Pendleton Fabric Expertise – A Story of Generations

A Century of Weaving

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.

A photo of the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill in Salem, Orebon. This 2.5 story building is red brick with rows of white-trimmed windows.

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

This photo is a vintage postcard image of the Pendleton, Oregon woolen mill. The building is grey brick, with rows of windows trimmed in white, and large front doors on the first, second and third floors at the front of the building.

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.

A vintage sepia-toned photo of the Washougal woolen mill owned by Pendleton Woolen Mills. The mill is two stories tall and in the photo, it is dwarfed by two water towers.

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.

Eleven different Pendleton woolen fabrics in a line, showing the different weights and patterns woven on the Pendleton looms.

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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Take a Pendleton Mill Tour: From Our Hands to Yours

Fan Mail

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.

Two Mills

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.

Enjoy the video!

PENDLETON’S WASHOUGAL MILL: 100 Years of Weaving in America

Washougal Industry

A vintage photo of Pendleton's Washougal, Washington mill.

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.

History

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.

The historic bell at the Washougal Mill.

“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.

COMMUNITY EVENT SCHEDULE

Friday, August 3:

Dedication Ceremony, 100 Year Celebration Cake Cutting, Pendleton Woolen Mills, 10 – 10:30 a.m.

  • 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.

The Pendleton Mill Store at Washougal, Washington.

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.