Between two worlds
When we started Moeke Yarns, we wanted to do something to stop the destruction of the traditional fiber mills that served the shepherds and farmers until the 1989 revolution. If these little mills disappear, the small farmers and the local artisans will have little options for processing their wool. An entire way of life and the rich traditions surrounding would be in danger.
We searched long and hard until we found 3 traditional fiber mills in Romania that still function - a sad situation when I think about the abundance of mills that existed before the revolution. These mills use very old machines and the craft of spinning yarn was transmitted in all cases from generation to generation. Little we knew that their way of working and our needs will not be perfectly compatible and will create further complications.
Problem number 1. The skeins’ weight. In these fiber mills everything is done with approximation and it is not easy to obtain similar weights skeins. Nobody working there even thought that this would be an issue – these mills serve farmers or artisans who need the yarn for themselves, they don’t care if the skeins have various weights. Of course, it is different with a shop who has a strong preference for standard weights skeins – think about this for a minute: an online shop that would have 20 different skein weights for the same type of yarn / color. Only updating the shop, calculating yardages for specific projects, keeping a register and physically storing and organizing all these different weight skeins would be a lot of work! Not very efficient and clearly one of the reasons why standardization emerged!
Problem number 2. Different mills, different machines, different thickness of the yarn. And even from the same fiber mill the thickness was different. Why is that? Because, again, it is almost an art to make yarn with consistent quality on those old machines. Furthermore, the wool is not the same every time. We buy wool from shepherds who do not have pure breeds but mix breeds. The traditional Romanian sheep is most likely a mix of Tigaie, Turcana and Merino, and then you have little control over the consistence of the wool’s characteristics between sheep and flocks.
In addition to the above, the fiber mills did not even think that consistency of the yarn’s thickness between batches is such a big deal. Funny story: during one of my visits to the Sacele fiber mill, I had to explain what gauge is, and why gauge and yardage is important in a pattern. Hard to believe but this was new information for the spinner, but the reason for this is simple: most Romanian women who knit with traditional yarn do not use a pattern and have no idea what all these terms mean. And these women are the customers of the traditional fiber mills in Romania.
What do these peculiarities of the Romanian traditional fiber mills mean for us? In our standardized society, knitters are used to standard weight skeins of yarn that has the same quality / thickness all the time, no matter the batch or production year. But we received skeins of wildly different weights, and the gauge and even the shade varied between batches and fiber mills. We decided to weight the skeins after they were washed and dried. Skeins are then assigned to weight categories by following the + / - 5 gr rule: for example, between 46 to 55 we consider to be 50 gr, between 56 to 65 gr we consider to be 60 gr, etc. This is the best compromise that we can do in order to respect the technological limitations of the traditional fiber mills and to also ensure some kind of standardization that is required by the nowadays commercial trades.
Since we started Moeke Yarns, I felt caught between two worlds, between past and present. We tried to find solutions that would reconcile the two worlds, but these solutions did not always work in practice. But we were determined to buy wool locally, from small Romanian farms, and to work with these traditional fiber mills. We discovered that the key to make reconcile the two worlds is education – education of the fiber mills and of the modern knitter, so that they understand each other.