Thursday, December 6, 2012

Pendleton Oregon Woolen Mill

I am heartened by the number of page views I seem to have since I started this blog and so now I feel rather ashamed of having been relatively lapse in the keeping up of this blog. It really did feel like talking into the wind, but now I resolve to work much harder. So, onward into my Fiber Life and my endeavors to make life woolier in all ways. And now about a short trip I took. . . .

The mill and me. . . .and of course my knitting, which I take EVERYWHERE!
We took a trip to Pendleton, Oregon last weekend to tour the woolen mill there. It is but a three hour drive there from our house, but we opted to stay the night. I was like a kid in a world made of candy during our two hour stay at the mill. I half expected Willy Wonka to come popping out from behind a stack of wool blankets and show me around. The Mill is rather small with only a half dozen looms or so looms, computerized now, but the old shuttle looms they had in operation until around the middle of last century can still be seen. It was Saturday so the floor was quiet, but our very nice guide, Angel, lead us around, and since there were only my husband, son and myself it was like a private showing. All the wool is cleaned an scoured at one of their other mills elsewhere in Oregon, but they card and steam and spin and weave there at the Pendelton. The mill is still owned and operated by the Bishop family, the original owner/operators. In fact I was very enthralled to learn that the mill grew into what we know today thanks to a woman in the late 1800's, Frannie Kay Bishop, which was unusual for her time. Frannie was born in Shipley, Yorkshire England in 1857 and came to America with her parents at a very young age. Her father was hired to revitalize a wool mill in Bownsville, Oregon and youngster Frannie, who was fascinated by the processing and manufacturing of wool, passionately learned all she could by listening and watching. Later, after Frannie married and had two sons of her own, she guided and encouraged her boys to take over an old mill in Pendelton Oregon that had several unsuccessful starts over the years. But Frannie and her sons got it up and running successfully and it continues to be successful today. The Pendleton wool label is synonymous with good quality wool clothing and blankets, and they now include a line of house hold items as well.    Pendleton Website   Frannie's advice to her sons in a letter dated 1910 tells her boys that, "The only thing needed for any success is confidence, harmony and patience. . . . without that there is no use to struggle on as there can be nothing but ultimate failure." Good advice for all of us. Frannie not only was the driving force behind the mill's success, but she went on to campaign for the state legislature early in the 20th century. In addition to Frannie's story I was struck by the mill's close workings with Native American tribes to produce a line of heritage Blankets, Legendary Blankets, that honor the importance First Nation people have placed on the use of blankets in their cultures. Legendary Blankets   If you go to the Pendleton Mill you can visit a small museum of Native American art that belongs to the Bishop family, many of which were gifts given to the Bishops by various native tribes. One of my favorite was a Navajo blanket woven by the skillful fingers of a woman of that Southwestern tribe using all the techniques and traditions I so greatly admire in Navajo weaving. I wish I had a Navajo grandmother teaching me to weave in the old way since babyhood! It was a wonderful journey, one that lead through the grassy hills and prairies of North Eastern Oregon through and into so much Western history as the Lewis and Clark trail, the Oregon Trail, and the famous Pendleton Round Up, a large annual rodeo in the heart of town every year and an event I'm told time an again not to miss. But what I love most about the Pendleton area is the wide open, windy expanses, the far vistas edged by the Blue Mountains, the farms and ranches which are every bit as interesting and beautiful as the isolated crofts and farms in Ireland, England and Scotland we traditionally minded fiber enthusiasts love to read about. I am truly excited by the potential this area I live in has to offer one like me searching fro a wooly life. I came away from the mills with ideas brewing which I may include in my blog. And, I also came away with to new blankets, a wool dress and a length of wool fabric I hope to entice my mother-in-law to put her considerable sewing skills to work on  for me to turn it into a lovely new wool skirt. I hope you enjoy some f my pictures of the day. 

Wide, windy open expanses of beauty. It's what the covered wagons saw.
The striped hills of cultivation. The green is winter wheat which starts and then sleeps until spring. The gold is last season's cutting.

Along the way. Small towns in the American west. Every bit as pretty as places in pictures of the Shetland Islands.
Lonely all by itself in the miles of open fields
Spinning wool at the Pendleton mill
The spun singles. I was surprised they didn't use plied yarn.

The weaving of a beautiful blanket.

The woven wool cloth. Oh so lovely!

Warm, woolen beauty for sale.

Me in the shop, in love with all things Pendleton wool!


  1. Oh the joys of all that fiber!

  2. Thanks for the nice little escape and chatting with you over the morning coffee!