The thing about going to different places is that it opens you to unexpected experiences. And it might even make you sleep better at night.
We were heading home from a photo exhibit at Gustavus Adolphus College a couple weeks ago when “the Percolator” saw a little sign on the side of a nondescript building: “St. Peter Woolen Mills. Est. 1867.” Perc has been going to St. Peter for years, and I’ve been there at least a couple times, but neither of us had even heard of St. Peter Woolen Mills. And that’s unusual, because we actually collect wool or, more specifically, blankets.
Here are some of our favorites:
Faribault Woolen Mill Co. opened in 1865. The mill is one of the oldest vertical woolen mills in the country. That means raw wool comes in and wool products go out — they do it all right there.
They make blankets, throws, scarves and other accessories. They closed for a brief moment a few years ago, then reopened. But we nearly lost one of Minnesota’s important heritage companies.
When the machinery booted up again looms wove a limited edition, commemorative Hudson’s Bay-style blanket with a special label numbered by its makers. We have No. 55 out of 250.
Bemidji Woolen Mills got its start in 1920 and has been keeping people warm in northern Minnesota and beyond ever since. They make wool clothing, sweaters and blankets right on site.
We have a heavy green blanket with a vintage illustration of Paul Bunyan. Today the mill is run by the family’s fourth generation.
North Star Woolen Mill operated on the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis from 1864 to 1949. They made blankets, scarves, yarn and lap blankets for Pullman train cars.
The building is now lofts, but blankets can still be found in antique shops and online.
And our new favorite sheep business, St. Peter Woolen Mill, got its start in 1867 processing wool for local ranchers. They do not make blankets! That must be why we missed them. But they do make wool duvets, mattress toppers and pillows. And they still process raw wool for customers across the country.
We chatted with a woman from New Ulm who was having her raw wool washed and cleaned so she could spin it into yarn. The mill also makes quilt batting and has a store full of wool-related gifts and supplies: sheets of wool felt; purses, hats and mittens; and fabric for quilting, rug hooking and making duvet covers.
When we stopped in, St. Peter was staffed by Pat, a fourth-generation descendant of the second owners. She told us the mill is one of only five left in the country that does custom wool processing.
Pat also explained how wool products become heirlooms passed from generation to generation. The mill cleans and refurbishes heirloom quilts and comforters, too, because wool packs down after time and needs to have more fluff added to it.
Duvet inserts are available in three thicknesses and fluffy-but-firm pillows come in two varieties of softness. It didn’t take us long to decide we wanted a wool duvet. We placed our order, added a custom muslin cotton duvet cover, then went home to wait for Pat’s call.
We didn’t have to wait long. Our custom duvet and cover were made in about three days. Back to St. Peter we went.
We pulled into the lot on the side of the building. A woman was pushing duvets into her already full SUV. I jokingly asked her if she was a distributor. Turns out, she was!
Moss Envy, the eco-minded store on Excelsior Boulevard by Whole Foods, carries bedding products from St. Peter Woolen Mills. She still had another six comforters and several pillows that were just not going to fit in her vehicle, so she offered to pay us with a pillow if we brought the rest back to Minneapolis. Sure!
We got home that night and took turns sleeping on the pillow while hunkering down beneath the warmth of our new wool comforter. It was like sleeping under a cloud. We dropped off the load at Moss Envy the following day and bought another pillow.
Join students at the Gustavus Adolphus student union cafeteria. Then check out the college’s gallery and a pick up a guide to locating the several Paul Granlund sculptures on campus.
For comments or suggestions write to [email protected]. Follow Linda Koutsky on Facebook for more tourist tips.