The Thomas Kay Collection: a Pioneer’s Legacy

photo of Thomas Kay

Pendleton Woolen Mills dates our founding to 1863, when an adventuresome young weaver named Thomas Kay settled in the brand new state of Oregon. The story of Pendleton began earlier in the mid-19th century when Thomas Kay was a bobbin boy in Yorkshire mills, working his way up to weaver before sailing for America to continue his training on the East coast.

In 1863, Thomas Lister Kay traveled by boat, burro and buggy to settle in the new state of Oregon. Using his genius for fabric, Thomas Kay staked his knowledge and integrity on the success of his mill, which soon turned out the first bolt of worsted wool west of the Mississippi. The Kay Woolen Mill was once the largest weaving facility in the West. It still stands as a working museum in Salem, Oregon, a symbol of pioneering spirit and innovative technology.

Thomas established a tradition of excellence by weaving the finest woolen textiles in America, a tradition he passed on to his daughter Fannie Kay Bishop and her sons. Six generations later, Thomas Kay’s descendants weave on at Pendleton Woolen Mills, heirs to his manufacturing legacy.  Every product is still “Warranted To Be A Pendleton,” an homage to Thomas Kay’s original commitment to quality.

Thomas Kay

In recognition of our founder, we have launched a signature brand for Pendleton Woolen Mills; The Thomas Kay Collection.  Inspired by Kay’s desire to weave woolens of the highest merit, Pendleton offers classic and traditional apparel and accessories for Men, Women and Home for Fall 2013.

The Thomas Kay Collection embodies a heritage of fabric craft and discovery. Richly patterned jacquard, tweed and plaid fabrics are woven by craftspeople in Pendleton’s Pacific Northwest mills. Each item has been carefully fashioned to reflect Thomas Kay’s history, marrying proper English refinement with a distinctly American sense of style. The Thomas Kay label stands for 150 years of honesty, artistry and authenticity.

A fitting introduction to the collection is found in this motto from the Pendleton archives: “Where Quality Decides, We Always Win”

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If you’d like to see more about the Thomas Kay line, please visit our Facebook page.

Sheep to Shawl at the Mission Mill

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.

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