Roadtrip – Custom Woolen Mills, Carstairs, Alberta

Welcome sign

Welcome sign

Custom Woolen Mills working museum

Custom Woolen Mills working museum

Storage barn for unprocessed wool

Storage barn for unprocessed wool

Yesterday I took a road trip to rural Alberta to check out the Custom Woolen Mills near Carstairs Alberta, which is a working museum and store. I order my wool from there for my felted soaps and wool dryer balls and wanted to take a day to go and check it out and see how wool is made and learn more about the materials behind my products.

Well, it was well worth the trip!

When you get there it’s like a step back in time. All the machines date back to 1886 and Custom Woolen Mills started operation in 1975 as a family run business. They have grown from processing 40,000 pounds of wool a year when they first started to over 100,000 pounds a year now! The mill has a self-guided tour of their working museum which is where they process the wool and you can watch the machines and staff working away. There is also an elevated working area that you can climb up to to get a top-down view of the processing area.

When I walked in there, it was noisy and a little dark, and my glasses immediately steamed up. I thought for sure I had walked into a place where I shouldn’t be. ie. only for workers. A nice lady came out and introduced herself and welcomed me to the mill. After defogging my glasses, I could then see all the machines in front of me and was in total awe. I hadn’t really thought about the processing of wool being a warm & humid experience, but it makes sense! To wash & clean the wool, you need very hot water, which makes for a steamy workplace. It’s also a little bit stinky as you can imagine with the amount of wet wool in there. It’s really not very strong though and your nose adjusts pretty quickly.

I got a chance to have a quick tour and learn a bit more about the wools they process and where they get their wool from. They get wool from farmers in: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, BC, and some from northern US states. They process wool form the following breeds: and even do some alpaca wool processing. All the wool is what is called “new wool” meaning it’s fresh from the sheep and hasn’t been processed before it reaches their mill. Fact of the day for me was: There is no need to be envious of New Zealand wool or Uk wool, Canadian wool is often of a higher quality, loftier in texture than imported wools because our sheep live in more extreme temperatures. Our Canadian climate helps makes their wool more fluffy and bulky and higher quality! That’s something I can support and be produce of despite all the snow we seem to get getting this year!

The staff are very nice and take pride in what they do. Their little wool shoppe is adorable. It’s where you can buy wool, roving, sweaters, socks, etc. all made from their wool that is carded, spun, and dyed on site. They even make wool pillows, blankets, comforters, and wool insulation for your house. How neat is that?! If you want some of these awesome products but can’t make it to their store in person, check out their online shoppe.

Why I love wool! Wool is:

  • a sustainable, renewable resource
  • reusable
  • biodegradable
  • fire resistant
  • water resistant
  • wrinkle resistant

Wool has insulating properties keeping you warm in winter and cool in summer. Wool can absorb 30% of it’s weight in water without feeling damp. One of the reasons they are great in wool dryer balls and felted soaps!

Before I left, I picked out a car full of roving wool in a variety of colours to bring back to Edmonton with me to get working on my dryer balls in prep for the Royal Bison, May 3-5 and a few more shows coming up after that! Check out my events page to find out where I’m at for upcoming shows and my products page to see which stores are carrying some of my products.


Raising the bar: Wool dryer balls are now more local & sustainable than ever!

IMG_1534One of my favourite products and something I’m really proud of are my wool dryer balls. These neat little bundles are awesome alternatives to dryer sheets for a few reasons. They can:

  • Cut drying time by up to 30%,
  • Reduce static,
  • Soften your clothes, and
  • Be indefinitely re-used

I’ve been making these as part of my natural green cleaning products for the home for a little over a year now, and they are great! Have had great reviews from customers and it’s one of my best sellers at craft shows & markets.

So why change my product & process if everything is going well?

I’m constantly striving to make my products as sustainable as possible. Sourcing out local ingredients and supporting local farms and businesses is a key component of my philosophy. Previously, I had been using yarn from a Canadian wool mill and roving from a local wool shop, but the roving was from a variety of sources including the UK and New Zealand. While I loved the quality of the roving that came from overseas, I still wanted to find a completely local source to reduce my carbon footprint and help support local Alberta businesses and industries. An interesting tidbit of knowledge passed on to me recently was that Alberta wool used to be so undervalued that farmers often burned it rather than get it processed, because it just wasn’t worth it. Crazy eh?! Is the Alberta wool of lesser quality? I don’t think so. I was very impressed with the quality of the roving from Alberta and found it among the softest roving I have ever come across. Definitely, not something that should be burned!

IMG_1501 IMG_1492My dryer balls are now either 95% or 100% made from Alberta roving wool! 

The next step was more more sustainable packaging. I had been packing my dryer balls originally in cellophane packaging, then more recently in stainless steel tins. The tins were meant to offer customers a reusable container that is long lasting and great for storing the dryer balls in between uses. While this is great, I decided that after reading the Story of Stuff (they have a neat video too), I could not longer encourage the use of stainless steel packaging for my product strictly for the purpose of offering a fancy looking package that would last a long time. The amount of energy, mining, and environmental degradation that goes in to the production of stainless steel is mind boggling! I instead have opted for kraft cardboard made from 100% recycled paper. If customers don’t want the package after they get home, they can recycle it or compost it. A simple, sustainable package that I think is much better for the planet than what I was offering before. The other good news is that the boxes can hold up to 4 balls in each. Sweet!

Check out the variety of colours and natural, un-dyed wool dryer balls that are now part of my collection!

PS. My wool dryer balls are available on my etsy store in set of 3, 4 or 6. You can request a custom number and colour set on my etsy store too by sending me a message there. You can also buy them in person from me at my next event: Mercer Collective, March 16, at the Mercer Building on 104th & 104th, 10am-4pm.

New listings in my Etsy store (Soapnuts cleaning trio & felted dryer balls)

ImageSoapnuts Cleaning Trio: Deluxe Collection.

The trio includes:

  • 1L bottle of liquid laundry detergent (your choice of scent from: Lavender & Lemongrass, Lemon & Clary Sage, Lime & Bergamot, or Unscented) (40-60 loads/bottle)
  • 500mL Veggie wash (20-30 washes/bottle)
  • 250mL spray bottle of: Citrus-infused all-purpose surface cleaner (made with fresh infused orange peel cleaner & soapnuts)

Felted Dryer Balls. Unique, needle- felted handmade with Lavender buds in the middle. Dryer balls are an all natural alternative to dryer sheets. They are made from wool and contain a terrycloth sachet filled with lavender buds in the centre. These might balls, get rid of static, soften your clothes and can even cut your drying time, which saves you money. They can be used indefinitely too. So, no more waste in the land fill.

Tree Collection (Set of 2)

Purple Collection (Set of 4)


The lowdown on felted dryer balls

What are felted dryer balls you ask? They are an all-natural, handmade alternative to dryer sheets.

What’s in them and how are they made? These dryer balls are handmade, from all natural wool, felted around a small terrycloth sachet filled with lavender buds to make your laundry smell fresh and clean!

How do they work? Toss them in with your laundry, and they will bounce around, softening your clothes and absorbing moisture from the dryer environment. This helps cut your drying time down. They more you add the more it will reduce your drying time.

How many do you need? In dryer climates like the prairies, for a small to medium load, 2 would be fine, and for a larger load, or a load of towels or jeans, 4 would be a good number. As mentioned above, the more you add, the more you will notice a drop in your drying time. I love that they naturally soften your clothes just like fabric softeners or dryer sheets, but without all the nasty chemicals!

How long do they last? They can be re-used indefinitely! The lavender scented balls will eventually lose their scent after several times in the dryer. Too bad, I know. But there is an easy solution. Just add a couple drops of your favourite essential oil to each ball and toss them back into the dryer. Good as new! Nice! They balls will get more and more felted as you use them, so they may feel more firm with time, but they still work just as well.

Pair this with my soapnuts laundry detergent for an eco-friendly laundry room. Excellent!