Long time Pendleton fans might know that Thomas Kay was an English weaver who came to Oregon in 1863 to found the business that became Pendleton Woolen Mills. You can still tour Thomas Kay’s mill today, at the Willamette Heritage Center in Salem, Oregon.
A wonderful time to visit the center is the annual Sheep to Shawl event. Each year in early June, the Center hosts the proud owners of sheep, goats, alpacas, llamas and yes, bunnies. Children shyly or boldly approach the animals, offering grass and exclaiming at the coats, eyes, hooves and odors, while their parents shop for handicrafts and exotic yarns.
One of the more popular exhibits is the sheep shearing. This skill requires so much strength. It’s true, the sheep aren’t usually excited about their haircuts, but they are so much more comfortable afterwards.
Tours of the old mill run regularly. These are offered year-round, so don’t wait for Sheep to Shawl to go if you’re curious. The gigantic old looms, carts of spools and spindles, even the original time cards are still there. It’s a place to linger, to immerse yourself in a time long past.
Pendleton is still busy weaving in the USA. We have two union mills in Pendleton, Oregon and Washougal, Washington, and those are state-of-the-art, modern facilities kept very busy producing the textiles for our blankets and apparel. The Thomas Kay Woolen Mill is a different kind of mill; a little dusty, a lot nostalgic, and full of a history that continues today in Pendleton Woolen Mills. Go see it, but until you can, here’s a slideshow.