Holly Murphy, The Border Mill

Although Holly Murphy is responsible for selling and marketing the Border Mill’s own range of yarns, another important aspect of her work involves the preparation of fleece for the Mill’s customers. The Border Mill offers a bespoke processing and spinning service for small batches of sheep and alpaca fleece. Holly works at the start and end of this process: first preparing the fleece for processing – and once it is spun – dispatching it to customers.

Once the fleece has been assessed and weighed, it is delivered to Holly. The first stage in processing is washing fleece. This is an important step in the process because if all the oil and dirt is not removed, carding, drafting and spinning will be extremely difficult.

Photograph of a box of sorted fleece, with several more boxes stacked in the background
Weighed and sorted fleece, ready for washing.

Border Mill works with small batches of fleece, which means no two batches will ever be the same, and this has significant implications for preparation. Because each fleece can differ considerably in quality and condition, there are no precise formulas for washing. Instead, Holly relies on her tacit knowledge and experience to determine how best to clean each fleece. For example, if too much detergent is used or the water is too hot, the fleece could start to felt and further processing would prove impossible.

Photograph looking inside the drum of a circular washing machine with fleece sitting in the compartments of a large mesh basket
Circular washing machine.

Photograph of the rectangular mesh basket which plunges the fleece into separate small vats of water
Manual washing machine with shorter washing cycle

The mill has two types of machines for washing. Two circular machines work through a selection of wash cycles (similar in process, if not scale, to domestic machines), and a more recent addition, moves a basket of fleece through several small vats of water. The circular machines can take a couple of hours to complete their cycles, whereas the newer model can complete its cycle in less than an hour and uses significantly less water. Once the fleece is washed and rinsed, it is laid out on wire shelving to dry.

Photograph of metal mesh shelves with damp fleece spread out to dry
Drying racks

Between cycles and setting up machines, Holly also dispatches spun yarn to customers and monitors and prepares orders for the mill’s own yarn products. The mill’s products are packaged as skeins or balls – depending on how they will be used. And are sold through the mill shop, online and at selected yarn fairs.

Photograph of a skeins of yarn and balls of yarn on a table top ready to be labelled
Skeins and balls of Border Mill yarn products

Holly enjoys the changing priorities and the multi-tasking that her role involves. And although she depends on her tacit knowledge of different types of fleece and breeds of animal, she is still surprised by the fact that:

Every single fleece is different, even if it is from the same animal but in a different year…which means we constantly have to modify and adapt our processes…

All photographs taken by a member of the F2F team and used with permission of The Border Mill.