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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.