Friday, January 25, 2008

A Textile Field Trip and a Birthday Gift

Today (yesterday, by the time I finish this post) was a vacation day (end of semester) for my kids. My daughter and her friend were gracious enough to let me drag them off on a field trip I've been wanting to go on for a long time: a tour of the Pendleton Woolen Mill. (OK, yeah, three links might be a bit much -- the middle one is the most interesting.) The mill tours are only offered Monday through Friday, and somehow, there's always something else that needs doing on a free week day. But it occurred to me that the Outlet store at the mill might be a great place to spend some birthday money I had. And to spend some of my husband's birthday money as well (he hadn't spent it yet after all, and we were both interested in this purchase).

Several years ago, we went to see this exhibit of Chihuly's Pendletons at the Tamastsklit Cultural Institute, just outside of Pendleton. There's a great video at this website that will give you a flavor of it. Growing up on an Indian reservation, I was familiar with trade blankets. But seeing this exhibit while I was knitting an Alice Starmore fair isle was sort of a knitting epiphany. Sorry for the fuzzy picture of Grant Avenue - Virtual Yarns is "sold out" of this design and I can't link to a better picture.
Grant Avenue Vest
There are all kinds of parallels between the trade blankets and fair isle knitting. This picture of a swatch might be a better way to look at the knitting.
Grantswatch
Similarities exist between the common geometric and repetitive patterns. Also, just as most fair isle patterns are multicolor but any one row only has two colors, the tribal blankets are usually a jacquard weave, with two colors at any one "row" of weaving. The two colors are reversed on the reverse side of the blanket. But mostly, both are feasts of color and pattern.

Anyway, I had some money, and I drove to Pendleton. We took the tour, which is short, and fascinating for any history or fiber buff. At the Pendleton Mill, the blankets start as dyed fleece. The wool is carded and combed (or is it combed and carded?), made into roving, and spun. All by machine, but old machines, which have their own shop just to make the parts to repair them. Then the yarns are woven into blankets. The blankets are cut, napped, and finished at the Pendleton Woolen Mill in Washougal, WA.

Some of the blankets make it back to the Pendleton store at the mill. They sell first quality blankets (and other stuff) at full retail. And then there's the outlet. The outlet sells mostly seconds, and some overstock and discontinued stuff. It's rather a treasure hunt. There's a whole room full, mostly of blankets, but they have what they have. Some of the flaws are not trivial. second codes
After the tour, we were given this sheet that translates the codes for the various flaws, which are taped onto the blankets. Some of my favorite Pendletons are the Nez Perce blanket, or maybe the Rock Art one. I didn't find either of these, but I did find this one, which I think I'm going to be quite happy with.
blanket
It's called Spirit Quest. The figures are some of the same ones from the Rock Art blanket, which come from some 10,000 year old petroglyphs found in the Columbia River Gorge. It's flaw is CS, which stands for crease. There are what may be permanent creases in the nap of the fabric on the right side (up by the head of the large figure). Given that I plan to fold this on the end of my sofa when it's not in use for couch-cuddling, I don't think that will bother me much. Other blankets had holes, no nap (which is a matter of taste, partly) and thin spots that were REALLY thin.

Here it is on my sofa in the family room.
New blanket
And here's the little owl figure that my daughter's friend particularly liked:New blanket
And here's the reverse -- VERY bright:blanket
These blankets (first quality ones) are available from Pendleton USA, but if you're interested, you also might try Kraffs, which is where the folks I grew up around bought blankets and blanket coats, and where my dad used to buy his suits for church.

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