Before heading out to our highly anticipated woollen mill tour, we enjoyed a traditional English breakfast at the guest house. You could tell the owner took a lot of pride in her home and had added thoughtful details that really made our stay special. We had our choice of coffee or tea before our meal and my mom in particular was swooning over the locally-made ceramics. Jason and I loved the fancy butter and are now on the look out for a mold that we can use at home. I wish I had taken a picture of our plates but the smells distracted me before I remembered to take a photo.
The woollen mill was just a short drive from the guest house through beautiful farmland flanked by small mountains. As we started looking around, I couldn’t help but notice that this was a popular destination for the over-60 crowd. We were surrounded by white hair and walkers. I made sure to remind my mom of this fact throughout the tour.
Before entering the actual mill, we browsed the Weaver’s Garden. It had specimen plants which provide fibres, natural dyes, textile tools, soaps, and moth repellents. I thought it was really interesting to see the ways they utilized the plants for everything from pest deterrents to colored dyes. There was a small workshop at the top of the walkway where you could try out some crafts for yourself. I grew up helping my mom thread her loom so this part was quite familiar but the colors and textures in the shop were really pretty. Lena’s favorite British nursery rhyme is “Wind the Bobbin Up.” We sing it multiple times a day and I had never heard it until we moved here. The volunteer asked if we knew the song and explained that it’s describing how you turn wool into thread on the spinning wheel. Of course, Lena wanted to sing and do the motions while the bobbin was wound.
The rest of the tour took us through the various stages of turning raw sheep’s wool into tapestry pieces for bedspreads, pillows and even tweed. There were carding engines, spinning mules, a doubling machine and the warping mill. Most of the machines at Trefriw date back to the 1950’s or 1960’s and you can see the effect of the industrial revolution on textile production before computerization.
When you look at a weaving, there is a warp and a weft. The threads run perpendicular to one another to create the finished pattern. Growing up, I would watch my mom thread her loom – carefully placing each thread in the correct heddle. It’s incredibly time consuming, meticulous work. With the rest of the mill so mechanized, I wondered if they had a way around this. You can see in the photo that the weaver is tying each individual thread from the red warp onto the blue warp. This would be a bit faster than completely removing the previous weaving and rethreading all the heddles especially when working on a Dobcross loom, which is quite large. I should have taken a video because you could barely catch what he was doing, he was so fast.
After the tour, we descended upon the gift shop where my mom had the agonizing task of figuring out what to buy. After an hour of choosing something, changing her mind, then changing her mind again, she finally made her selection. I could probably have become a salesperson after that experience because I now know every single item for sale at Trefriw Woolen Mill. The pieces were really beautiful but didn’t match anything in my house so I left empty-handed. My mom made up for both of us though. After seeing the amount of work that goes into each piece, I have a newfound appreciation for tapestries and tweed.