Faribault Woolen Mill

My first visit to Faribault Woolen Mill was a little over seven years ago. As part of an intro-to-production training, I ventured to the mill with around twenty of my peers, eagerly anticipating what the day-to-day in a factory would be like.

faribault-mill-woolRaw white and black wool is processed and spun to create grey yarn.

If I recall correctly, we, the business-analysts-in-training, outnumbered the team working at the mill that day and the mill was producing only a handful of different blankets. It felt slow, almost as if everything had stopped just for us, although I know now that that wasn’t the case. Nonetheless, we were given an entirely thorough tour – the team proudly explained how they turned raw wool into yarn and then wove said yarn into blankets, and thoughtfully answered our questions about production, lead times, and the like.

faribault-woolCombing the white & black wool.

I left thinking I knew how a factory worked. I also remember thinking that it was ironic that a company that we would never work with was taking the time to teach us – the people who would soon be importing products from everywhere in the world except from this mill in Minnesota- about production.

faribault-factoryThe mill is fully integrated, which means it can accomplish all production steps, from raw wool to finished goods. It is the only mill of it’s kind left in the United States… pretty incredible, right?

Since then, I’ve visited factories all over the world but the simple pride displayed during my first visit to Faribault has always stuck with me. I became accustomed to factory tours where the teams would boast about the state-of-the-art equipment or the multiple production shifts ensuring product flow was consistent, but I never again saw a factory where the team was solely focused on – and proud of – preserving their craft and working with what they had. I knew they existed, but I wasn’t lucky enough to work with them.

faribault-mill-machineryMost of the machines are from the 1940s-1960s and many are no longer produced, so the teams conduct proactive maintenance to ensure they remain viable. 

It felt like I’d come full circle when I visited Faribault again a few weeks back.  I first visited to learn about production, to utilize the knowledge I gained to import product. Now I was there as a friend, with a goal of sharing the experience with you and celebrating the brand that Faribault has become. I’m a factory nerd at heart – the daughter of an engineer and a scientist/maker, I love to see how things are made. But to say that my most recent visit to Faribault was powerful is not quite enough.


Faribault is more than a mill; it is an incredible, proud community. That pride and sense of community is why I was given such an outstanding tour years ago, even though my work was indirectly responsible for the change in consumer behavior that had put the mill in danger of closing. And that proud community, combined with hard work, calculated risks, and a belief in heritage values and production, is why Faribault is what it is today.

faribault-yarn-spoolsYarn is spun onto spools for use on the looms. 

It wasn’t easy. The mill, which had been open since 1865, closed in the middle of the workday in 2009 – the middle of the day! Can you imagine?  The machines were tagged for sale to a company in Pakistan, and the building sat unused for two years, managed by a devoted caretaker who remains integral to Faribault operations today. In 2012, the mill was purchased by Chuck and Paul Mooty, local businessmen who believed in the brand and the value of made-in-America  products and who understood that the rising price of wool overseas could make domestic production advantageous again.

faribault-factory-millYarn storage in the mill. 

The mill had flooded while closed, and no one could be sure the machines were still operable, but the Mooty’s took on reparations, updating the building, servicing the machinery, and adding new machines to modernize the process as needed. But they did not do this alone – when the plan to reopen the mill was announced, the craftspeople began to return. After the mill shut down, some employees had taken early retirement and others began new careers – many ended their retirements in order to return to Faribault, and one woman who was a few degrees short of completing a nursing degree even chose to forego the degree in order to return to the mill! The mill had been, and continues to be, a multigenerational family operation, and the employees were committed to it’s revival. They returned to rebuild the mill and the brand and to establish processes to ensure Faribault would be successful going forward. 

faribault-typewriterThis early 20th century typewriter is used to transmit patterns to the looms.

And it has been. The timing was apt, of course, given the resurgence of the made-in-American movement and of conscious consumerism, but most importantly, the new team behind Faribault stayed true to their heritage and continued to put out incredible, classic products. Today, we see Faribault at Steven Alan, at West Elm, at all of our favorite boutiques and in GQ and Martha Stewart… which means that the once quiet mill now employs almost 100 people and runs production lines each day.


faribault-mill-design-boardSometimes, I wonder if this site is worth it. I worry that, at the end of the day, TAE is still just pushing latent consumerism and can do little to change consumer behavior. This trip to Faribault was so powerful and reaffirming because I remembered (again) that it’s not about buying stuff. It’s not about having all the things. It’s about community, and family, and heritage, and following through on your beliefs and values. It’s because the why and the how are just as important as the what.

Without the Mooty’s belief in Faribault, and without the craftspeople and brilliant strategists who returned to rebuild the business, and without the retailers who believed in the brand and the consumers who chose to buy this incredible product, we wouldn’t have a story. But because of all of these people, because of this community, we do. And that is what makes it worth it.


The factory store

 Original photography for The American Edit by Ashley Sullivan. Follow Ashley on Instagram!

Thank you to Bruce Bildsten and Jana Woodside for sharing the Faribault Mill story and taking us on the tour. Follow Faribault:

Illume Candles

I’ve always been obsessed with understanding how things work… so it’s no surprise that I love a good factory tour. After years of touring factories all over the world, learning how products are made and seeing production and take place, I’ve come to appreciate the process and the amazing amount of work it takes to produce product on a huge scale. That’s not to say that I don’t love small batch or handmade products – obviously I do! – but the dedication and commitment to quality needed to produce huge quantities of product in a responsible manner is incredibly impressive.

Even more impressive – companies that can do this, and make amazing product, right here in America – more, 15 minutes away from my home in Minneapolis! I’ve been a fan of Illume Candles for years – the candles smell incredible, look beautiful, and are affordable and available at all of the major retailers. As much as I love to seek out American-made, it’s even better when it’s easy to find. I visited the factory and met with the team last month and am excited to give you a peek into the factory… and the inspiration that leads to some of our favorite candles!
illume-burn-roomThe burn room… Illume burns candles in a controlled setting to test for safety and quality – flame height, smoke points, etc. It’s a bit of an overwhelming room (all of those candles burning at one time!) but a great example of Illume’s dedication to putting out amazing product. Did you know that candles have a cold throw and hot throw scent? Cold throw is the way the candle smells when it is not burning… hot throw is the smell when it is burning. Illume combines the cold and hot throws to create the ideal scent for their candles.

illume-waxJust a little bit  of wax… hard wax is melted and then colored and scented. To add perspective, I believe there were 4 vats of liquid wax running when I visited.

illume-wicksI can’t say I ever thought about all of the different wick options that existed… Now I find myself checking all of our candles and trying to figure out the difference!

illume-metal-capWick tabs hold the wick in place and ensure your candle is as safe as it is pretty.

illume-candles-pouredCandles are poured by hand! Seeing this never ceases to amaze me… so much takes place before we bring products into our homes.

illume-factory-candlesCandles after they have been poured… the ombre effect is due to the wax drying. Jenny, Illume’s Marketing Manager, has far better instagram skills than I do and shot this little video that day – it’s amazing!

One of the most exciting aspects of my tour was the contagious excitement and passion everyone had for their work. I had the opportunity to speak with the Creative Director and CEO after my tour and their belief in American manufacturing and the positive impact it has on the business was incredibly motivating and inspiring.

Illume has tons of gorgeous candles, but I’m currently obsessed with the seasonal options.  Everyone I spoke to raved about the combination created by burning a balsam + cedar candle with a woodfire – and after testing it for the last month or so, I agree!

If you are still on the hunt for holiday gifts, I highly recommend the following:

Inspiration for next season…. Trust me, good things are coming!


Thank you so much to the amazing team from Illume for letting me visit and learn for the day! Thank you for all that you do!

Be sure to follow Illume for more behind the scenes information.. and tons of great sales and discounts! (even a contest!)

Polka Dot Club

I’m a VERY proud auntie, but I struggle when buying my nieces and nephew presents – for one, the kiddos tend to be more interested in the box than the present itself; so many toys seem to be either disposable or fragile – which is not ideal for my rambunctious nephew, and lastly, most kids toys just don’t feel as special as I remember my own toys being – and what good is a gift if it is not special?

I met Jennifer Murphy, the founder of POLKA DOT CLUB, at Mille (one of the many amazing makers I’ve met at Michelle’s shop!) earlier this year when she was preparing to launch the PDC and I fell in love with her unique teddy bears and rattles… heritage toys that are meant to be played with. Special, durable, and something your kids will have forever – basically, these are the perfect present. AND it seems that the parents (at least my friends and family!) love them just as much as the kids do!


When I was seven years old my Grandmother taught me how to sew. A year later my mother began making teddy bears and before I was eleven years old I was using her scraps to make my own bears and animals. Now, nearly thirty years later I’ve begun to put this lineage into perspective and discover why after all this time I’m still so completely engaged in the act of sewing and making objects. I think it has something to do with constantly inventing something out of raw materials. The process of making- be it in textiles, ceramics, wood is so deeply satisfying. I love to get my hands on beautiful materials and create something that has function to be loved and used.

That has always driven me, but today, it also has very much to do with my children. I make things now because I want them to see that everything in our home -is made- it doesn’t just appear on a shelf ready for us, it came from someplace and someone. I like to illuminate that we can be the makers of our things, it takes time and care, but I hope that knowledge imbues everything around them with new value. Plus, it’s just flat out fun to hand them something that makes them want to play and keying into that always keeps things fresh.


I’ve always been really drawn to natural fibers. I like the way they feel, age, and have been used historically. I love that old bears made 100 years ago were stuffed with wood shavings and the fur was simply mohair (from the goat) woven into cotton. Mohair ages very differently than the contemporary alternative synthetic plush- it ages with dignity showing it’s years but gracefully and begs to be passed on from one generation to the next. I use these materials to make the POLKA DOT CLUB along with 100% cotton stuffing and safety eyes- but with the exception of these few tweaks for safety the PDC Bears are made using the same techniques, materials, and processes as stuffed toys were 100 years ago… I’m so passionate about making toys that will not be tossed aside when the child outgrows it, because of the quality of the fibers and craftsmanship these toys value is not diminished by the years of love and play, rather they become more special over time. I’m excited to be making modern heirlooms for now and forever.



A small group of highly skilled crafts people in Minneapolis help me to make each POLKA DOT CLUB bear by hand, from start to finish. I design, gather all the materials, and then hand each bear off to be cut out, sewn, and stuffed. Once those detailed tasks are done each piece goes back into my hands. I add all the finishing touches- embroidering the nose, trimming the fur, hand sewing the ears in place, and choosing colors and clothes to make each piece unique and very hand made. It would be so much easier and cheaper to send it off someplace over seas to be made, but I can’t wrap my head around that idea. I want my hands and my care to be all over these toys. It’s deeply important to me to keep the whole process right here.



I started making and selling my bears when I was so young, it was a business that slowly turned into my living before my eyes. I sold one-of-a-kind mohair pieces under my name: Jennifer Murphy Bears, that looked like toys but were made for collectors world wide. I started a webshop before most artists were selling on the web back in 2001 and I keyed into what so many individuals found- the internet was a magically place to connect artists with patrons. I was so lucky to have my mother there to help me figure out how to make a go of it, but even after running a successful business for so long, basically making toys that weren’t meant for kids, launching the POLKA DOT CLUB was such a huge challenge. It took about 4 years to nail down all the details and legal issues not to mention the millions of little details I couldn’t ignore. I’m still working through all the little pit falls any new business runs into having launched earlier this year, but I’m wading through it all. It’s funny to think I’m basically doing the same thing I was doing, but repositioning myself within the “market” has been surprisingly hard.

I’m not sure what my piece of advise is. I’m still in the thick of trying to figure it all out, but from the beginning I knew this business wouldn’t work the way I thought it would. I knew that the only way I would be able to figure it all out was to do that from the inside. I had to throw myself head first into this new venture because I couldn’t wait any longer to do what I was so passionate about. The verdict is still out about the success of the PDC. But this work makes be happy and I feel it’s right. I’ll follow that any day of the week and advise everyone out there to do the same.


In the last month amidst all the rust to get holiday pieces out to stores and fill the studio for the coming rush, I’ve been day dreaming about new designs. I’ve been working on a handful of linen rabbits, cuddling toys, and thinking about making a doll. I like that the POLKA DOT CLUB comes directly out of heritage teddy bear making, but those principles can be applied in so many forms. We’ll see what the new year brings.


Thank you so much, Jen, for making amazing toys for my favorite kiddos and for taking the time to share your inspirations and advice with me! Be sure to check out the POLKA DOT CLUB and follow along!