I’ve said it many times but I am a big fan of Bendigo Woollen Mills yarn. I have the company listed on my favourites page. In 2019 on my trip to Victoria I even planned my hotel stay near the railway station in Melbourne that I could do a day trip to Bendigo from. I buy all my cotton yarn from there and if I’m making a wool blanket for a gift it is only Bendigo wool that I use. When recently I saw that there was a special virtual tour of the mills happening I had to jump online and join the tour.
At the time the tour happened NSW was in the biggest Covid lockdowns we’ve had during the pandemic. Dependent on where you lived in NSW some LGA’s (local government areas) even have nighttime curfews, I’m in one of those LGA’s but it isn’t too bad. For something a little different for their members the Knitter’s Guild NSW organised a virtual tour with Bendigo Woollen Mills. On the Mill’s website they have a mini tour of the mills with some photos and explaining the process but our tour was a real behind the scenes tour. An actual tour of the mill is very rare as it is working factory with a lot of people and machinery they can’t walk people through it.
Even though at the time regional Victoria where the mills are located were also in lockdown the mill was still able to continue manufacturing yarn and processing online shopping orders, they couldn’t however open the onsite shop. By chance the staff were having a rare Saturday off in the actual factory so the machinery wasn’t working however that meant we got a real up close look at it all with our tour guide explaining the process and answering questions we had. With all the machines running it would be too noisy. Our tour guide took us from the back of the factory and walked through the different stages from when they first have the yarn in bales ready to start the blending process, the different stages of how they yarn is formed into strands, how the strands are plied together into hanks, the dying process of the hanks and finally how the yarn formed into the iconic balls we know and love complete with the information tickets placed in them. It really was fascinating seeing the entire process. I like seeing the process of how things are made.
If you are on the mills mailing list you regularly receive shade cards with a little sample of each yarn and the colours. You can also request a shade card from their website if you don’t get one. Our tour guide showed how the shade cards were put together. Again this was very interesting. To be honest I had never thought about how the cards were put together but it gave you a new perspective on the amount of time that goes into making each one.
After we were shown the process of how the balls of yarn were made we then got a look at the warehouse where all the yarn is kept until it is shipped out to customers or for sale in the onsite shop. The staff packing orders were working that day and we got to see the process of how each order is packaged up. This might not sound interesting but it was as again it is something I had never thought of. I just hit checkout on my online order then stalk the mailbox waiting for my squishy delivery to arrive. Computers do print out mailing labels and invoices but the orders themselves are all hand picked and sealed into the packaging ready to be posted out. Around 600 orders a day are processed! That is a crazy amount of orders and a lot of yarn as face it you never just buy one ball of yarn in your order.
The factory shop has “the bargain room” which is a section at the back on the main shop. Some items are listed on the website but the majority aren’t. It was interesting to get an insight as to what items were sent to the back room. It might be a limited edition yarn they don’t have large quantities of left or perhaps a dye lot that didn’t turn out the correct colour so they create a new shade with it. There isn’t enough to list on the main website, considering how many customers they have who might see it and want some so instead it is sent to the bargain room.
I keep repeating the word interesting but it really was seeing behind the scenes. I think everyone on the tour suddenly had a new appreciation and respect on how much work it look to have the squishy balls of yarn into our hands. I know I certainly did. A big Thank You to the Knitter’s Guide NSW for organising the tour.