The Fleecing of Oklahoma: The state’s only animal fiber processing mill

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GUTHRIE, OKLAHOMA -- This mess isn't a skirt yet but Ivan French is skirting.

"You're looking for stuff around the tail and the neck," he says while handling a dirty pile of animal hair. "I'm looking for any kind of foreign matter."

Not long ago these fibers belonged to a sheep.

"This is Daisy. This is Colonel. This is Sunshine," smiles Ivan describing the small batches he processes according to each animal.

The owners sent it to the Oklahoma Mini Mill to get the dirt and oil out, and to get it ready for actually making something like a skirt.

"We turn it into rovings," he explains. "And that could be packaged in either loose bags or a center pulled bump. We can also make batts."

Cheri French started out spinning yarn from rough wool several years ago.

She was a long time knitter and crocheter who, then, followed the thread backward.

"It's pretty much her fault," Ivan jokes.

The French's spent several months researching different milling operations and decided to pick it up as a retirement business when they saw how far local producers had to go to mill their fleeces.

Ivan recalls, "We had one customer drive over from Fort Smith, Arkansas (250 miles away). She said, 'I'm amazed that you're so close."

Hair removed from farm animals of any kind is pretty dirty.

Ivan and Cheri brought in several different machines to clean it up.

They tumble it first, then wash it, blow it, kind of tease in into something that looks like cotton candy.

Finally, they card it, drawing the fibers through 14 different drums to get them all lined up and ready to make something.

"We'll process it," he says. "It's variety all the time."

The French's call themselves a mini-boutique operation, usually milling only once fleece at a time.

"We're the only mill in Oklahoma," Ivan states.

But they process more than just sheeps' wool.

Cheri holds up a light-colored bundle and describes its origins as, "Colonel Mustard the Camel."

They even blend different animal fibers together.

Cheri holds another round bundle and says, "This is Suri Alpaca with merino wool."

Then she smiles and asks, "Do you want to see some Yak?"

The Oklahoma Mini Mill acronym forms a kind of mantra for them and the close-knit community of producers.

Having this place 'OMM' on the range is like putting on a warm sweater in winter, comfortable and kind of nice to have around.

For more information on the Oklahoma Mini Mill go to http://oklahomaminimill.com/

or their page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/oklahomaminimill/

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