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Keep ME Open: Bartlettyarns wool mill celebrates 200 years in business

Bartlettyarns is almost as old as the state of Maine. Its owner never imagined he would celebrate this special milestone in the middle of a pandemic.

HARMONY, Maine — Made in Maine and sold worldwide. Bartlettyarns started in 1821 and has been manufacturing yarn for almost 200 years.

"We are starting to ramp up and celebrate that 200th anniversary," says owner Lindsey Rice.

The owners, Lindsey and Susan Rice just started celebrating this very special milestone, but they never imagined it would be in the middle of a pandemic.

Back in the day for about 100 years, the water from Higgins stream provided the power to run Bartlettyarns Mill. Now, this historic yarn mill in Harmony uses electric power.

This yarn mill has a relic you won't be able to see anywhere else in the United States, a 200-year-old spinning machine called a mule.

"The spinning mule we have is the only one left in the United States for manufacturing first ply of yarn," says Lindsey Rice.

Rice tells NEWS CENTER Maine this wool is different from all others because the mule gives it more loft and airiness compared to other modern manufacturing yarn mills.

"We don't want to change it, we could be a lot more efficient and industrious if we would to modern high-speed spinning frames, but the mule produces a lightweight nice airy fiber," says Lindsey Rice.

The owners won't change the machine to a quicker and modern one because that machine is what gives their yard its quality.

"Larger air pockets allow for better insulating pockets in our yarn," says Rice.

The process starts with natural wool coming right from the sheep. Then the wool is washed and dyed out of state, a few days later cleaned wool gets back to Harmony. Then they run it through the duster and picker, and then it goes to the spinning mule. After that, the yarn goes through different vintage machines that combine the wool together, and depending on the type of wool it can take from 15 hours to a week for a finished product ready to be sold.

"I love the machinery as much as I love the yarn, I would love to work here but I'm already retired," says Ellen Paul, a customer from Waterville.

Bartlettyarns is celebrating 200 years in business.

They make different weights of yarn, woolen-spun yarn, anything from a lightweight sport yarn through a heavy bulky weight yarn.

Details about our annual open house for this year. Yes, we are holdi... ng a modified annual open house, social distancing and masks are required. We cannot hold inside the mill tours, but we have decided to share with all so,e old time memorabilia from the private collection of the Rices.

"We are at a much slower pace manufacturing-wise than what we were on the past," says Rice.

Most of Bartlettyarn's' customers are yarn shops. Those shops have seen a significant decrease in sales. Since these stores are not selling the yarn they have, Bartlettyarns is not receiving the same number of yarn orders they used to.

Currently, there are only two workers out of six at the wool mill. Revenue this year is at an all-time low due to COVID-19.

"Between 50 and 75 percent less than what would be normal for us," says Rice.

Barttlettyarn makes 72 different colors of yarn.

"Like a little child going into a candy store," says customer Brenda Grimes.

This mill has been through a fire, floods, wars, and pandemics, but it's still here producing high-quality wool for sale worldwide.

Bartlettyarns is open Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday,half-day on Thursday's and Friday's are by appointment. People can also shop online here at their main website.

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At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus-covid-19