By Amy Conner
November 2004 -- The number of wool manufacturers in the United States is small, and the number of wool manufacturers who will handle smaller, more specialized products is even smaller. However, one remaining domestic manufacturer, Wheelock Textiles, is fulfilling needs of niche and specialty markets.
Strickland Wheelock, president of Wheelock Textiles, started the business in the mid 1990s after the doors closed on Stanley Woolen Mill, the family manufacturing operation located in Uxbridge, Mass.
Due to the connections Wheelock developed through his career, he can effectively and cost-efficiently create wool products from a mere 500 lbs. of clean wool.
?I work with past employees of Stanley Woolen Mill, local manufacturers and family-owned spinning operations as a team to process fabric and hand-knitting yarns in an efficient way,? says Wheelock.
?Sheep growers and manufactures have to work together to survive,? adds Wheelock. ?It is in our best interest to work together to make quality products and to be cost efficient or we won?t be able to compete with oversea producers.?
Wheelock Textiles is also unique in that is has the ability to create fabric from the fiber state. Depending on the project, Wheelock Textiles can coordinate the designing, carding and spinning, dyeing, weaving and finishing as well as the manufacturing of the finished blankets.
?I mostly deal with niche markets and specialty products,? says Wheelock.
The majority of his woolen products are made into apparel and blankets for the horse industry. He also makes fabric for sportswear, coats and car seating and makes blankets as a finished product.
Wheelock Textiles is one of the few manufacturers that not only work with small amounts of fiber, however, it can also manufacture large amounts. This flexibility allows Wheelock the ability to create whatever product and volume the customer desires.
?Manufacturing fabrics and hand-knitting yarns is something that I?m comfortable with, and I have the potential to show the flexibility of the fabric and yarn to meet the needs of my customers,? says Wheelock. ?It just seems natural to be in the business.?
Wheelock can also accommodate the desired color and pattern of the fabric. He uses natural grey or brown wools to complement lighter wools to create a pattern or he can dye the natural yarns to any color.
?Making fabrics and yarns gives me a sense of personal satisfaction. I like the fact that I can create something special from a raw stock to a finished product,? Wheelock says. ?I hope the woolen manufacturing industry continues to survive in this country and that we are able to provide manufacturing options to our domestic sheep growers.?
(Editor?s Note: Strickland Wheelock can be contacted by phone at 508-265-2896 or by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.)