Photos by Nate Ryan
It didn’t take long for Doug Remmey to realize he was destined for more than cutting corn off the cob. After the seventh-generation Faribault teen deemed his short stint at the local canning company a bust, he applied for a new job at the prestigious woolen mill across the street, Faribault Woolen Mill Co., known globally for its high-quality blankets, throws, and apparel.
Little did he know that short walk in 1978 would mark the beginning of a 42-year-and-counting career with the southeast Minnesota company. As his love for the loom grew, an impressive number of promotions piled up: He started as a cloth doffer (where he would remove rolls of fabric from the machines), and later took on titles such as loom tender, loom mechanic, night-shift supervisor, and department head. Today, Remmey doesn’t care what you call him, whether it be supervisor of weaving or head of the weave shop. He has more important things to focus on—like traveling a little more, troubleshooting a little less, and taking the mill’s 150-year-old legacy to the next level.
How have Faribault Woolen Mill Co.’s processes changed since 1978?
When I started here, there were old shuttle looms from the 1930s. We’re still running a few of them, but now we have newer machines and there’s computer machinery involved. It’s a little more high-tech than it was before, but a lot of it is the same. Weaving is weaving— whether it was done 150 years ago or now.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I wear a lot of different hats because we’re a smaller company. There might be five different things I do here that a big mill has five different people doing. I do the setup work; I oversee quality; I make sure everything that leaves my department looks beautiful; I supervise my people; and I do the troubleshooting. Some of the machines we have are Italian looms I helped set up in 1986, and they’ve seen better days. You would think after a certain amount of time I would’ve seen it all, but every time I start thinking that nothing new could pop up, something will come along and stump me.
Tell us about your blankets and throws at home.
I have more than I need. I’m sure I have 40 in my home right now. Quite a few of my early Jacquard loom-made blankets and throws have a sentimental value because [Jacquard weaving] was a whole new venture for the company. When we first got into it in the mid-90s, we started weaving the American flag. I still have one in the box.
And for those unfamiliar, what’s Jacquard weaving?
It’s a type of weaving that allows for intricate patterns and pictures. The harness ends [on the loom] are independent of one another, and we have computer programs that digitize pictures. Before, we were just weaving basic solid colors with stripes. When we first started Jacquard weaving, a technician said we were making an American-made product with European quality. He said he’d been all over the world, and this was some of the finest-looking work he’d seen anywhere.
What’s on deck for you and the mill?
Our business is taking off and we can hardly keep up—not many companies can say that right now. I’d like to have more time to travel, but I like what I’m doing. As long as I’m still able and enjoying my work, I’ll keep doing this. I feel proud of our product, proud of our heritage, and proud of this old-world craft.