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Pendleton Wool: An Iconic Brand in Our Own Backyard

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It's only taken the Pendleton Company 100 years to become an overnight success. Recently ELLE Decor magazine chose Pendleton blankets as a 'What's Hot' item. Designer Humberto Leon from the cutting-edge brand, Opening Ceremony re-imagined the vintage plaids and Native American motifs as trendy miniskirts, jackets and tailored shirts. The company is a true American original.

The iconic brand has also been noted by Vogue and The New York Times Magazine, and fashion trendsetters, like Reese Witherspoon and Rihanna are both said to own pieces. Sew4Home is excited to join with Pendleton to bring you a series of home décor projects, which celebrate the 100 years of tradition with our own unique S4H style.

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Pendleton at Opening Ceremony. Photo: Opening Ceremony

This family-owned company is hardly new on the scene. Six generations after Thomas Kay opened his first mill in Salem, Oregon, and four generations after his three grandsons opened the Pendleton Woolen Mill, the Bishop family still runs the company. The long tradition of creating classic, natural fiber blankets, garments and home décor fabrics is more than just business--it's a family trust.

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1920s era advertising illustration of a Native American on horseback holding a Pendleton blanket. Photo: Pendleton

Today, if a fashion company wanted to begin creating authentic Indian blankets, they would first have to hire experts in Native American design and spend months researching color, pattern, and symbolic meaning. Not Pendleton. They've been making 'the real thing' for more than a hundred years.

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Roy Bishop congratulates Native American rodeo champion Jackson Sundown at the 1916 Pendleton Round-Up. Photo: Pendleton

Beginning in 1909 and for the next 20 years, Pendleton's only business was making traditional blankets for the Nez Perce, Navajo, Hopi and Zuni nations. These blankets were a staple of basic apparel and used as a standard of value for trading among Native Americans.

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Painting of Indian Robe, circa 1900. Photo: Pendleton

The early blankets were woven using the Native Americans' own designs, which showed graphic representations of Indian beliefs and legends. Today, Pendleton collaborates with tribes to create contemporary designs. Each year, Pendleton releases a new commemorative pattern; each blanket features a suede patch that tells the design's story.

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Indian Princess receives Harding Shawl as prize at Pendleton Round-Up, date unknown. Photo: Pendleton

Garment making is a newer enterprise for Pendleton, introducing their first flannel shirt in 1924. First designed to help ranch hands and loggers withstand the damp cold of Oregon winters, it has since become a standard for durability, comfort and ... fashion. When Pendleton entered the world of women's fashion, some of their designs became the ‘must-have' pieces of their decades.

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Circa 1950 advertisement for the classic '49 jacket. Illustration by Ted Rand.

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Circa 1950 advertisement for the ultimate fashion statement of the time: the reversible pleated skirt. Illustration by Ted Rand.

And, men's fashions were just as popular. How many of you know that the Beach Boys were originally called The Pendletones, thanks to their signature shirts?!

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The Pendletones before they became known as The Beach Boys

Pendleton's uniqueness among American clothing and décor brands doesn't end with its long family history. Unlike most of its rivals, the company owns nearly every step of production. Once the wool leaves the sheep, it is scoured in Texas and delivered to the Washougal, Washington mill for dying and spinning. If the yarn is to be woven into Indian blankets or Jacquard fabrics, it's taken 200 miles down the Columbia River to the company's mill in Pendleton, Oregon. If it is to be woven into the signature plaids and stripes, it travels across the mill to the Dobby looms. All the fabric ends up back at Washougal for the final steps of washing (finishing) and inspection. The fabric is then sent to garment facilities for construction, including Pendleton's own plant in Nebraska. The final products are available through the company's 75 stores and also at finer retailers. Though not the norm, this 'vertical' operation gives the company greater control at each step, ensuring the high quality for which they are famous.

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1962 photographic collage illustrating Pendleton's wool processing, from the sheep to the loom to an Indian Princess with a blanket.

Across the country, woolen mills have virtually disappeared. But with the family's hands-on management, Pendleton has survived numerous downturns. For nearly 80 years every American President has been presented with a Pendleton wool blanket. If the company continues to offer its unique combination of quality and authentic design, they should be around to present many more.

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1937 Label for Pendleton Auto Robe. Photo: Pendleton.

Pendleton and Sew4Home share the same home city: Portland, Oregon; and so we feel both very proud and very fortunate to be able to bring you nine tutorials this year featuring fine Pendleton fabrics. We may come up with more along the way, because we love working with these incredible wools! Be on the lookout for:

Turquoise 2010: Pendleton Wool Chipara Throw

Pendleton Wool: Cunningham Plaid Silhouette Pillows for Father's Day

Pendleton Wool: Chinook Stadium Blanket with Canvas Tote

Pendleton Wool: Spirit of the Peoples Messenger Bag

Pendleton Wool: Machine Felted Pillow with Pendleton Carded Wool

Pendleton Wool: Fiber and Felted Hooped Art

Pendleton Wool: Eco-Wise Wool Tote Bag with Felted Accents

Pendleton Wool: Spirit of the Peoples Clutch

Pendleton Wool: Eyeglass/Sunglass Case

Because of our local connection, Pendleton has created special cuts for each of our Sew4Home projects, which will be available at their ebay store. Simply look for the Sew4Home name along with the project name.

You can also find a selection of Pendleton home decorator fabrics on their website.

And, if you're lucky enough to live in the area or are visiting, you MUST visit the Pendleton Woolen Mill store at 8500 SE McLoughlin Blvd., Portland, OR 97222

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Newly remodeled Woolen Mills Store in Portland, OR

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Comments (2)

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Thanks Mahalu -- we love Pendleton... and you're right, this store and it's staff are THE BEST. Super idea on using the wool for a headboard.
Mahalu said:
Mahalu's picture
I've visited this store a couple times living in the Portland area as we do. It is totally fabulous. Tons of fabric and good deals. It seems they always have a couple of super deals. The staff is really knowledgeable and helpful. Which is super appreciated as when I first went in it had been back in high school the last time I sewed anything.

There is a lot that can be done with the incredible wool fabric they have. I made drapes and a headboard cover for my sons room. As a 16 year old the native prints are timeless, fun and super tough. Now I am going to upholster a sofa!smilies/smiley.gifsmilies/smiley.gif