Oct 08, 2023

Stamping Ground’s well

Located in Stamping Ground, Shawn and Cate Edwards own and operate Edwards Woolworks, the only wool mill in the state of Kentucky. The business was born out of a lack of wool mills in the state and Cate's passion for sheep.

STAMPING GROUND — Deep within the rolling hills and backroads of Stamping Ground, husband and wife duo Shawn and Cate Edwards have a well-kept secret: the couple are single handedly running the only wool and fiber mill in Kentucky.

This November, their business, Edwards Woolworks, will reach its second birthday. It began as a passion project for Cate, who jokes that the reason for her business is that her father promised to buy her a lamb, but didn't.

"I still talk to my dad about the lamb. ‘The reason I have all these sheep and I have this business, when I was twelve I asked you for a lamb and you said yes and then you reneged on it,’" Cate said, regarding the conversation she had with her father.

Forty years later, Cate Edwards got her lamb — 72 of them, to be exact. All of the couple's sheep have names, and she even recognizes them by their voices, Cate said.

Both Cate and Shawn are not natives to Stamping Ground, but came to the small Kentucky town as a "happy accident," she said.

"Well, originally, I’m from Boston and I came down here — It was supposed to be a temporary job," Cate said. "And then when I went to take a job back on the east coast, they had the government shutdown. So I was working at Toyota, doing something to pay the bills until I could go back to what I’m familiar with and I met him. He was also brought here by somebody else."

The couple fell in love with the state and after they made the decision to stay, Cate began looking for "ways to do a multifaceted approach to farming" and found it in sheep, she said. However, once the couple had the animals, they also had enormous amounts of wool.

Cate had initially planned to send the wool, once processed into yarn, to her mother and sisters back home to use in their knitting projects. However, the closure of a local mill she was hoping to use to process the wool closed, leaving her with an idea, she said.

"And I waited and I waited and I waited like everybody else, and then one day it was closed and he was gone and I looked at (Shawn) and I said, we’re gonna be here," she said. "Why don't we … do a mill here?"

In doing so, Cate saw a need for a mill for farmers, the economy and the state of Kentucky as a whole, she said. Building it from the ground up, however, required a major investment.

"I’m like there's a million reasons to do this, but I need $300,000 … and (Shawn's) like, ‘Well, that's like everything we ever have and everything I’ve worked for 30 years.’ I’m like, ‘Yes, but it would be a success. I promise you.’"

The first year was "horrifyingly scary," Cate said, as rates for everything from concrete to equipment and other essential parts of a wool mill jumped. However, nearly two years after its inception, Shawn and Cate Edwards are receiving orders from across the nation, she said, and credits their success to their word-of-mouth approach to advertising.

"But the thing is even with limited advertising and mostly word of mouth we’ve had ... Texas, Georgia, West Virginia, Virginia, New York," she said. "Upstate New York shocked me because there's three mills up there, including a really fancy one in Manhattan."

The process to take raw wool to a product, like yarn, can take anywhere from a few weeks to a month, depending on the quality of the wool and the weather, Cate explained. Once the wool arrives at the mill, it is examined for issues, including mite infestations, and if present, that information is passed on to the farmer. The wool is then graded, inventoried, and then makes its way to a large, circular machine where it is tumbled to get rid of small debris and twigs.

After this, the wool makes its way to the wash and Cate determines what type of soap to use depending on the animal, she said. Then, it is dried for three to ten days, depending on the humidity.

With some wool, however, the process may need to be repeated, Cate explained.

" If it's a long wool or something extremely dense with a real tight curl after it's dried, it has to go through that picker and then start all over again and washed because the grease will wrap in the curls and then you open it up, it smears the grease all of the plain fiber," she said.

The wool is then sent through a number of other machines and pickers, finally becoming a product in the form of yarn or roving wool, a type of wool that has been processed and not yet spun. Edwards Woolworks also produces quilt batting, Cate said.

Alongside processing customer wool, Cate and Shawn also process their own, and Cate often experiments with dying her own fiber using materials like dried onion peel and dandelions, she explained.

Recently, Shawn and Cate attended the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival, where they received the multitude of orders that currently fill their shop. Edward Woolworks has helped keep the production of these fibers within the state, said festival director Sarabeth Parido.

"It keeps it Kentucky proud," she said. That was the one thing that, before Cate got here, that was the one thing we couldn't really boast as a fiber producer, is that it all stayed here in the state, cause we’d have to send it to Michigan, or to Ohio, or to North Carolina or further to be processed."

"Paying exorbitant shipping rates to get it there and then more to get it back, and so, until Cate got here and opened this mill, we couldn't really put that stamp on there that it was truly, 100 percent Kentucky grown, Kentucky processed, Kentucky made and now, we’ve been able to do that the last few years," said Parido. "Having her here, having a wool mill in Kentucky has been absolutely awesome."

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Located in Stamping Ground, Shawn and Cate Edwards own and operate Edwards Woolworks, the only wool mill in the state of Kentucky. The business was born out of a lack of wool mills in the state and Cate's passion for sheep. You voted: