Yampa Valley Fiberworks brings all-natural fleece processing to Craig
February 21, 2014
About 10 miles north of Craig, tucked away just off Colorado Highway 13, is an indistinguishable warehouse, hugged in by fenced animals including sheep, alpacas and goats.
The 4,000-square-foot building easily blends in with the agricultural area, surrounded by other properties marked with barns and livestock. But inside is a unique find.
Beyond the front, which holds a shop for yarn with looms, hand-spinners and a kitchen, is the heart of the warehouse, filled with heavy-duty machinery and the dense, earthy smell of wool.
The building houses Craig's new wool-processing mill: Yampa Valley Fiberworks. Lorrae and Lewis Moon opened their family-owned operation to the public in December.
"This whole process started in July 2013 when we finally decided to do this," Lewis said.
The couple long had worked with wool. Their son, Rance, joined the National FFA Organization when he was in high school about 10 years ago. He started raising Corriedale and Cormo sheep. Lorrae hand-spun the sheep's fleeces into yarn and sold them. So, the family has been in the yarn business in one way or another for about seven years.
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But once the couple's three kids were out of the house and on their own, Lorrae and Lewis decided to build something new together.
Lorrae had processed some of her son's sheep wool at the Granby fiber mill, Lonesome Stone Natural Fiber Mill, and when she heard the owners were retiring, she and Lewis jumped on the opportunity to buy the processing machinery.
They finalized their purchase in November, trained on the equipment and started reaching out to fleece fanatics across the country.
Since then, they have stayed busy: Orders keep coming in from all across the country. It's not just orders for the sheep's fleeces either. Alpaca, llama, yak and even bison orders are dropped off regularly. The Moons work together to process anywhere from 20 to 50 pounds of animal fleece per week.
"We couldn't ask for better. There evidently isn't a slow day in this business," Lorrae said.
Lorrae rarely wears an expression that isn't some version of joy. While doing labor-intensive work, she's focused, but breaks away moment-to-moment to laugh.
And the work is labor-intensive. Wool processing is not close to being an automated process. The fleeces come in, and right away, it's hands-on. Lorrae spreads the fleece over a netted table and carefully organizes the fibers and pulls out vegetation, debris and sand. Then they wash the fleece — if it's wool, they wash it at a high heat to melt away the thick oil, lanolin, that is often used in lotion.
The couple makes an effort to employ an all-natural process to ensure quality and to be earth-friendly.
"Our gray water is 100 percent biodegradable. We want to be good to our Earth and share it with our children," Lorrae said.
After being washed, the product is off to the drying racks. The main drying rack is so tall it almost bumps up against the ceiling and displays a wild rainbow of pre-dyed, or otherwise naturally-colored fleeces: brown, gray, black, creamy and white. The dried clumps of fleece then are pressed through a belt that spits them out into a contained room, bringing life to the fibers. The resulting fluff is aligned and twisted and spun through machinery that regularly needs a glance here or there from Lewis or Lorrae. They spend much of their time adjusting the gears and cogs to produce exactly the product their client requested. All that's left in the process is spooling the yarn and dying it, if requested.
The orders generally are tracked by name of the animal. One week they worked on mostly musician-named animals: Otis Redding, Bob Marley and Gene Simmons were alpaca fleeces the couple mixed with merino fiber: producing a soft and delicate yarn.
"Every fleece that comes, even if they're from the same ranch, have their own personality," Lewis said.
Some are springy, others testy, some soft; all unique, he said.
Fleeces from "New Mexico, we find, has a lot of sand in it and tends to be coarser," Lorrae said.
It isn't always an easy process.
"We've hit our frustrated moments," Lorrae said. Sometimes the machines don't cooperate with the fleeces. But "at the end of the whole deal, we have this beautiful yarn. A natural product to wear, and to be apart of it is so awesome."
Lewis, while more reserved than Lorrae, can't hide how pleased he is with the work.
"It's gratifying when you can take a raw fleece and turn it into a beautiful yarn. It kind of gives you self pride," he said.
The Moons’ only regular outside help is Susan Domer, who volunteers in the front. She leads tours, teaches classes, organizes groups and offers visitors profuse amounts of tea, coffee and cookies. She volunteers at Fiberworks, she said, because of a love for the work and lifestyle.
"It's my dream and it's so much fun to be able to live your dream," she said.
Domer keeps an eye on the shop, where visitors can purchase yarn spun directly from the Moons' animals, or take a class or enjoy a crafting meeting.
Domer and the Moons agree there is a shift in culture of going back to basics. People appreciate craftsmanship and taking part in the development of their clothes.
"This is a kind of movement of people going back to their roots," Lorrae said. "They're looking at that label and saying, ‘I'm going to buy American.’ It's a way people can have their animals and pay for their animals."
Contact Erin Fenner at 970-875-1794 or efenner@CraigDailyPress.com.