The Rastetter Woolen Mill is owned and operated by Tim and Maureen Rastetter and Tim's sister Ardie Rastetter. The Woolen Mill has been operated by the same family for five generations. The original mill was established in 1840 and was purchased by the Rastetter Family in 1872.
The uniqueness of this woolen mill does not lie in the present building. Presently located between Millersburg and Berlin on S.R. 39, the building was constructed in the early 1940's. What is extraordinary about the Rastetter Woolen Mill is that they run a carding machine that was built in 1862. It is unbelievable but true. The machine is over 130 years old and still functions! You can see the machine function at the mill. Call before you visit so you won't be disappointed because they do not run every day.
The Rastetter Family processes the wool from fleece to woolen bats that are then sold to spinners, or as batting for blankets. In the back room there is a round brick gas-heated washtub where the wool is soaked in soap and hot water for eight hours. It is rinsed and hung outside to dry for several days and is then transferred to the attic where they have a three-week drying system on the rafters in the building.
Much of the wool that the Rastetter's receive is not usable because it is full of dirt, burrs, straw and dung. They select the cleanest wool to begin the process. Once washed and dried it is sorted by color. White wool is most desirable since it can be died. The colors are sorted into piles of gray, brown, black and shades between. The only market that can use the inferior colored wool is the spinning market because they like the natural colored fibers. I found it interesting that the supply of black wool greatly exceeds the demand for it.
After the wool is thoroughly dried, it is placed in an antique picker that cleans out the remaining burrs and dung. Once it is clean, it is processed on the 1862-carding machine. The wool enters the machine through rollers that have coarse teeth that oppose one another. This process straightens the fibers and gets the fibers moving in the same direction. The carding process continues through a series of rollers where each roller has a finer and finer set of teeth so that the fibers are all combed in one direction. The process is amazing. The antique piece of equipment takes a ball of wool, processes and combs it and the end product is this soft, fluffy blanket of wool.
Venessa Rastetter, Tim and Maureen's 16-year old daughter, was operating the carding machine when I toured the facility. Venessa was apt at loading the wool and managing the equipment. Periodically she would spray the wool with a combination of fabric softener and water to control the static electricity. The last roller is about one foot in diameter and it would continuously turn, accepting the processed wool. While I was there Venessa was measuring out one pound of wool to be used in baby blankets. She was amazing! When enough processed wool was on the last roller she stopped the turning cycle, used scissors to cut the wool, and carefully worked the batting off the fine teeth. Each time she would weigh the wool, it was consistently 16 ounces. I was impressed!
The entire Rastetter woolen operation is remarkable. It is one of the most interesting mills in Ohio. Their building also houses rug weaving (a local cottage industry), afghans, braided rugs, coats, sweaters, sheepskin slippers, deerskin gloves, and much more. When in or around Holmes County you must visit the Rastetter Woolen Mill. It is an experience of a lifetime.