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Archive: October, 2011

Tastemakers Choose Swans Island

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Swans Island is highlighted by two tastemakers this month. Maine Magazine‘s November/December issue includes our blanket in the Maine Holiday Gift Guide.

And Down East Magazine features an exclusive cover story in which Martha Stewart talks about the Maine mystique and lists her favorite things to do, see and eat when she’s in Maine.  When asked what Maine has come to mean to her, Martha responds:

I’m here to enjoy the beauty of Maine.  I love the park, the trails, the natural beauty of the place, the water, the vistas, the bird life. . . And I’ve also learned a lot about Maine — the entrepreneurial life here, the kinds of businesses that are in Maine. We’ve done a lot of stories in the magazine about Maine:  the blueberries, the lobstering, businesses like Swans Island Blankets. . . And we’ve done a whole lot of serious stories on the crafters, the artists, the farmers.

Swans Island Takes Manhattan

The New York Times featured an article about furniture designer Tyler Hays and his admiration for antique fabrics and wool blankets.  We love BDDW, Tyler’s high end furniture store in New York, and we appreciate the high quality of craft and timelessness of design.  Needless to say we were excited that Swans Island was one of several blanket companies Tyler singled out.  Check out the article here:

And in other news . . .  Swans Island Creative Director Susan Williams just returned from a visit to the city, where she participated in the New York Academy of Art’s “Take Home a Nude” art auction, an annual celebration of the Academy’s focus on figurative studies.  Susan’s painting, Little Dream III, was included alongside works by Nan Goldin, Yoko Ono, Keith Richards and others.  Notable guests included Marcus Samuelsson, Mary Kate Olsen and Cynthia Rowley.  Among the co-chairs was art dealer Larry Gagosian, who owns the Gagosian Gallery.

Our Natural Dye Process

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Environmentally sustainable manufacturing has become an important goal for many companies, a trend we applaud since this is the way we have always operated. Typically wool fleeces are carbonized in an acid bath to remove chaff and other foreign matter, a process that burns the fiber and takes out its natural lanolin.  Swans Island fleeces are washed only in organic soaps that do not damage the wool.  We make our own dyes from natural plant or other organic matter, never using commercial petroleum-based dyes.  We then follow a traditional process learned by dyers over the centuries, first mordanting the yarn by dipping it in a vat of hot water and mineralized salt to allow the application of the colors.  After the mordant, the yarn is dipped in vats containing the natural dyes and water.

Unlike synthetic dyes that allow manufacturing standardization, each natural dye demands that the dyer follow a unique protocol — How many dips, for how long, at what temperature?  Do we need to add a natural ingredient like food grade creme of tartar to balance pH?  Some colors even need to sit for a day and come back for a second dip.  Our concern is always for color and light fastness, and of course to achieve the desired color.  In natural dyeing no two batches come out the same: that would be a problem for industrial dyehouses, but for us, it’s part of what makes each product we send out one-of-a-kind.  After dyeing, the yarn is washed in organic soap until there is no color bleeding, and then hung to air dry.

Indigo Watercolor

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The Swans Island team is comprised of a diverse and talented group of dyers, knitters, weavers and thinkers.  Not surprisingly, many of them have other talents outside of Swans Island. Tony, one of our dyers, crafts beautiful wooden toys on the side.  Assistant dyer Noreen—a weaver, graphic designer and avid sailer—built her own kayak last winter.  Head dyer Jackie creates her own line of naturally dyed handspun yarns and spinning fibers. We’ve also had talented chefs, writers and photographers work with us. Swans Island team partner Rufus Williams also boasts a talent:  watercolors.  His painting of an indigo plant graces the front of the tags that accompany each skein of indigo-based yarn.  We needed something that would address the special characteristics of all natural indigo dye and wanted a hang tag that was eye-catching yet simple. Rufus, who spotted an indigo plant in bloom in his garden, offered a beautiful work of art that captures the delicate beauty of the indigo plant.

Swans Island Company, Handcrafted in Maine USA Since 1992

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