarns, Stonehedge Fiber Mill (makers of Shepherd’s Wool), but alas, it was a bit too far away to make a nice, relaxing one-day trip of it. And admittedly I never did make it out to Holland, Michigan, to buy a pair of wooden clogs (the previous pair is upstairs in my closet, but sadly does not fit any more…though I think this makes my mom happy as she claims they would scratch the floor).

Anyway, I made the trip up fairly quickly on a very lovely day. Here’s part one, Zeilinger’s Wool Mill. I hope to post part two, the Cheese Haus and Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, at some point too. Of course, they aren’t strictly fiber/wool/knitting/crochet/spinning/crafting-related at all, but since you can do a one-day trip, as I did, it can scoot into the purview of this blog and not even strictly be off-topic!

Zeilinger’s Wool Mill has been around for a long time. I first heard of it many years ago, though I don’t really remember why. Perhaps it was because it is around the corner from Bronner’s and therefore someone mentioned it in passing? Well, anyway, I know I heard of them too from Clara Parkes’ amazing book The Knitter’s Book of Wool, because not only do they manufacture their own yarn, they also will do small-batch spinning, and apparently they are quite popular with smaller producers. In fact, I have some yarn spun at Zeilinger’s that I bought at the Michigan Fiber Festival last year, as the farm sent their fleeces to Zeilinger’s and then sold the yarn to me. It is a Romney-Columbia blend.

When I arrived at Zeilinger’s I was the only customer, which was nice since that meant I got to chat with some of the workers while I was wandering around. The employee at the front of the store, it turns out, has a son who went to the same school I did, except as an undergrad. Totally random, but I guess not that surprising since it is a big state school.

Anyway, she told me that while they don’t strictly have tours, you are allowed to just walk back and look at all the machinery. In addition to the wool-processing machinery shown below, they also had people upstairs sewing comforters (duvets) lined with wool, and also some sock machines, knitting socks. I didn’t take pictures of the sock machines because, while they were running, no socks were actually being knit. I did buy a pair for my uncle for Christmas though, as he prefers 100% wool socks. I also bought some wool yarn blended with, I think, llama (maybe alpaca?), but as I haven’t unpacked it yet I can’t take a picture. I also got some sport-weight Tunis, because I’m a sucker for specific sheep breed wool!

So, the beginning of my self-guided tour:

On the ground floor, where the wool-processing machine is located, there are these huge bags of wool that are filled with wool that has been dried upstairs in the drying room (not shown). I asked a worker there how long it takes to go through the wool shown, and he said about half a day or less, depending. That is a LOT of wool.

I called this the wool-eating machine.

After the wool is picked up by the eating machine, it gets dumped out into this bin, and then gets stretched out over a huge moving barrel thing (drum?).

You can see how the fibers are being evened out. I think this is a machine carder.

Then it comes over top of the machine through the rollers…

and turns into these smooth sheets of wool. It’s so fluffy-looking!

Then it comes up and over this conveyor belt.

It then pours off the conveyor belt and becomes what I dubbed “wool soft serve.”

I also asked the same worker how long it takes to fill a bag, and he said about thirty minutes. I think he was very surprised that anyone was asking him questions. I’m going to assume that while Zeilinger’s is open to the public (“tour buses welcome!” — yes, there are tour buses that come to Frankemuth), most people who shop there are not, in fact, knitters/spinners/crocheters etc., but are there for the wool comforters, quilts, and knitted socks. And they probably don’t take the self-guided tour, and they don’t really ask the employees about how the product is made. I’m glad I asked though, mainly because I’m nosy, but also because he seemed pleased that someone was interested in his hard work.

Some of the wool gets rolled onto this thing, though I have no idea how. My guess is that these smooth, large pieces of wool are used to line the duvets/comforters as they are about the right size, but unfortunately the worker had to go off and answer the phone and then when he came back I forgot to ask.

In one corner of the room are fleeces/wool from individuals/farms/shepherds who want Zeilinger’s to process their wool. I was particularly intrigued by the wool in the bag on the upper right-hand side of the picture. It’s a sort of mottled gray and black and looks like it would spin up into a wonderful heathery gray. But I do have a weakness for gray, so I might be biased!

And finally, a small camera-captured film of the machine at work!

Coming soon: part two, with Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the Cheese Haus, and more!

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§ 6 Responses to Frankenmuth part one: Zeilinger’s Wool Mill

  • Nicole says:

    That is awesome. Why hasn’t How It’s Made been here? I love shows like that. Thanks for showing all the machinery.

    Wool batt would be really great to have for the Purl Bee lap duvet project they just posted. So warm.

    A friend of mine from Wisconsin was telling me how I need to see Frankenmuth, not because it’s all that fabulous, but because there’s nothing like it in the whole wide world. I’ve seen the Bronner’s catalogue–I can believe it.

    • m.d.kitchen says:

      Bronner’s is definitely a place to see. It’s HUGE, probably about the size of 8 Costcos (or other big box store). My favorite part is actually the Silent Night Memorial Chapel though (I’ll have pictures in the next post), because it has the lyrics translated into many different languages.

      Though now that I’m a hardcore knitter, Zeilinger’s is my favorite! It would be neat if a show like How It’s Made came to tour a mill, but maybe they think that not enough people would be interested as most people think of knitting/crochet as niche hobbies?

  • Uncle Milton says:

    I was just there yesterday! But the mill tours were closed as it was saturday! I did buy some yarn & socks though! It was fun!

    • k.m. says:

      Sorry to hear that the tours were closed, it’s fascinating to see the machines.

      Hope you like your socks and yarn, I haven’t even started knitting mine yet (the socks were well-received, though!).

  • Mic Holy says:

    Great info. I also recommend the Frankenmuth Woolen Mill on Main street in Frankenmuth. They have been in operation since the 1800’s at the same location! Friendly people and great products!

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