Fam Tour 2018, Part 1: Modern Marketplace, Classic Craftsmanship

Fam Tour 2018, Part 1: Modern Marketplace, Classic Craftsmanship

In 2018, I had the great fortune of coordinating tourism development & marketing initiatives from the Visitor Information Centre in Olds. We had a couple of keen summer students on board that year, and thanks to a grant from Alberta Economic Development, Trade & Tourism, we organized the first ever Familiarization Tour in Mountain View County. Staff from all the VIC’s in the county as well as one town Councilor, Mr. John Baswick of Didsbury, joined us on the tour. The first three posts of this blog are about the memorable days we had, the experiences & learning we enjoyed, and I am dedicating these posts to all the summer students who did such amazing work for the community while were were open.

Why would anyone shut down an operation that did so much in such a short time? Don’t ask me man. Makes zero sense.

If you don’t mind a little dust on your car, be sure to take a scenic drive off the freeway east of Carstairs to Custom Woolen Mills. Located near Township Road 310 on Range Road 272, it’s like stepping back in time to a simpler era when everything was hands-on and living off the land was simply the way things were.

Because of events of the past couple years (let’s just agree not to use *that* word, ok?) they’re not open to tours – yet. They do offer a virtual tour on their website, so peek in there to get a glimpse of their production facility before making the trip, because their retail shop is open and totally worth the visit.

Let me give you a little peak into what it’s like by sharing a few snapshots of what my team and I saw back in the spring of 2018.

Custom Woolen Mills started in 1975 as a small family business and now is in its second generation. When you visit the virtual tour on their website, you will see a photo of Fen Roessingh when she was working with the original owner of the mill. Fenn was one of the hosts for our tour and was still as enthusiastic talking about her work as she was in her youth. 

 Fen Roessingh, still a hands-on owner at Custom Woolen Mills.

What was immediately noticed when we walked into the facility was the humidity! Dry Bones Albertans that we are, we weren’t ready for the steamy washing process for the raw wool suppliers would bring in prior to dyeing. We learned that small bits of vegetation can be cleaned from the wool without the use of chemicals, such a treat for those of us that are wanting to see a massive reduction of toxins in our environment. The wool is dried and prepared for dyeing, and “white” wool remains its natural white, not bleached. As you will see in later photos, it gives even dyed wool an earthy, natural tone.

The Custom Woolen Mills web tour gives a thorough explanation of the washing and dyeing process. They use a mix of natural colors and natural and chemical dyes in their process. They also have a demonstration garden where they grow plants for natural dyes, from aqua blue to burnt red. We then made our way back into the carding and spinning part of the mill. Machines that dated back to 135 years ago still operate today, aligning the wool fibers and spinning them into yarn. Custom Woolen Mills is the only mill in Canada to still use a “Spinning Mule”. It was fascinating to see these machines still churning away generations after their manufacturing date.

A few images from the spinning floor. The natural grey yarn is lovely… and those wooden spools! Crafty people like me have so much appreciation for these traditional tools of the trade.

It was on to the knitting room, where they make their machine-knit socks. (I can’t believe I didn’t pick up a pair in the shop!) The quality far exceeds anything from a big box store.

A close up of the knitting machine, keeping a far better tension than I ever could!

From there, it was on to the sewing room. Custom Woolen Mills makes 100% wool comforters, sleeping bags and pillows, and the work is – as you might expect – stellar. They have their own unique stitching pattern, and sew between six and 10 comforters a day.

This is why I don’t quilt.

The treat at the end of the tour is a visit to their retail store and gift shop. Yarn, finished socks and shawls, knitting bowls and accessories of all kinds await.

I’m going back to get those socks.

Check out the rest of Day 1’s adventures as we toured over the Cowboy Trail.

Related Posts

Fam Tour 2018, Part 3: Town and Country

Fam Tour 2018, Part 3: Town and Country

Fam Tour 2018, Part 2: The Cowboy Trail

Fam Tour 2018, Part 2: The Cowboy Trail

Find Your Center.

Find Your Center.

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