Pendleton: From Fleece to Fabric

Pendleton Wooden Mill Tour, From Fleece to Fabric.

Watch the journey of a Pendleton's creation. 

 A tradition of American craftsmanship started by one family over 100 years ago. In 1863 a young English weaver named Thomas Kay had a vision of raising his own sheep and producing his own wool in America. With no suitable land of his own, Kay set sail down the Atlantic seaboard and up the Pacific coast in search of the ideal location. After four-months at sea, Kay stopped in America’s newest state, Oregon. Upon settling, Kay built his own family-operated mill, teaching and eventually passing on the business to his eldest daughter Fannie.

From the creation of Pendleton’s first woolen mill in 1893, to establishing trade connections with America’s Indigenous communities, Fannie helped build upon her father’s legacy. As her father did for her, Fannie passed on the family tradition to her three sons in 1898. Less than a year later, a new wool finishing department was operational and the first finished wool products were traded, thus setting the foundation for Pendleton Woolen Mills. Today, the tradition of wool and textile innovation established by Thomas Kay and his family underlies all Pendleton products.


Pendleton Indigenous Trading


Uniquely woven into Indigenous communities, Pendleton continues to partner with, and share traditional Indigenous design and artistry with the world.

Since 1909, Pendleton has produced Indigenous blankets, robes and shawls for Indigenous tribes. Today, Pendleton is deeply connected to the Native American population.

Since the early days, care has been taken by pattern designers to learn about the traditions, mythologies and design preferences of Indigenous customers. In the earliest years, Joe Rawnsley, who was considered a gifted talent on the jacquard loom, spent time with local tribes in northeastern Oregon to understand preferences of colour and design. He would then interpret the ideas gleaned from Indigenous peoples into blanket designs using modern technologies that could express patterns in much greater detail and in more vivid colourations than could be expressed by traditional weaving methods.

Prior to the introduction of mill techniques, traditional blankets were made from hides or pelts of smaller animals which had been sewn together or woven from wool, feathers, down, bark and cotton; and, in some areas, shredded cedar bark.

Eventually the durable nature of wool blankets led to their having great value in trade – and the brighter the better. While most early trading blankets were plaids and block designs, jacquard loomed blankets with brilliant colors and sharp details became very popular within the Indigenous community and integrated into everyday and ceremonial uses.

Navajo writer and artist Rain Parrish has documented the cultural significance of these branded prized possessions in various works. “We welcome our children with a small handmade quilt or a Pendleton blanket,” writes Parrish in The Language of the Robe: American Indian Trade Blankets. “To honour [a couple’s marriage], the woman’s body is draped with a Pendleton shawl and the man’s with a Pendleton robe.”

Today, Pendleton blankets continue to play a significant role in Indigenous communities across North America.


Check out a preview our latest Pendleton Stock below or click here for the range!






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