The NWRSA conference was held over four days on the beautiful campus of Willamette University. On Thursday, attendees checked-in and started to get settled in their accommodations and vendors started setting up their booths. I arrived mid afternoon to unpack all my spinning equipment and get my room organized. Since there only seemed to be a few official parking lots, I decided to go ahead and walk across campus with my large backpack over to the dorm. As I approached my door, another attendee was trying to open her door and was finding that her key wouldn’t work. I tried mine and had the same problem. Since I was lugging around my pack she offered to give me a ride back to the gym. It turns out she was an instructor for one of the classes and long time member of NWRSA. She mentioned that there was an interesting museum that has a water powered textile mill across the street from the gym and that if I got time, I might find it interesting.
Once I got the key situation worked out, I dropped my pack
off in my room and then walked back to the gym where the main events and
vendors were located to do a little browsing. Folks were starting to form
spinning circles in the middle of the gym while vendors setup on each side. By
that time most of the vendors were still setting up so there
wasn’t much to look at. I was a bit tired and didn’t feel like spinning or
knitting because my left shoulder was hurting a bit so this seemed like a good time to walk over to the museum to check out
the mill. I have an old text book called Fiber to Fabric that shows how spinning was done in the 30’s
so I thought it would be interesting to see the process in person.
The museum is actually a small complex of several houses from the first Oregon settlement, a mission setup by Jason Lee, and buildings that housed Thomas Kaye Textile Mill, which produced fine wool blankets and fabrics from 1889 to 1962.
I was really only interested in seeing the Mill so I skipped the houses and started my self guided tour at the machine shop. I was anxious to see machines that actually spin fiber so I glanced briefly at the machine shop and turbine and continued on to the mill. The mill has several floors. The exhibits are currently housed on the two lower floors and the upper floor is used for conferences and meetings. Several textile groups meet in these rooms, including a local spinning guild.
The map directs visitors to the second floor, the start of the production facilities, which includes machines for picking carding, spinning and weaving. While I looked at each machine the most fascinating was the the spinning mule. Just imaging 360 spindles going at once. I knew it might be a bit hard to explain how the machine was operated so I took a picture of the placard next to the machine. There’s also a caption under the drawing that says, “Spools of roving are placed on the stationary carriage while the roving ends are hand-spliced and attached to bobbins on the bobbing carriage. The bobbin carriage moves away from the spools and the roving is drawn out and twisted. On the return trip, the yarn is wound around the bobbins, and the mule is ready for the next cycle.” Apparently this is one of only three spinning mules in the country that can still be operated, although it wasn’t running when I saw it.
The tour continued down to the finishing room on the first floor where the woven fabrics were finished with various felting, drying and pressing machines. Unlike the second floor this one is dark and almost made me feel claustrophobic so I jetted through this part and made my way back to the conference.