Keeping warm in Alberta is somewhat of a science, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t also be an art. Take the woollens designed by Fen and Bill Purven-Smith at their artisan mill just east of Carstairs. Feting its 31st anniversary this year, Custom Woolen Mills is also a fascinating working museum, one where century-old machines clean, card, spin and knit fleece from sheep farms across Alberta into premium sweaters, socks, toques, blankets and sleeping bags (for one or two).
Operated according to environmentally friendly principles by a small staff of locals, the mill evokes simpler times when artisans took pride in their work and the relationships created with customers. (We were offered fresh-baked rhubarb pie when we visited.) One can order from the mill online, but the detour off Highway 2 is rewarding: imagine a workshop full of whirring wooden bobbins, the scent of old machine oil and piles of fluffy wool begging to be touched. Also on the property is the Kaleidoscope Wool Shoppe, the mill’s boutique and a knitter’s paradise of exotic yarns — some dyed naturally with dandelion, beet and spruce cones. Even the knitting novice might be tempted to head home with brand-new knitting needles and balls of wool. (403-337-2221; http://www.customwoolenmills.com)