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Homemade for the holidays

FARGO, N.D. - Companies belonging to the North Dakota Agriculture Department's Pride of Dakota program are showing off their wares to thousands of shoppers at this year's Holiday Showcases. Two-day events already have been held in Minot, Grand Fo...

FARGO, N.D. - Companies belonging to the North Dakota Agriculture Department's Pride of Dakota program are showing off their wares to thousands of shoppers at this year's Holiday Showcases. Two-day events already have been held in Minot, Grand Forks and Fargo, N.D. The final showcase, and typically the biggest one of the year, is Dec. 2 and 3 in Bismarck, N.D.

Janet Jacobson and Diane Schill, who call themselves "The Wooly Girls," made the trip from Hannah, N.D., near the Canadian border, to the Fargo Civic Center, to sell their felt quilts, clothing and accessories.

"We had sheep and we had wool, but the price of wool fell through the bottom, so we started making quilt bats and wool for spinners," Schill explains. "But we decided that was a pretty limited market.

"I had taken a hand felting class and really liked it, but it was labor-intensive to do it by hand, so we got a felting table which makes a yard of felt at a time. We started with that, and every year, it just mushrooms into something a little bigger," she says.

Unique business

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They've been at it for more than a decade, and enjoy working with natural, homegrown materials.

"Felt is probably the world's oldest fabric," Jacobson states. "I've sewn since I was 6 years old probably, but with the felt, we had to kind of learn by trial and error."

Jacobson says their business is unique, even within the fiber industry and so are their products.

"Each article is cut and made individually," she points out. "The linings are all different, and we never make two purses the same."

Jacobson says most of their creations are sold at art fairs and other places that specialize in one-of-a-kind, handmade articles.

"We don't really wholesale through conventional channels because then you're talking a dozen of this size and this color, and we don't really want to do that."

At this year's Fargo Holiday Showcase, the "Wooly Girls" say their bestseller was wine cozies.

"The showcase is a really good market for us," Jacobson says. "It's a well-run show, and it gives us an opportunity to show our products in North Dakota's major cities right before the holidays."

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About 150 North Dakota companies set up booths at the Fargo event, many of them too small to have their own marketing personnel.

"We're the owners, operators, designers, custodians, sales reps, bookkeepers and cleaning ladies," Jacobson says.

"We're it," Schill agrees.

Yet the women seem to think it's worth the investment of time and energy.

"It's really fun," Jacobson admits. "All those years of my mother teaching me to sew paid off. She'd be really happy."

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