Faribault Woolen Mill Co.
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Faribault Woolen Mill Co.

United States

Mood of Living  /  Jul 5, 2016

Rooted in tradition and quality, Faribault Woolen Mill Co. has been creating timeless woolens for nearly 150 years.

Faribault’s historic mill, located along the banks of the Cannon River in Minnesota, was founded in 1865 after the destruction and suffering of the Civil War. As Faribault partner Bruce Bildsten says, “the time was right to start a new business.” As one of the last vertical woolen mills still standing in the country, Faribault Woolen Mill Co. is involved in every part of the production process, all under one roof. Here, the craftspeople take natural, renewable, and biodegradable wool to create blankets, throws, scarves, and accessories of enduring design and comfort. Today, Faribault Woolen Mill Co. continues to produce remarkable, quality woolens while also supporting local designers and providing lifetime jobs for the community.

Q & A with Bruce Bildsten

Mood of Living: Who founded Faribault Woolen Mill Co. and why?
Bruce Bildsten: It was founded by Carl Klemer, a German Immigrant, in 1865 to turn yarn from local sheep into batting for bedding because it’s COLD in Minnesota. After a couple of years, he started making yarn and then blankets.
MoL: Is the business still family run or has it expanded beyond the original founding family?
BB: The mill was under family ownership for five generations. It once again is under family ownership: The Mooty Families.
MoL: What was the inspiration to start the business shortly after the Civil War?
BB: The end of the Civil War was a return to some normalcy in the north. Finally, after so much destruction and suffering, the country could look ahead. The time was right to start a new business.
MoL: How has the physical mill alongside the Cannon River changed since its establishment?
BB: While the original structure, the “new” mill built in 1892, still exists, it has been added on to and altered extensively. But many parts of the mill still feel 125 years old.
MoL: What makes some of the century-old machinery so “irreplaceable” that it is still in use alongside modern technology?
BB: Our carding machines, some dating back to 1905 and none newer than 1920, still work brilliantly. They’re massive, built to last and with regular maintenance, and are very reliable. The veteran employees who operate our cards believe they contribute to the special hand of our woolens.
MoL: During both world wars, how did Faribault Woolen Mill Co. help troops overseas?
BB: During both wars, the mill was almost completely devoted to making blankets for the military. It was our total focus. The relatively few consumer blankets we made during WWII needed to be made of the new artificial fibers because wool was rationed for the war effort.
MoL: How has Faribault Woolen Mill Co. changed and impacted the wool industry?
BB: The products have seen innovation like machine washability and moth resistance, but the quality has changed very little. We make blankets that are nearly identical to those made over 100 years ago. For much of the last half of the 20th Century, we made over half of the wool blankets in America. And since the mill’s rebirth in 2011 we’ve been at the forefront of the return of the American woolen resurgence.
MoL: Please describe Faribault Woolen Mill Co.’s process in detail. From the design to the wool to the entire manufacturing process to the product.
BB: First we dye the raw wool. Then we card it to create roving. The roving is then twisted on spinning frames to create yarn. The yarn is then made into a warp – the “bed” of the weaving process. Next the warp is placed onto the loom for weaving. After weaving comes inspection and wet finishing, where the fabric is washed, dried and deliberately shrunk. Next the fabric is run through the napper: a series of wire brushes that add the final touch of softness. Finally the piece is sent to the sewing department where it is hemmed, labeled and given a final inspection.
MoL: Can you explain what it means to be one of the last vertical woolen mills in the country?
BB: It means that we do every step of production ourselves, under one roof.
MoL: Where do you get your wool from?
BB: By far, most of our wool comes from the western United States. There are some finer grades of merino wool that come from Australia or New Zealand.
MoL: Do you consider your company sustainable and, if so, why?
BB: We make goods from a natural, renewable resource that is made to last for generations. And even if it does wear out (say, after 100 years) it can be recycled or returned to the earth. We also don’t waste anything: All scraps are reground to make recycled yarn.
Fabric swatches at Faribault Woolen Mill Co.
Fabric swatches at Faribault Woolen Mill Co.
MoL: Who is your current creative director and where do they get their inspiration from for your clothing, accessories and blanket designs?
BB: We don’t currently have one. We use local designers who use our own archives as inspiration, carefully updating colors and details.
MoL: Why has Faribault Woolen Mill Co. been successful for as long as it has? How has it remained relevant?
BB: We make a timeless product with care here in the United States that is made to endure for generations.
MoL: What sets Faribault Woolen Mill Co. apart from other companies specializing in wool?
BB: We make everything ourselves under our own roof. We don’t market clothing made in Asia under our name.
MoL: Has Faribault Woolen Mill Co. partnered with other companies? If so, with whom?
BB: Here’s just a sampling: Ralph Lauren, Rag & Bone, Steven Alan, Shinola, Filson, Oak Street Boots, Red Wing, Best Made, CB2, West Elm, Rouge Territory.
MoL: How has time changed and improved Faribault Woolen Mill Co.?
BB: We have introduced faster, computer controlled looms that make even finer, more consistent woolens. Due to improved breeding, we’re able to source even finer merino wool. We’ve also instituted new quality control practices at every step of production.
MoL: What is Faribault Woolen Mill Co.’s mission?
BB: To create timeless woolens which will provide comfort and beauty for generations.
MoL: How has that mission changed over the years from when Faribault Woolen Mill Co. was first established in the 19th century to the 21st century today?
BB: It hasn’t changed!
MoL: In another 50 years, where do you think Faribault Woolen Mill Co. will be?
BB: Creating the same beautiful, quality product revered all over the world. And still providing good, lifetime jobs for our community.
FIND Faribault Woolen Mill Co. ONLINE
Photography courtesy of Faribault Woolen Mill Co.

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