It’s Earth Day, when we stop to honor the planet on which we all live. Hopefully we are looking for ways to honor Earth every day of the year. One of the ways we can do that is by making sustainable, renewable choices about what we buy.
What makes a fiber “natural”?
The definition is simple; Natural fibers are produced by plants and animals without human intervention. Flax is a flowering plant that produces oil and also produces fibers that can be used for spinning and weaving linen. Cotton and hemp are two more natural plant fibers used in cloth production.
Sheep are thought to be the oldest living fiber-producing animals, but they are not alone. Goats (cashmere) and rabbits (angora) also naturally produce fibers used for spinning and weaving.
The case for wool
Wool is produced year- round and worldwide by an estimated one billion sheep. All over the planet, these sturdy animals grow their wool crop from a simple diet of water, grass, and sunshine. A sheep produces a new fleece each year. It is shorn, and returned to pasture. This makes wool a completely renewable natural fiber.
What is wool made of?
Grass, water and sunshine, of course! But technically, wool is made of keratin, a protein produced by the hair follicles of all mammals. According to Wikipedia, “[Keratin] is the key structural material making up scales, hair, nails, feathers, horns, claws, hooves, calluses, and the outer layer of skin among vertebrates.”
The finest micron width of merino wool fiber is made of the same material as a horse’s hoof. Yes, that’s remarkable.
Natural fibers are renewable; they grow and regrow on their own. Unlike synthetic fibers, which are usually made from petroleum, they renew themselves. As natural fibers, they also have life cycles, unlike synthetic materials. Wool’s lifecycle is a long one. Just ask the Pendleton customers who have inherited wool garments and blankets from their parents and grandparents.
When the end finally does arrive for a wool garment or blanket, there is still plenty of use to be had, because wool is the most reusable and recyclable fiber on Earth. It can be recycled or upcycled as textiles for clothing, or broken down into padding for upholstery and carpets. Recycled wool is also used to insulate for sound and natural fire resistance.
The very end
When the recycling stage of wool’s life is over, wool biodegrades fully. In fact, our Pendleton Eco-Wise wool is so manufactured with such care, it qualifies as a biological nutrient at the end of its life cycle. So when you’re thinking about what to wear, think about the impact your choice will have on the planet…not just on Earth Day, but every day.
In 1909, three Bishop brothers opened a mill in Pendleton, Oregon, to weave trade blankets in dazzling colors and patterns. Over one hundred years later, we are excited to bring you The Craftsman Collection celebrating the history, artistry, and craftsmanship of our blankets.
For the introduction, we chose three patterns with stories to tell; Canyonlands, Journey West, and Sierra Ridge. These patterns have been recolored and specially dyed to evoke vintage blankets. One side of each blanket is napped for softness and warmth. The reverse is unnapped, to smoothly showcase the geometry of our exclusive Pendleton patterns. Hand-cut rounded corners recall the shape of blankets from the earliest days of the mill.
On the loom: Canyonlands
Canyonlands celebrates the amazing natural wonders of Utah’s Canyonlands National Park.
To quote the National Park Service, “Canyonlands invites you to explore a wilderness of countless canyons and fantastically formed buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries. Rivers divide the park into four districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers themselves. These areas share a primitive desert atmosphere, but each offers different opportunities for sightseeing and adventure.”
This dynamic blanket celebrates the pioneering spirit of our founder, weaver Thomas Kay, who journeyed to America from England, arriving in Oregon in 1863. Its design was inspired by a blanket discovered in a 19th-century European mill that included the designer’s notes and calculations handwritten neatly along the sides.
The pattern highlights the universal appeal of geometric shapes and lines. The hooked patterns inside the large diamonds are common symbols of luck and prosperity. Its quality and beauty is a tribute to the generations of weavers that have continued Thomas Kay’s legacy of quality and excellence.
Sierra Ridge is the third offering in the Craftsman Collection. The Sierra Nevadas are the traditional grounds of many Native peoples. The Sierra Miwok, Mono, Kawaiisu, Northern Paiute and Tubatulabal tribes have lived and hunted here over the ages. The Paiutes called the range’s highest granite peak Tumanguya, or, “the Very Old Man.” Also called Mt. Whitney, it is the highest point in the contiguous United States. The mountains of the 100-mile range are represented by stepped peaks, with arrows guarding the streams and rivers of the Great Basin watershed.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here at Pendleton, we use pure virgin wool for our famous blankets and shirts – but what is virgin wool, and why does that matter? Keep reading to learn the difference between virgin and recycled wool and what each is best for.
Virgin wool is simply wool that’s never been used before–but that difference matters. It’s better than recycled wool because it’s stronger and higher quality. Pure virgin wool is naturally breathable in both cold and warm weather, water-repellent, durable and insulating. It also resists wrinkles, stains and odors. Even though you can dry-clean wool shirts, many people simply hang them up and let them air out, finding that to be just as effective.
Since virgin wool fibers haven’t been shredded like recycled wool, they’re more resilient—they don’t break or wrinkle as easily and can provide more stretch. A shirt made of virgin wool can last for decades—some Pendleton customers pass down their Board Shirts through several generations. Not something you can say about cotton or synthetic materials, right?
You wouldn’t necessarily think of wool in the same category as paper bags, aluminum cans and plastic bottles, but like those three, it’s recyclable. Recycled wool got a burst of popularity during World War II, when fabrics were rationed because wool was needed for military uniforms. As a result, civilians would recycle wool blankets into coats, or use the yarn from wool socks to knit sweaters. Very resourceful, right?
Recycled wool is also called “reclaimed wool” or “shoddy wool.” Recycled wool is exactly what it sounds like: wool that’s been used to make one product, then used to make something else. Recycled wool is great for insulation, cloth diaper covers, DIY rugs, polishing metal, applying wood stain, absorbing spills and more.
However, recycled wool isn’t the best for clothing and blankets if softness is your goal. To recycle wool, the fibers are torn apart and respun, which lowers the quality. Recycled wool can be “a little more harsh or fuzzy,” explains a wool crafting site. Adds one yarn site, “Most recycled wool goods have a harsh feel to them.” At Pendleton, our goal is soft, premium wool clothing and blankets, which is why we exclusively use pure virgin wool.
Today, companies are legally required by the Federal Trade Commission to specify if wool is recycled. So if a wool garment isn’t specified as virgin or recycled, it’s probably virgin wool. Now the next time someone wonders, “What is virgin wool?” you’ll know the answer!
For pure virgin wool blankets, clothing and accessories designed to last for decades, shop Pendleton at pendleton-usa.com.
It’s going to be a wonderful year to travel our National Parks, thanks to the centennial of the National Park Service. To inspire your own travels, we have a guest blogger from Germany, Eva Maria Kindler. Eva tells the story of her love affair with a vintage Range Rover, and how a side trip from her family’s vacation to America’s wilderness areas resulted in some beautiful inspiration.
A Love Affair
Today, I am giving you a free pass to my feelings. A story about true love and a passion that I am losing my head over. It’s, of course, about a car.
Only love makes a few thousand dollars annually at the repair shop and seven gallons per 60 miles tolerable (I know, this might not be much for an average American car, but for us Germans that’s A LOT).
But I have a few rational points in my defense, or you may call it self-delusion:
I bought it for only $1,000 and a bottle of Tanqueray Gin from the owner of Chelsea Farmers Club in Berlin, a quirky British Concept Store. Besides, the carbon footprint of this old car gets better every day.
What it’s about
In fact, it’s about something else: (under)statement, British lifestyle and the successful and credible synthesis of Salon and agricultural utility-vehicle. The Range Rover Classic (RRC). Many praises are sung of the Range Rover Classic as the first, true SUV on this planet. I am not dwelling on that. It’s simply a cool ride.
It has character: attractive, comfy, with plenty of room (again, for a British car) and a survivor. Perfect for pulling out bushes in the garden, which I’ve done several times. By the way, my car is from 1994, but looks 20 years older. Only a car is allowed to do that.
This year, I was up for something crazy. That is, taking out the door mats to see what was underneath. Long story short: it was painful and costly. But the whole six weeks in car rehab were all worth it. The RRC came back fresh and strong in a beautiful matte-green finish (it took me 2 months and 5 cans of spray paint to find the right tone).
While the car was having its face lift, we took a six-week family road trip throughout the American Northwest and the Rocky Mountains. We had a lot of time to think about the inner beautification of the car. The roof lining was hanging down. So we asked ourselves the question, how, from a design perspective, the iconic British fits together with something truly American. Or: do American patterns go with a British National Monument? Of course!
So we took a little detour to Pendleton Woolen Mills and bought 7yd 2ft of heavy wool fabric and took it back to Germany.
Typically, the fabric suitable for the roof and door lining is as thick as a t-shirt. We took a wool blanket to our local saddlery and asked them to do the job. What can I say! They did a great job. The result is better than we expected. We call it the Range Rover Classic Pendleton Edition.
Tomorrow, I am taking the car back to the repair shop. There are new things to be fixed. I drive the car to the garage, and jog back. Doing something for the Carbon Footprint!
Nearly every day, we hear from people who have toured our mills in Washougal, Washington, and Pendleton, Oregon. They are impressed by the complexity of the process and the unrelenting noise of a working woolen mill. We are (of course) proud to show off our state-of-the-art mills. That’s why we’re always throwing open our doors to the public. We are working constantly to meet the demand for our fabrics and our weaving capabilities.
Our mill in Pendleton gets quite a bit of press attention, but you can read a detailed history of the Washougal Mill by clicking here: An Anniversary Celebration. But if the Pacific Northwest is not your neighborhood, we offer this virtual tour, filmed at both our mills. We wanted to offer a detailed look at just what it takes to weave a blanket from fleece to finish.
We are Pendleton Woolen Mills, and wool is what we do. Just watch and listen to Cameron Krebs, a wool grower from Umatilla County, talking about his family’s generations as wool providers to Pendleton Woolen Mills.
Properties of Wool
So here are some amazing wool facts for you, courtesy of us, from our trusty “Wool, A Natural” booklet, a little classroom staple for many years now.
Wool is a Miracle Fiber that Stands the Test of Time
Wool is a natural fiber, growing from the follicles of sheep. In a time of sustainability and environmental consciousness, this renewable resource remains longer-lasting and better looking than anything man-made. Even though advanced processing methods have made wool more versatile and easy care, man has not improved the miracle fiber itself.
Wool is Naturally Resilient and Wrinkle Resistant
This is due to the ability of the fiber to spring back into shape after bending, creasing, or compression. Resilience gives wool its ability to hold a shape, resist wrinkles and withstand wear. This makes wool great for travel. It resists tearing because it’s flexible. Wool can bend back on itself 20,000 times without breaking (cotton only 3200 times before breaking/silk 1800 times/rayon only 75 times). Wool can be stretched or twisted and its cells return to their original position.
Wool is Naturally Comfortable
Wool fibers cannot be packed down. They spring back to shape keeping their open, porous nature. Wool provides the most warmth with the least weight. The air that is trapped inside (about 80% of wool fabric volume) makes wool an excellent insulator to keep the body at its normal temperature year round: warm in winter and cool in summer. Wool is the original outdoor “performance” fiber.
Wool is Naturally Water and Stain Repellent
Wool repels light water, like a rain shower, because of the membrane on the outer scales. In very wet conditions, wool absorbs up to 30% of its own weight without feeling damp. And because of insulation ability, wool “breathes,” allowing the body’s natural moisture to pass through. The hairy surface of wool and its freedom from static make it the easiest of all fabrics to keep clean or to clean after soiling.
Wool Maintains its Luster and Resists Fading
Wool has a permanent natural luster it never loses even after years of hard wear. It absorbs dyes until it is completely saturated so colors stay brilliant in spite of sunshine, perspiration and impurities in the atmosphere. No other fiber can be spun or woven into such a variety of weights, textures, finishes and colors.
Wool is Naturally Flame Retardant
Unless it is in direct contact with flame, wool will extinguish itself. The denser the weave and the greater the fabric weight, the less likely it is even to char because of its smaller oxygen content. Fire departments and insurance companies recommend the use of wool blankets, rugs or coats to put out flames.
We will be bringing you more fun facts about wool this month, because January is an excellent month for keeping warm. And thanks to the Krebs family for their participation in this video!
The looms continue weaving in Washougal, Washington, as the mill celebrates 100 years as a key part of Pendleton Woolen Mills’ operations. Running three shifts a day, the mill’s 190 employees keep the dye house, looms and sewing rooms humming to produce the virgin wool fabric used in Pendleton products.
Washougal sits on the banks of the Columbia River at the entry to the scenic Columbia River Gorge. Pendleton was already operating a mill in Pendleton, Oregon, when the company acquired the Washougal mill in 1912. The additional mill gave Pendleton the ability to weave a wider variety of fabrics. Sir Pendleton worsted and Umatilla woolen fabric are both woven in Washougal, as well as fabrics for the women’s line. “The Washougal community helped fund the startup of this mill and has supported Pendleton ever since,” said Charlie Bishop, VP of Mill Operations. In turn, the mill has been a major employer in this small Washington town since it opened.
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. At 100 years young, the Washougal mill is thriving as a world-class facility with state-of-the-art technology and machinery. In recent decades Pendleton has added dye house computer technology, wider looms to allow for the production of king-sized blankets, additional finishing equipment, more napping machines and a team sewing system to help the Washougal mill meet the tremendous demand for made in the USA textiles. The mill has worked hard to develop environmentally friendly and compliant processes.
“Few major U.S. manufacturers weave their own fabric in America,” said Bishop, a fifth generation member of the family that founded and operates Pendleton Woolen Mills. “Because we oversee every aspect of the process, including buying the wool, we can trace back every piece we make. It allows us to maintain a standard unmatched in the industry.” 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,” said Bishop. “Pendleton continues to lead the world in weaving techniques, dyeing processes, and fabric finishing.”
Washougal’s Historic Bell
The Washougal mill traditionally marks important occasions by ringing a historic brass bell that sits above the boiler room. The bell was cast in 1865 in Boston, Massachusetts, at the famous Revere Foundry, founded by Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere. The bell saw service at Davis & Furber in North Andover, Massachusetts, until 1865, when it was sent by sailing ship around the horn and up to Brownsville, Oregon, the site of another Pendleton mill.
A young Clarence Morton Bishop worked at the Brownsville mill at the time. According to the Pendleton’s current president, Clarence Morton Bishop III, “There may be some letters in the Pendleton archives where the original CM Bishop laments the bell tolling him out of bed as a young boy.” Brownsville closed in 1918. The bell was given to Clarence Morton Bishop, perhaps as a souvenir of all those early mornings. He moved it to the Washougal mill, officially dedicating it in a ceremony on June 30, 1938. It still hangs there today.
“To me, sitting atop the boiler room and machine shop, that bell is the centerpiece of our mill,” said Charlie Bishop. Although the bell no longer rings out at 6:45 and 12:15 to remind workers to return to work, it still tolls on special occasions. In May 2012, the bell rang to mark the retirement of Thang Nguyen after 35 years of service. The bell will also ring in August 2012 to mark one hundred years of community and American-made quality at the Washougal Mill. To commemorate this historic milestone, Pendleton Woolen Mills, the City of Washougal, Two Rivers Heritage Museum, and Washougal Town Square are hosting a community celebration Aug. 3rd and 4th at the Mill, the Museum and in the surrounding community.
The Blessing – a blessing of thanks and of continued prosperity by Native American Elder Buzz Nelson
The Generation of Family Celebration – Honoring the multi-generations of families who have worked at the Washougal Mill, including community families with 3 generations or more of employees, the Bishop Family (now in its 6th generation of Pendleton Woolen Mills ownership since 1863) and the Washougal family including Mayor Sean Guard.
Ringing of the Historic Bell* and Cutting of the 100 Year Celebration Cake (with free servings all day at the Washougal Mill Outlet Store)
Pendleton Mill Tours, mornings at 9:00 and 11:00 a.m., and afternoons at 1:30 and 3:00 pm. Tour the Pendleton Mill to experience both the 103 years of history and the state-of-the-art looms that weave Pendleton’s famous woolen fabrics
Washougal Days Beer & Wine Garden, 5 – 11 p.m. music from 6 p.m. Continue the celebration with music and food for everyone. Adults 21 and over can enjoy the outdoor beer & wine garden. Hosted by the City of Washougal. Admission charge.
Washougal Mill Outlet Store, open 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. with specials throughout the store in addition to free cake. Mill tours at 9 am, 10 am, 11 am and 1:30 pm. 2 Pendleton Way, Washougal, WA. For tours: call 360-835-1118 or 800-568-2480.
Papa’s Ice Cream, open for the celebration from 8 a.m. – 9 p.m.
HEARTH Restaurant, open for the celebration from 4 p.m. to close with live entertainment in the square.
Saturday, August 4:
Heritage Days 5K Run/Walk, 9 a.m. Start the day with this fun run/walk event sponsored by the Camas Lions Club and the Washougal Lions Club. Admission is free; donations accepted.
Kids & Kritters Parade, Pendleton Fields, 20th and A Streets, 10 a.m. Kids (and their parents & grandparents) and “Kritters” of all shapes and sizes are welcome to join the parade. Come a few minutes ahead to get a number and position in line.
Two Rivers Heritage Museum, 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Camas Washougal Historical Society will host its annual Heritage Day celebration and fund raiser at TwoRiversMuseum which includes free admission to the museum, craft booths, blacksmithing demonstration and mountain men setting up a camp with black powder demonstrations. Museum tours include collection of antique sewing baskets and quilts, old tools, blacksmith forge, a horse drawn sleigh and a doctor’s buggy. Enter to win prizes, including a Pendleton Blanket.
Equestrian Demonstrations, Pendleton Woolen Mills, 1 – 2 p.m. This event will include presentation of the US Flag and National Anthem, equestrian drill teams and pony cart demonstrations.
Washougal Days Beer & Wine Garden, ReflectionPlaza, 5 – 11 p.m., with music from 6 p.m. Continue the celebration with music and food for everyone. Adults 21 and over can enjoy the outdoor beer & wine garden.
Washougal Mill Outlet Store and Mill Tours, open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. with specials throughout the store and tours at the mill next door. The mill is open to the public for tours year-round. Visitors can see (and hear) the entire process that transforms giant bales of scoured wool into Pendleton’s “Warranted to Be” textiles. To learn more about public tours, visit www.pendleton-usa.com. The mill is located at 2 Pendleton Way, Washougal, WA, 98671.