Old Port Wool & Textile Company is the story of my family. Nearly twenty-five years ago, my husband Daniel and I bought a clothing manufacturing business that was about to close. We wanted to start a family business, and, with three young boys ages 12, 11, and 3 and Dan traveling to sell advertising for Yankee Magazine, we wanted him home.
|So, during an ice storm in 1992, Dan and I loaded a 27-foot Uhaul in Brunswick, Maine, where our newly purchased business was located, and drove everything 25 miles to our home in Portland. Ten hours, and many frozen fingers later, all of the machinery and giant rolls of wool were safely stored in our barn.
|Needless to say, our new venture was a leap of faith. As an amateur seamstress, I had a mere 10 days to learn how to sew a woolen cape out of blanket wool on a binding crochet machine. My instructor was a patient, old French Canadian woman named Geri who had been running the business for the owner. She thought I was nuts.
From then on, everything I made was designed, cut, sewn and shipped from our 200-year-old farmhouse, and our barn. A downstairs bedroom became the makeshift sewing studio, inspection and shipping area. The barn was used for cutting and storing the rolls of wool.
|My first order of business was to secure a supplier of the best merino wool made in Maine, to craft our capes and shawls. The wool supply we had inherited was small and upgrading from blanket wool to 100% Merino was our goal. The Cascade Tipper Woolen Mill in Oakland agreed to supply us with 100% merino wool, made with a Russian twill weave and a plush melton finish for our capes, shawls, boat shirts, and blankets.
|By 1994, after two productive years selling in small boutiques from Boston to Juno, Alaska, we knew we wanted to make a try at selling direct to customers. We ran a one-inch ad in the New Yorker and Yankee magazines, which generated hundreds of calls. Yes , hundreds!
|Within weeks, we moved our newly named Casco Bay Wool Works from our farmhouse to the “Old Molasses Building” near the Portland waterfront. (That building still stands, next to where Old Port Wool & Textile is today.) I employed every friend who showed interest. I also employed women from Portland’s Adult Education program – many of whom had just immigrated from Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia. I wanted to provide fair wages and working hours, and insisted that any of the women with children and families stay home from work whenever needed, because, through all of this, I was a mother first.
|As my children Ben, Adam and Josh grew older and joined the football, basketball and baseball teams, I’d often recruit their teammates to help us lift the heavy rolls of wool from the sidewalk to the third floor of the factory.
|By 1995, I was on the school committee, the boys were thriving in elementary, middle and high school, and Casco Bay Wool Works had seven employees and we were shipping all over the world.
On Christmas Eve of that year, Dan and I found a storefront for rent in the Old Port. We opened the store on Valentine’s Day 1996.
|It would be 11 years after we purchased Casco Bay Wool Works, in 2003, that we would make the decision to sell. The Oxford Woolen Mill- my primary supplier was about to shut it’s doors and the woolen industry was hard hit by government trade rules (NAFTA) that had changed dramatically and manufacturing began to swiftly move off shore to places far from these United States. Six woolen mills had closed over the course of 12 years and even the mighty Bates Mill in Lewiston ceased to run.
|We sold Casco Bay Wool Works in the summer of 2003, and the new owner closed its doors in the summer of 2011 after running it for another 8 years. For 11 years our Wool Cape business was a shining light for my family and for nearly 20 years a successful small business within the Portland community.
|In the spring of 2013, I decided I wanted to wrap people in wool capes again. I missed seeing people walking around town cloaked in warmth and needed to do something I loved. This time, we had new challenges to face, but the mission of the cape business is still the same.
|We strive to make a good quality product here in Maine - buy materials 100% made in America - create good jobs - and be involved within our community.
|Our children Ben, Adam and Josh are all grown and through college now. Dan helped me cut the first cranberry red capes and we found ourselves laughing at how young at heart we still seem to be – we’re starting a business when most of our friends are thinking of retiring!
|We are two years into this now and the Capes and Shawls I am making and selling in our storefront and also through this site. I'm happy to be making wool capes again. There’s something good happening when I hear the sound of the scissors cutting through wool and the sound of my trusty Merrow crochet machine humming along, the smell of the fabric and cedar, and the vision of someone wearing a garment that was made with purpose, grace and love.
I have had the support of my family and many friends for which I am very grateful .The wool is all made in Maine, and we will always buy from woolen mills in the US, as long as the looms are still weaving he clasps are from pewter masters in New England and Virginia and the yarns are from my old supplier, Jaggerspun in Springvale Maine...
I still have a lot of re-learning to do. After all, it’s been 10 years! The other day, I read a quote and it resonated with my mission for Old Port Wool & Textile: “Home is where the heart is and that is why we manufacture in America.” If you are in Portland please come visit us at 52 Danforth Street, I promise you’ll feel right at home. If you are curious about our work and reading this on our website please call or write. We love a good story.