The blankets are woven in a continuous loop onto a roll which contains 16 or so blankets. On the older looms it takes about 20 minutes to create an entire blanket. On the new looms it only takes about incredibly fast 10 minutes per blanket. Watching the blanket take shape right in front of our eyes was astonishing to me. It is a far cry from the hand woven items I tried.
The wool which I believe comes from New Zealand. It is scoured and dyed in the Washougal and arrives in Pendleton in big colored bundles. It is thrown into this machine which cards it and separates it into proto threads. The machine was about 15 feet long and 8 feet wide.
The blanket rolls are then inspected. They have to pass muster here to be sold as genuine Pendleton Blankets. There are scores of different blanket designs. The Mill will also set up a loom to produce your own design,,,for a price of course. But you could be the owner of a unique-one of a kind design, beautiful, warm, quality wool, made in America. Around the factory were also tapestries which were for sale.
Having taken a weaving class in college and learning to thread my own loom I was especially interested in this part of the tour. They have two different models of looms which work 24/7. The new model is so fast it was amazing. It takes two people two days to thread the looms and prepare them for weaving. I can't remember how many looms they had, but I would say somewhere between 20-50. If you know for sure, please let me know
This tapestry which hangs in the factory is either Thomas Kay, founder of the first mill or C.P. Bishop. Thomas Kay established a mill in Salem Oregon which under his sons and grandsons continued operating until 1959. His eldest daughter married C.P. Bishop and together they established the mill in Pendleton, naming it after the town. Their family continues to run it today.
The Pendleton Mill is one of the only working mills still operating in the US. It provides jobs for the town and great products for the rest of us. In the Pendleton mill only blankets are made. There is another mill in Washougal WA, just east of Portland where other products are made and tours are also available.
Tours are given at 9, 11, 1:30 and 3 and take about an hour.
Then of course there is the store where you can buy all the products the company has to offer from hats and suits to handbags and scarfs. We enjoyed the smaller section in the back with blanket seconds and came away with several for ourselves and friends. They were warm and soft and comforting on some of those colder coast nights.
The proto threads are then spun into yarn and put onto a bobbin. Once the bobbin is full they are placed in a steam bath to set the yarn. They are then sorted into bins ready for threading onto a loom.