by Regina Frahm
Shearing is done, skirting done, now off to the mill. Have you chosen your mill? Better yet, does your mill know that they have been chosen? I always try and communicate with the mill and give them a heads up that I am getting ready to send a shipment. If you are a new customer, email them in advance and introduce yourself. This is the time to ask any questions you might have. Choosing your mill is probably a separate blog post all on it’s own, so for now I am going to assume you have done your homework and have that all taken care of.
Gather Your Supplies.
I make most of my processing decisions during the final skirting. If you know what mill products and/or what weights of yarn you want, you can organize your fleeces by color, staple length, or fineness as you skirt. Try and keep these groups together so that you don’t have to go back through and try and remember what goes together. I write notes on index cards and will toss them inside the boxes or bags I am using to group the fleeces together.
Have your shipping supplies organized before you start packing:
-Large heavy duty plastic bags ( for shipping I use large black lawn & leaf trash bags)
-Mill processing forms ( filled out & extra copies)
-Heavy duty packing tape
-A friend, if possible
I use as large of a box that I can handle on my own, or one that two of us can carry together (the more you can get into one box, the better; it will save you money in the long run). In the bottom of the box I put the processing instructions, which should include your name, address, & phone number.
Pack Your Fleece
Open up your big ol' trash bag and set it inside your box.
Start packing the fleeces that you have grouped together into the bag, pulling the sides up as you go. Keep packing. I typically ship a lot of fleeces at once and will often have fleece ready to run over the top of the bag. This means you should be way past the top of your box.
Here is when need your vacuum and hopefully a buddy to help.
Have your tape nearby. Gather the top of your plastic bag together, leaving an opening to insert your vacuum hose. Turn it on! Have your helper hold the hose while you hold the bag closed (I try and keep my fingers positioned in such a way so that stray pieces of wool don’t get sucked up). This sucks out all of the air and allows you to push all of that wool down into your too small box.
Once you have compressed the wool down as far as you can, get ready to tightly twist the bag as quickly as you can. Turn off the vacuum, twist the bag, and slam that box shut! The bag will reinflate rapidly, which is why you need to have your tape ready. Don't be afraid to over-tape. Better to use too much than to have a box explode somewhere in the transportation process.
Pick your shipper
The folks at the mill can sometimes offer suggestions on who to use. I have found some third party shippers are MUCH less expensive. Typically you will still be sending by USPS or UPS but they negotiate a much better rate. If you choose a third party shipper, make sure to read the fine print! By getting a better rate, it may mean that you have to deliver your boxes to a post office or UPS drop site. Now we circle back to where we started: “can I manage all these boxes myself?”
Regina Frahm is the owner of Esther & Co. She and her husband, Randy share a passion for agriculture and preserving their families' traditions. They have been raising Cormo sheep and producing wool on their generational century farm in Newton, Iowa. You can find Esther & Co. products locally at the Copper K Fiber Festival.