70 Years of Pendleton Womenswear – WOVEN magazine

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We are celebrating seven decades of Pendleton Womenswear with a spectacular issue of WOVEN. Follow along the timeline of style and history, from from poodle skirts to power suits. You’ll love this look back at the styles, ads, and happenings of the day from 1949 through 2019. You’ll also get a sneak peak at the special collection for this fall, with garments drawn from our archives, like this coat on the back cover.

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Read it online here: WOVEN – 70 years of Women’s Fashion

 

Before they were the Beach Boys, they were the Pendletones. This shirt is why.

In the early 1960s, a group called The Pendletones adopted their name in honor of the surf uniform of the day: Pendleton shirts worn over tee shirts with khakis. The original lineup included brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and friend Al Jardine.

The Pendletones soon changed their name to the Beach Boys . Even though only one member of the group had ever been on a surfboard, they sang about the California surfing scene; waves, sunshine, cars and girls. This might have been simple subject matter, but layered instrumentation and soaring harmonies made these songs anything but simple. Under the unique artistic leadership of Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys defined surf music. And though their name changed, their uniform didn’t. The band wore this blue and charcoal plaid shirt on the covers of 45s and LPs throughout the early 1960s.

The Beach Boys’ Pendleton shirts were part an existing trend. When surfing came to California in the late 1950s, surfers devised performance wear: swim trunks and plaid Pendleton shirts over a layer of Vaseline. Surfers wore the same shirts over light pants on the shore, and a fashion trend was born.

This look hit the radio airwaves courtesy of the Majorettes, whose song, “White Levis” became a number one hit in 1963. As the lyrics said, “My boyfriend’s always wearin’ white Levi’s…and his tennis shoes and his surfin’ hat and a big plaid Pendleton shirt.”

That’s a Pendleton shirt  cover of that 45, even though they named the song after the pants. You can give it a listen here, and don’t be surprised if you start singing along.  But let’s get back to the shirt made so popular by the Beach Boys.

In 2002, Pendleton celebrated eight decades of Pendleton shirts by bringing back iconic shirts from each decade. To celebrate the 1960s, we brought back the Board Shirt in the same plaid seen on all those record covers. We call it the Original Surf Plaid.

The shirt has stayed in the line ever since.

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Photo Joel Bear

We’ve used it in caps, hats, bags and jackets. It’s still made in the original 100% virgin Umatilla wool as it was back then.

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Photo Cassy Berry

There’s some discussion now and then in Pendleton’s Menswear division about which is our most enduring men’s item of all time. Some say it’s the Topster, the shirt jacket that defined collegiate wear in the 1950s and 60s. Some say it’s the Original Westerley cardigan worn by the Dude in “The Big Lebowski.”

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Photo Ben Jaffe, styling Suzanne Santo

Others claim the honor for the Board Shirt. We’ll let you decide.

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Photo Travis Hallmark

No matter where you are, or what’s the weather, this piece of the sunny California surf scene will take you to the waves.

See them here:         Women’s Board Shirt      Men’s Board Shirt 

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A Gift to Honor: Pendleton Blankets and U.S. Presidents

In honor of Presents’ Day, please enjoy this guest post by Pendleton’s Archivist and Historian, Richard Hobbs. Mr. Hobbs wishes to thank Verna Ashton for her research assistance for this article.

 

“Gifting to politicians is basically about status and respect.”

— Robert Christnacht

 

At Pendleton Woolen Mills, “robe” is both a noun and a verb.  And, it’s no accident.

Giving a Pendleton blanket to a family member, friend, or distinguished person—for example, a U. S. President—is a powerful symbol that carries a wealth of history and tradition.  “It is the ultimate in showing respect,” notes Bob Christnacht, EVP Sales and Marketing.

Pendleton has been producing beautiful wool blankets for Native Americans (and others, of course) since 1909.  Two of the distinctive features of the company’s culture interwoven throughout its history are our alliance with Native American tribes, and our unwavering commitment to making premium quality merchandise.

For tribal members, the custom of “robing” may be used to mark an important event, to Honor a dignitary, or to recognize a significant achievement in one’s life.  At the most elemental level, it represents a gift that has life-sustaining properties.  The custom attracted media attention in 2016 at the White House-sponsored National Congress of American Indians when President of the Congress, Brian Cladoosby, emphasized, “To blanket is to remember those we honor, those we lost, and those who are going to build our futures.”

For nearly a century, various tribes have occasionally honored a visiting President (and sometimes First Lady) with one of Pendleton’s fine “Warranted To Be …” blankets.  “Gifting to politicians,” says Christnacht, “is basically about status and respect.”

For Pendleton, the custom began in 1923 when local tribes presented President Warren G. and Mrs. Florence Harding with the special “Harding” shawl, named in honor of the First Lady, at the dedication of the Oregon Trail marker in Meacham, Oregon.  Presidents and First Ladies robed since then include Calvin Coolidge (1925; he was also adopted into the Osage tribe), Herbert Hoover (1930), Eleanor Roosevelt (1941), Harry Truman (1950), Dwight Eisenhower (1954), Barbara Bush (1992), Bill Clinton (2000), George Bush, Sr. (2005), Laura Bush (2005), Barack Obama (2016) and Michelle Obama (2016).

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First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt accepts a Pendleton blanket (about 1941).

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President Harry Truman receives a “Chief Joseph” blanket while on tour in Pendleton, Oregon, 1950.

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President Dwight Eisenhower accepts a “Harding” blanket during the dedication  ceremony for McNary Dam in eastern Oregon, 1954

 

Clinton

President Bill Clinton shows off the “White Buffalo Calf Woman” blanket he received at the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument in Nebraska, 2000.

 

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President Barack Obama is wrapped in a custom tribal robe, woven for the Swinomish Tribe, at the Tribal Nations Conference in Washington, D.C., 2016.

 

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First Lady Michelle Obama is robed with a “Chief Joseph” blanket at Santa Fe Indian School, 2016

Pendleton Fabric Expertise – A Story of Generations

Pendleton textiles are renowned for their quality, beauty and craftsmanship. Where did we learn to make fabric like this? Our expertise is generational, earned over a century of weaving in America.

The Beginning

The company known today as Pendleton Woolen Mills actually had its genesis in one mill; the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill in Salem, Oregon, founded by Thomas Kay, a master weaver from England.

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Thomas Kay brought extensive knowledge to his own mill, after a career that started in his childhood as a bobbin boy, and grew into management of large mills in the UK and the US before he finally opened his own. He specialized in fabrics for tailoring, and produced the first bolt of worsted wool west of the Mississippi.

The Next Generation

His daughter, Fannie Kay, became her father’s protégé in her teen years. She learned weaving and mill management at her father’s side. Fannie Kay became Fannie Bishop upon her marriage to Charles P. Bishop, a prominent Salem merchant. Their three sons opened the Pendleton Woolen Mill in Pendleton, Oregon, in 1909. That mill is still running today! The Kay/Bishop history extends through today’s Pendleton. The Bishop family still owns and operates Pendleton Woolen Mills. And Pendleton’s fabric expertise grows each year, as we challenge ourselves to do more with wool.

Today’s Mills

Fabric weaving was once a major industry in the United States, with more than 800 mills in operation. Today only a handful of those mills remain.  Our facilities in Pendleton, Oregon, and Washougal, Washington, are two of the very few woolen mills still operating in North America.

Pendleton, Oregon

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The Pendleton, Oregon mill opened in 1909, taking over a defunct wool-scouring plant on the banks of the Columbia River and transforming it into a full mill under the direction of Clarence, Roy and Chauncey Bishop. The location had been scouted by Fannie Kay Bishop, who encouraged her sons to make use of the existing building, the nearby Columbia River, and the supply of high quality wool fleece available from local sheep ranchers.

The company’s original products were wool blankets for Native American customers. Today, the Pendleton mill is open for tours. Travelers can watch those world-famous blankets being woven on two-story looms.

Washougal, Washington

Our Washougal facility sits on the banks of the Columbia River at the entry to the scenic Columbia River Gorge. The Washougal community helped fund the startup of this mill in 1912, and it has been a major employer in this small Washington town ever since.

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The additional mill gave Pendleton the ability to weave a wider variety of fabrics.

AirLoom Merino (found in our Sir Pendleton shirts) and Umatilla woolen fabric (found in so many of our flannel shirt styles) are both woven in Washougal, as well as fabrics for the women’s line.

Its roots may be historic, but the Washougal mill is a 300,000-square-foot model of modern efficiency. Mill owners come from around the world to tour it, and to learn about Pendleton’s weaving techniques, dyeing processes, and fabric finishing.

The Fabrics

Pendleton Woolen Mills has maintained the quality and craftsmanship of its textiles through decade upon decade of manufacturing in its own facilities. This allows us to maintain quality control from start to finish, from fleece to fashion. Our state-of-the-art computer dyeing technology controls water, dyes, heat, and more. Carding machines, looms and finishing processes are also computer-controlled, allowing for minute adjustments to guarantee uniformity of weave, weight and hand.

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We can perfect it because we control it, and it shows in our fabrics. We will be exploring some of those special fabrics in the months to come. We hope you’ll follow along.

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Answering Questions about Pendleton

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Thanks to our friends who have brought some claims circulating on social media to our attention. We owe an enormous debt of respect and gratitude to the Native Americans and First Nations people who choose our blankets, and care deeply about this relationship. We understand that it’s important to speak the truth.

Pendleton’s mills are our pride and joy, and both are well over a century old. Keeping them updated is a priority and a challenge, but we think it’s worth it to keep weaving in the USA. Our mills are subject to inspections, and when problems are identified, we take immediate action to resolve them. We have earned third-party certification for sustainability (read more here), and our management is committed to providing a safe and healthy work environment for all employees.

We respect the right of current and former employees to make political donations to candidates they personally support. These donations are not endorsements by Pendleton.

Pendleton supports the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990. We make our blankets for Native Americans, but we don’t claim our products are made by them. Our company’s history is always part of our marketing and sales materials, and is available on our website.

Pendleton blanket patterns are developed by in-house designers. Some are based on historic designs created to serve the Native American market. Blanket stories, told on hangtags and on the website, credit the inspirations and traditions behind the patterns. We also commission Native American artists to create designs, and adapt existing artwork (usually paintings) into blankets. These artists are always compensated and credited by name for their work. You can learn more here: Native artists.

Pendleton is proud to support organizations that serve Native Americans, veterans and America’s National Parks. Our relationship with The American Indian College Fund spans more than twenty years, and our endowment to the College Fund provides scholarships for Native American students. Pendleton also makes annual donations to NARA (Native American Rehabilitation Center) to support outreach and health care for Native American women.

In 1909, Pendleton was one of many mills producing wool blankets for Native Americans. Now, over a hundred years later, we are the only mill still weaving wool blankets for Native Americans here in the USA. Native Americans were our first, and are still our most valued customers. Thanks to everyone who has written in support of our shared history and friendship.

We hope we have answered your questions, but if you have more concerns, please write to us at PendletonWM@penmills.com and we will respond. We are listening.

Greg Hatten guest post – Buell Blankets and the St. Joseph Museum

Today’s post is from our friend Greg Hatten, of WoodenBoat adventure fame. Greg has always been interested in our Buell blankets (all retired, but one is still available), which were part of our Mill Tribute Series. Greg decided to find out some information on the original Buell blankets at the source; his hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri. Enjoy this visit, and if you’re interested in our Mill Tribute series blankets, links to our previous posts are below.

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Buell Blankets Headed West

St. Joseph, Missouri is my hometown. It’s a dreamy little river town that started out as a trading post on the banks of the Missouri and quickly became a launching pad for pioneers headed west to Oregon and California in the mid 1800’s. Some historians estimate that 250,000 settlers made the trek by wagon and on foot between 1850 and 1900. Most of those trips started in St. Joseph or Independence – where final provisions for the 5 month journey were acquired before embarking on the grand westward adventure that started by crossing the Midwestern prairie. Many were leaving for the rest of their lives.

Provisions and Provender

Wool blankets were on the provisions list of every trip – for sleeping and trading with Native Americans along the way. In St. Joseph, the Buell Woolen Mill was the primary source for blankets headed west. Known for quality over quantity, the blankets were strikingly colorful and many designs were based on patterns used by different Native tribes in paintings and beadwork out west. They were prized by the pioneers and Native Americans alike.

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As stated in the 1910 Buell Catalog:

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Pendleton and Disneyland: We Go Way Back!

pendispc1The history of Pendleton Woolen Mills and Disneyland began when Walt Disney extended a personal invitation to be retail partners in the Park. Walt was a fan of Pendleton’s “fleece to fashion” vertical manufacturing, which at the time included ownership of our own flocks and scouring facilities. He saw a fit for us in Frontierland as part of his vision of America’s Wild West.

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It’s a Wrap–Pendleton Mill Tribute Series ends with last Racine blanket

In 2010, Pendleton Woolen Mills introduced our Tribute Series, paying homage to four of the American Mills that thrived during the Golden Age of Native American Trade blankets. Today, we will talk about Racine Woolen Mills, known for their intricate patterns. 

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In 1865, a Racine company began producing textiles under the name Blake & Company under the leadership of Lucien Blake and John Hart. In 1877, the company incorporated under the name of “Racine Woolen Mills—Blake & Company.” Racine Woolen Mills went on to become the premier producer and marketer of Native American Trade blankets.

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The Racine Woolen Mill

Racine was well-established by 1893. Records show employees of 150 skilled weavers and gross sales of $300K, which was an robust amount for the day.

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