Field Trip: Custom Woolen Mills

May 16, 2010

Custom Woolen Mills is located in Carstairs Alberta, just an hour north of Calgary, and I had been wanting to go and visit them for quite a while now.  The problem has been that they keep regular working hours, which means that when I’m working they are working, and are closed when I’m not working!  One thing I definitely had to do with my two weeks off was to finally pay them a visit.  Not only do they process and spin their own brand of yarn, but they process fleece from all over western Canada, and into Montana.  Beaverslide gets processed in this facility.  The photo at left is all the raw yarn waiting to get washed, carded, and spun.  It doesn’t seem like CWM gets many visitors this time of year, as everyone was pretty happy to chat with us as we wandered around.  Visiting is free, the men and women working away were very interesting and informative, and pretty darn happy to explain what they were working on.  The only thing to remember is that the spinning area needs to be viewed from an observation deck, you can’t just wander around mucking things up.  Not that I would wander around pushing buttons, no not me, never.

Of course the first step is to wash the fleeces, and coming in from a chilly day outside, to the hot and humid washing room my glasses fogged right up.  The gentleman hand feeding raw fleece into their washing bath was very informative, except he was very tired due to his recent acquisition of a 9 week old kitten.  I know…ahhhhhh.  He showed us the photo on his phone.  I couldn’t help myself however, I seem to have the unstoppable water and wastewater bug.  I started asking where the water was from (obviously well water with high iron and presumably high hardness as well, I know this from a bathroom inspection, dirty water in toilet, red iron stain on sink) and where their waste went.  The wasted water goes into a lagoon treatment system somewhere over there (waves hand in general direction).  They use chemicals to wash the fleece like soap, and a few other harmless things.  If they cleaned up their raw water they could see benefits such as lower soap and chemical usage, and increased fleece cleanliness.  They also use water to rinse the fleeces, I would love to get a wastewater treatment system in there so that they can recycle all the water and use it for rinsing purposes.  I’m not so sure the cost saved would outweigh the cost of the equipment, or benefit to their process however, and may be unjustifiable.  I would love however to build an old fashioned water treatment filter utilizing gravel, sand, and a layers of fleece.  HOW COOL WOULD THAT BE?  Okay, down water engineer, down.

The carding and spinning machines are over 100 years old, moved from another older mill to this location.  It was a purple and red day at the mill!  I asked the fellow doing the dying if peoples moods change depending on which colours they dye, bad moods with black, good moods with red.  He looked at me weird and said he had never thought about it.  Funny how often I hear that…

Not only do they spin yarn here, but they also make woolen batting for quilts which you can buy already made, or if you send them your finished quilt they will put the wool inside and stitch it up.  They also knit socks!

The quilting machine was built in the forties, and is very interesting.  On top is a wooden guide that moves the sewing apparatus around in a pre-set pattern.  A whole quilt can be sewn up in 8 minutes once its all set up! 

We visited the gift store and dived into the sale bin, I bought a sweater amount of deep brown 3 ply wool, Joce picked up some more Beaverslide, and off we went home, very happy to have finally seen Mule Spinners!

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3 Responses to “Field Trip: Custom Woolen Mills”

  1. Cheryl S. said

    Lucky you! Sounds like a fun trip.

  2. Mel said

    So jealous. It’s my first stop once I feel confident enough to leave the house with the baby on mat leave.

  3. Cary said

    Talking about trying to repress the engineer inside – look at all of those unguarded chain drives! But very cool.

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