Warm up with an heirloom: Swans Island Blankets

 

A simple white chair pulled up by the fireplace holds one of the striped, handwoven pillows from Swans Island Blankets.

A simple white chair pulled up by the fireplace holds one of the striped, handwoven pillows from Swans Island Blankets.

It would have been easy to drive past Swans Island Blankets on Maine’s Route 1.  The brown-shingled house next to a weathered barn doesn’t exactly scream, “Come in and see for yourself.”  But it should.  After all, a simple showroom featuring understated, lovely hand-woven goods is a joy to behold — at least it was for us. No wonder Victoria magazine featured Swans Island Blankets in its October 2017 issue with a story entitled “Wrapped in Tradition.”

That tradition began in 1992 when then-owners John and Caroline Grace found sheep on nearby Swans Island and dreamed of creating soft, lovely blankets using time-honored techniques and the finest of wools — Merino, Romney, Rambouillet. The idea was to operate the business entirely on Swans Island.  But after a few years, the company seemed no longer as profitable as it could be if more visitors could witness first-hand the process of making blankets from hand-dyed wool.

Simple white walls and a Shaker bed form the backdrop for goods made at Swans Island Blankets

Simple white walls and a Shaker bed form the backdrop for goods made at Swans Island Blankets

Today, owners Bill Laurita and Michelle Rose Orne operate the business on busy Route 1 in Northport, Maine, where you can examine the goods and also watch weavers create heirloom blankets that feel and look simply beautiful.

Classic patterns: Swans Island Blankets

Classic patterns: Swans Island Blankets

In the largest showroom of the brown country house, blankets hang on wooden poles against clean, white walls.  A simple block logo, also handmade, identifies each piece.

Simple displays of Swans Island Blankets invite visitors to touch and feel the hand-woven goods.

Simple displays of Swans Island Blankets invite visitors to touch and feel the hand-woven goods.

In the last few years, the company has expanded to include woven pillows, scrunchy turtleneck sweaters, scarves, and other fine goods for home decor and personal wear.

Sweaters, scarves and more are now on sale at Swans Island Blankets in Northport, Maine.

Sweaters, scarves and more are now on sale at Swans Island Blankets in Northport, Maine.

According to the Swans Island Blankets website, only natural dyes like indigo, cochineal, and madder root are used in the one-man dying operation in Northport, Maine.  But visitors aren’t allowed to watch that process.

Colorful, hand-dyed yarn for sale at Swans Island Blankets

Colorful, hand-dyed yarn for sale at Swans Island Blankets

What we got instead was a glimpse of weavers in action in the back room where the din of shuttles slamming back and forth methodically woke us up to the realities of hand weaving and the creation of goods one at a time the old-fashioned way.

That background tour of the weaving room made re-examining the goods in the show room a priority.  We looked even more closely afterwards at the woven strands and the simple, classic designs.  No wonder Swans Island Blankets are called heirlooms.

Simple designs, fine workmanship, and a simple hand-woven logo: Swans Island Blankets

Simple designs, fine workmanship, and a simple hand-woven logo: Swans Island Blankets

If you pass by the faded red barn boasting the Swans Island Blankets sign on Route 1 near Northport thinking that this is just another farm, make a U-turn as soon as you can.  It’s not every day you can touch, feel and see fine woolen blankets woven on site.  If you’re fortunate to own one of these blankets, wrap up in it often.  It’s a reminder that there really are people creating quality goods one piece at a time.

About Oh, the Places We See

Met at University of Tennessee, been married for 47 years, and still passionate about travel whether we're volunteering with Habitat Global Village, combining work at Discovery with pleasure, or just seeing the world. Hope you'll join us as we try to see it all while we can!
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16 Responses to Warm up with an heirloom: Swans Island Blankets

  1. They’re beautiful. Great post, thanks for highlighting craftsmen(women)!!

    • Thanks. You’re right — these were all craftswomen that we saw. I think it’s a man who does the dyeing. But they remarkable people to come in daily and do the same repetitive tasks. I wouldn’t last a week!

  2. I always think that it adds a special touch when you can watch artist and crafts people at work, Rusha, creating the products that they are offering for sale. We carry a wool blanket in the van with us when we travel, and beak it out on the coldest nights! –Curt

    • We were pretty surprised that they let us go to the back room and watch as the weavers worked. But we were taken by the monotony of the job as they threw the shuttle over and over and over. I wondered how they could get such talented ladies to come in daily and do the same work, but somehow they do. And the quality speaks for itself.

      • Like needlepoint that Peggy did for the kids. Thousands and thousands of stitches. I never understood how anyone could have so much patience, but maybe it is more like a meditation. –Curt

  3. Jeanne Tapp says:

    looks so cozy and warm on this chilly day!

  4. Oh how beautifully crafted they are and so gorgeous in their simplicity. What a joy it must be to own one. I love seeing this kind of cottage industry business and artisanal craftmanship. Wonderful photos and video.

    Peta

    • Peta, we don’t own one, but would love to. The quality is right up there with other luxury goods, and someday we may curl up on the sofa under one of these. However, just seeing the shop and the workers made our trip special. This is one of America’s success stories on a small scale. Thanks for taking a look.

  5. Cecilia says:

    Great information, now I want to know more about it. All the best to you!

  6. JudyinFrance says:

    Did you buy one? I’ll have to look up the website and check the prices.

    • Judy, I wish I could say we brought home one of these blankets, but we didn’t. They are quite expensive — and justifiably so. When I saw the women who come in each day and weave, I knew the blankets were quality goods. We did buy some little woven “pillows” stuffed with lavender to give as Christmas gifts. And one sits in my drawer as a reminder of a very interesting day. I haven’t given up on owning one of these blankets; my dream is just temporarily on hold!!!

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