In December, my husband and I made a trip out to Custom Woolen Mills located about an hours drive north east of Calgary. I’d been wanting to visit the mill ever since I heard about it a couple of years ago, but just didn’t make the trip until recently. And I totally regret not going until now!
Wool mills in Canada seem to be pretty few and far between, especially mills that do custom processing. I purchase a lot of wool yarn from Custom Woolen Mills for my weaving (I also use a lot of Briggs and Little, which is another custom Canadian wool mill), so it was pretty interesting to see how the wool is processed.
The mill is a family-run business that got started from a love of weaving and fibre arts – which I just love. It was totally inspiring to see as I can imagine myself doing something very similar (although maybe not to the same scale) – I’m thinking a few sheep and a micro-mill.
Custom Woolen does not have their own sheep, but instead they purchase wool from sheep producers in mostly Alberta and BC, that they process and sell in their physical shop and online. The remainder of the business comes from sheep producers who would like to have their wool processed and sent back to them (which is where “custom” comes in to play). I was astonished by the massive bales of sheep’s wool that they had waiting to be processed – the photo below shows the outdoor storage area for the unprocessed bales sorted by sheep breed. Inside the mill they also had bags and bags and bags of unprocessed custom orders.
Custom Woolen uses old machines. Like, really, really old. Some from the 1800’s. It seemed like the majority of their machinery was newer (early 1900’s), but almost all pre-war. They describe their machinery as turn-of-the-century, industrial revolution. They ran all but one of their machines for us to see, with the exception of the gigantic carding machine because it wasn’t the kind of thing you could turn on and off for a short demonstration. Parts for these old machines are no longer manufactured and are quite difficult to come by, so most of the repairs are done using whatever parts they can find on the farm from other machinery.
I think one of my favorite things was seeing all the wooden bobbins filled with cream wool, as it is my weaving material of choice. And also, the sock knitting machine, which was just unbelievable. I’ll still spend weeks knitting a pair of socks by hand, but it was pretty amazing to find out that these machines can knit a pair of socks in about 6 minutes (about 8 minutes if you include serging the toe afterwards).
So after getting the mill tour, we ventured in to the adorable little wool shop right next door, which was just too cute. They sell their own yarn and roving, their machine knit socks, and a ton of other wool things – some things knitted by others using their wool for sale, like slippers, sweaters, hats, mitts, and so on. I purchased a number of gifts and some small naturally dyed skeins of wool for weaving with (I couldn’t resist).
My guess is that I will make more trips to the mill in the future – it was just so lovely and reminded me of all the amazing work that goes in to my fibres before they even get to me. Plus, anyone who knows me knows that I love all things old.
I was not compensated for this post in any way, shape, or form – I am just a lover of all things fibre and a supporter of small local businesses. Find out more information about Custom Woolen Mills on their website.