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Archive: 2015

Spotlight: Michele Rose Orne

Michele OrneToday on the blog we’re excited to feature the first part of an interview with Michele Rose Orne, Partner and Creative Director at Swans Island. Michele has been designing hand knits for over 25 years. She brings a rich combination of passion and experience to Swans Island’s line of all-natural, hand-dyed yarns and timeless patterns that are inspired by classic favorites and daily life along the coast of Maine. Michele is the author of Inspired to Knit (2008), and has published her patterns in many knitting magazines and now designs for Swans Island.

Could you tell us a little about what you did before you joined the Swans Island Team?
Before becoming a partner in Swans Island, I was a long-time freelance knitwear designer for many major yarn companies and major knitting magazines. I graduated from Yale in 1985 and moved to NYC to worked in the garment industry as a knitwear designer (Knit design was not something I studied at school… it was just a hobby!). That experience took me around the world to London, Paris, Italy, Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, mainland China and various parts of the US both designing and working on production teams making large volumes of machine and hand knit goods that were sold in major retailers across the country.  (I even did a stint  designing hand knit “ugly” Christmas  sweaters for a few years—tens of thousands of them—that job paid for the addition on my house!)

I designed finished knit goods for large retailers and labels such as  Talbots, Anne Taylor, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Eddie Bauer, Nautica, and more. During that time I also did freelancing knit pattern designs for companies including Classic Elite, Tahki Stacey Charles, Reynolds, and magazines/books including Vogue Knitting, Interweave Knits, etc until 2002 when I “retired” after the birth of my fourth child. The international travel was fun at the time, but impossible with 4 kids! I started to get back into the design world in 2008 with publication of a book with Interweave Press.

Then in 2009 my friend Tom Laurita, who is also on the board of Swans Island approached me for some advice about the yarns that Swans Island was making. They had received a few inquiries from interested knitters whether or not they sold the yarns used to make their blankets.  Up until that time the answer had been no. I agreed to “consult” and gave them some advice about the yarn and hand knitting industry and I came on board as an investor and partner in the company in 2010. As it was a small company just up the road from my house, it seemed like a good opportunity to do something related to my previous life as a designer and yarn fanatic without all the far-flung travel.

What’s Your Role at Swans Island?
After working in so many environments abroad, and designing for other people, (many times things that I wasn’t particularly fond of on a personal level) I was excited for the opportunity to build something from the ground up that was based in the USA that had a classic design sensibility as well as a dedication to quality and Maine. It was important to me that I could have control over the creative process. I initially came into the company on a very part time basis (I still had four young kids!) as the Yarn Division Director to develop a yarn business from scratch.

At that time, all the dyeing was done on the porch of the 1790’s farmhouse in Northport, in a couple of small pots on burners.  There was no way that model was scaleable—so we built a big new dyehouse and learned how to dye our own naturally dyed yarns on a somewhat more commercial level.  It was  a work in progress with a substantial learning curve!  We developed our own unique dyeing technique in large 500 gallon tanks—and we have become the only large scale commercial natural dyehouse in the country.  My contribution was to coax the expansion of the yarn offerings from a merino fingering to add worsted and grow to 22 colors. I designed an initial offering of about 6 patterns, designed skein bands, color cards, and all the other materials needed to develop a sales presentation and attend The National Needle Arts (TNNA) trade show. Our first show was a huge success, even with our limited offering of 18 colors. The gorgeous saturation in our naturally dyed colors was not available anywhere else in the market and struck a chord with buyers and yarn shops.

Since then I have continued to be heavily involved with growing the yarn portion of our business—I have designed many of the patterns for the Swans Island collection and have directed the development of several other new yarns.We continue to offer our original naturally dyed collection but now offer 5 different yarn bases in multiple weights with well over 100 different color recipes, and we continue to develop new, domestically produced, high quality yarns. I am involved in every step of the process from fiber sourcing, to spinning, to setting the color palettes, and working with designers to develop the pattern support for all those lines.  It remains a priority to focus on the sourcing of the fiber, the quality level of the fiber, and the high quality level of the finished product. Our very talented yarn team brings an amazing skill set and level of dedication to this process—we are all fiber and knitting fanatics and we each bring our passion for fine fibers and years of varied experiences  into every product we make.DSC_0950_2

In addition to that yarn stuff, I evolved from Yarn Director to become the Creative Director of the whole company. So with that, I have become much more heavily involved in every aspect of the company. For those that only know our yarns, Swans Island was actually first known for our beautiful handwoven blanket collections. A feature by Martha Stewart and purchases by notables such as Mrs. Obama have propelled the small company to worldwide acclaim. I am now involved in the planning and execution of marketing, product packaging and branding, as well as all product development. We have put a great deal of effort lately into developing a line of knit products that are made with our yarns. We are working closely with several domestic knitting mills to produce a line of knit accessories which have been selling out in our new Camden store this summer. I am involved in designing and developing new products for our woven blanket lines as well. Pretty much anything that needs to be designed, I’m either doing it or directing it! It is exciting to be involved in the creation of so many beautiful products but also to be so thoroughly entrenched in the making of them. I go to the farms where the sheep live, go to the spinning mills where the yarn is spun, work in the dyehouse to develop the colors, design myself and work with designers to develop the styles and patterns, and work on the branding and presentation of the finished products. I am responsible for conceiving and setting the tones for our photoshoots and working closely with the photographers to try and convey a Swans Island look. I attend every photoshoot to oversee the images that capture our products. Many of these roles as Creative Director are new and evolving, so every day brings exciting new opportunities for me to learn something.

We recently opened our new flagship retail store in downtown Camden—st three minutes from my home. I was involved in selecting and designing the space there was well: layout, finishes, colors, signs, everything! It is a busy time here as Swans Island and the future only holds more promise as the brand continues to grow and more people become aware of  us. We really go to extremes to pay attention to every detail of everything we do. Swans Island is truly an authentic American brand. Being involved in every single step, from farm to finish, is a lot of work…but it’s also pretty cool. Not many jobs have this much room for creative expression.
In our next post we’ll be asking Michele more about her current knitwear design and her designs for Swans Island!

All American Collection Sport Weight

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Last year we launched our very popular All American Collection Worsted Weight, a blend of domestic wool and alpaca that’s soft and wonderful to work with. This year we’re excited to announce we’re adding to the All American Collection with the new Sport Weight, a 100% American Rambouillet wool yarn that’s lofty and perfect for colorwork. As the names suggest both yarns are 100% American made. The fiber is sourced from small domestic farms and the yarns are milled at a historic New England Mill. You can read more about how our All American Collection yarns are made in this blog post.

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Along with our new line of yarns we’ve released 17 new patterns featuring the new yarn in beautiful colorwork patterns!

Astrid Pullover

Astrid Pullover by Michele Rose Orne

Vivian Mitts by MIchele Rose Orne

Vivian Mitts by Michele Rose Orne

Sonja

Sonja Pullover by Michele Rose Orne

Simone Pullover by Stacey McCrea Warner

Simone Pullover by Stacey McCrea Warner

Phoebe Hat and Mitts by Michele Rose Orne

Phoebe Hat and Mitts by Michele Rose Orne

Paige Mitts by Melynda Bernardi

Paige Mitts by Melynda Bernardi

Octavia

Octavia by Hannah Maciejewska

Morgan Cowl

Morgan Cowl by Michele Rose Orne

Kelly Mitts

Kelly Mitts by Mary Jane Mucklestone

Kaarina Pullover by Isabell Kraemer

Kaarina Pullover by Isabell Kraemer

Ingrid Pullover by Isabell Kraemer

Ingrid Pullover by Isabell Kraemer

Hazel Hat by Michele Rose Orne

Hazel Hat by Michele Rose Orne

Fiona Coat by Justyna Lorkowska

Fiona Coat by Justyna Lorkowska

Erika Cardigan by Michele Rose Orne

Erika Cardigan by Michele Rose Orne

Ella Pullover by Justyna Lorkowska

Ella Pullover by Justyna Lorkowska

Bridget Pullover by Michele Rose Orne

Bridget Pullover by Michele Rose Orne

Swans Island yarn Fair Isle hand knits

Frances Hat by Melynda Bernardi

Giveaway

Now through July 31 purchase any pattern from the new All American Collection Sport Collection Fall 2015 patterns and you’ll automatically be entered to win a sweater quantity of our new yarn! Each pattern purchase will count as an entry, so for more chances to win purchase more patterns!

Designer Spotlight: Melynda Bernardi

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Melynda BernardiWe’re working on the final touches for the Swans Island Fall 2015 pattern collection. Today we’re excited to feature an interview with talented designer Melynda Bernardi, who has designed two pieces for the new collection in a new sport weight version of our All American Collection Worsted Weight yarn.

Growing up, Melynda never found a wardrobe problem that could not be solved with some fabric, a needle, and thread.  This early proficiency eventually led to teaching herself knitting in high school, as a way to keep her ever-creating hands busy.  A few years later, when the day to day stresses of a job pressed in, her creative needs burst forth onto the internet as French Press Knits.

What started as a simple Etsy shop that sold hand knit goods quickly shifted focus to a new market- knitters who were interested in Melynda’s designs to knit for themselves.  Soon after this, Melynda discovered Ravelry and the world of knitting expanded beyond what she ever imagined!

How did you get started knitting and then make the transition into designing?
I learned how to knit in High school at some point, but probably just the most basic of stitches. I know that when knitting became “cool” in college I felt super cool, because I was the one who already knew how to knit. Little did I know, at the time, I knew basically nothing about knitting. Years later, when I became an aunt, I decided it was time to get serious about knitting and learn how to read a pattern so I could knit my nieces and nephews gifts beyond just lumpy, (unintentionally) triangular shaped scarves.

Swans Island Frances Hat

Frances Hat

I bought a book about knitting and started to learn. The stitches began to make more sense with every new skill I tried, and before I knew it, knitting ‘clicked’. I had ideas for patterns, and fully jumped in without a ton of knitting knowledge. It’s been a learning process ever since!

Can you give us a peek into your day-to-day as a designer? Do you design full time?
Oh my, if I can fit more than two hours of knitting in a week, that’s a good knitting week. I started French Press Knits right before I had children. I worked full time then, but my evenings were free for designing/knitting and it’s how I loved to spend my time. Now, five years later, I still work full time but also have three children. Now, knitting/designing is how I long to spend my time! One day I do plan to pursue knitting as a career, but for now, knitting time is limited to stealing a few minutes during a teleconference or long car ride.

What inspired your designs for Swans Island?
The Paige Mitts and Frances Hat were both inspired by a trip ‘Up North’ we took with our friends this past fall. Early fall is my favorite time of year. The first night chills we feel in September always gets my fingers itching for some quality knitting time. On our car ride to Northern Michigan, I was swatching with my Swan’s Island yarn as the colors changed around me. The farther north we traveled, the more the rich autumn colors came in to view.

Paige Mitts

Paige Mitts

What excites you most in knitting?
There are certain techniques that I long to become more familiar with: Brioche, steeking, and double knitting were all on my ‘knitting goals’ list for 2015. I am always excited by colorwork- playing with different color schemes, watching colors blend and pictures form as you knit with different colors; it’s my favorite type of knitting. But ultimately, the thing that excites me most about knitting is the hope that someday there will be more of it in my life!

Melynda's work space

Melynda’s work space

 

How has your designing changed over time?
I would say that I try to approach designing in a much more professional way than when I first started. I realize now how much goes in to it- it’s not just the designer. There’s sample knitters, tech editors, graphic designers, and photographers. It’s a team that really produces professional work. That being said, I am much more willing to pay for a good pattern than I was when I first started knitting/designing!

 

Melynda's work space

Melynda’s work space

Swans Island Legacy Winner

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Today’s Legacy Story comes from Swans Island Legacy Contest Winner, Carey from Nashville, TN.

This Peter Rabbit quilt was made by my mother in 1982 when she was pregnant with me.  I can only imagine the patches were sewn while she was daydreaming about days, months, and years to come with her first child.  I have loved this quilt my entire life and it has accompanied me through many adventures!  Growing up in Nashville, TN, my college years in Charlottesville, VA, young adult years in New York City, and finally back to Nashville where I am raising a family of my own.  It lived through over 11,000 days and had become tattered and worn, many of the patches shred.


When my mother asked me what I wanted as a gift during my pregnancy with my daughter, I told her that all I wanted was for her to repair my Peter Rabbit quilt so it could be passed on to Campbell.  She did a beautiful job reworking the quilt and I know those days at her sewing machine were filled again with daydreams of her first granddaughter.  Campbell and I have already spent many precious days wrapped together in this special quilt and I only hope it will accompany her on adventures of her own!


I am sure you also notice her beautiful Swans Island blanket!  This has become a tradition in my family after my parents stumbled upon the company while visiting Maine several years ago, before they had any grandchildren.  During the tour, my father decided he would purchase a blanket to bring home- a baby blanket he would give to the first grandchild born.  Unbeknownst to him, I was pregnant at the time with my son!  Oliver received the white and yellow baby blanket purchased on that first trip.  Since then, my parents have visited again and now my nephew and baby girl have also been lucky enough to receive their own Swans Island blankets!

Campbell, in her Swans Island blanket on an heirloom Peter Rabbit blanket

Swans Island Legacy: Bill’s Blanket

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Today’s post comes from the President of Swans Island, Bill Laurita.

I own a lot of Swans Island Blankets. After all, I am the head of the company and truly love sleeping under a Swans Island Blanket. It sound’s crazy, but I actually enjoy making the bed in the morning and watching my blanket float over the sheets and settle in with its rich texture and gorgeous color.

A summer weight indigo queen, is my favorite. We made that blanket in the first couple of months after we moved the company from Swans Island to the coast in Northport. My wife, Jody, was our first dyer. We decided that we would do all of the indigo dyeing for the winter, summer, and indigo throw blankets at once. This proved to probably be not the best idea. Indigo is almost a separate art form from other natural plant dyeing. There have to be many protocols in place so that things do not become a complete mess. Well, we hadn’t developed those systems yet. Jody dove into dyeing what for us at the time was a huge amount of yarn: 100 pounds.

It was not long before indigo was everywhere. It was on our clothes, smudged on our faces, we were walking it all over the weaving studio, the showroom and our apartment (at the time we lived on top of the showroom). It started to feel like the wheels might be coming off the bus, we couldn’t seem to tame the indigo. In every serious endeavor there seems to come a point where the existential question, “can we do this?”, presents itself. This was it. We looked at each other, wiped the indigo off our faces, which only smudged it more, and decided then and there that we were not going to let indigo defeat us.

We scrubbed the place from top to bottom, organized some better protocols for the next go around, and realized that despite the mess, Jody had dyed some stunningly beautiful indigo yarn. Out of that batch came the our indigo throw blanket – still just as beautiful as the day we brought it home. When I fold that blanket back to hop into bed at night, if I’m still awake and alert enough, I get just a slight tinge of that feeling of being overwhelmed and of not giving into it. That experience is in my blanket.

Bill's Swans Island Blanket

I continue to be inspired by the challenge and beauty of creating hand crafted blankets each and every day. Our newest endeavor, the Whitecaps Throw, was inspired by living on the coast of Maine. Every day I come into work I drive through Lincolnville Beach, right on Penobscot Bay. Very often the seas are churning, producing white caps amidst the deep blue waters. Sometimes, when the sky is overcast the sea takes on a more charcoal hue. For years I had wanted to somehow capture the impact that compelling view had on me in a throw blanket. We tried several versions over the years, but nothing really captured the right feel. Last year Jackie, our everything fiber expert, was working with some roving. Roving is fiber in a state after raw and before yarn. Everyone at Swans Island loved the quality and feel of Jackie’s roving. Laura, our floor manager, decided to use a little of it in making her employee blanket (everyone at Swans Island gets to make their own blanket once a year). When I saw that woven into Laura’s blanket I knew I had found our whitecaps!

We placed our naturally dyed indigo yarn on a grey warp to help get across the quality of the light hitting the water on Penobscot Bay, with the roving artfully placed here and there as whitecaps licking up on the surface when the wind is whipping around. We decided to make a second version with our charcoal yarn to better capture this effect when skies are grey. Each piece is woven to the weavers sense for how best to convey these sentiments.

Swans Island Whitecaps Throw

 

Swans Island Legacy Contest: Robin’s Sweaters

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Today’s touching story of how items can carry on the legacy of our loved ones comes from Robin:

I grew up in my mother’s yarn shop. All of my memories of my mother are tied to her knitting or crocheting something for someone.

She had a “signature” baby sweater she made for anyone who was having a baby she called, “the owl sweater.” It was the cutest little sweater with a row of small cables at the yoke that formed what looked like a row of owls and small buttons sewn on for the eyes.

She died when I was 17 years-old and never lived to see me married, know her grandchildren, or get to knit them one of her owl sweaters. When I got pregnant with my son Ryan, 32 years ago, I was overwhelmed by sadness that my own son would never have anything made by my mother.

One day, right before I gave birth, I received a package in the mail. When I opened it, I found a number of owl sweaters made by my mother! My sister, 12 years older and with no children of her own, had called all of her friends for whom my mother ever knit a baby sweater and asked them if they still had them if they could send them to her. She had them all cleaned, packaged them all up, and mailed them to me for my son Ryan and 4 years later, my daughter, Sara.

Hand Knit Baby Sweaters Hand Knit Baby Sweaters

Now, Ryan’s wife is pregnant. And while Ryan, Sara nor any of their children will ever get to feel my mother’s arms around them, they will get to be wrapped in her love when they are wearing these very special hand knit baby sweaters.IMG_5979 (1)

 

I am now attempting to knit again after many, many years, despite the arthritis and the carpel tunnel I am trying to follow in my mother’s footsteps. I have purchased Swans Island yarn and am hoping to make a baby blanket that will have the lasting quality of love that my mother’s sweaters have.

We’re accepting entries to the Swans Island Legacy Contest through June 9, 2015. Click here and share your story and a chance to win the limited edition Swans Island Whitecaps Throw.

Washable Wool Collection

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Most people have used, or at least heard of, Superwash yarns. Superwash is a process by which the scales of the wool fiber are burned off with chorine and then the fibers are coated in a plastic polymer. When the friction of washing is applied, the fibers slide over each other and don’t felt, the way untreated wool will. While it’s extremely convenient to have knitwear that will stand up to the rigors of washing, the process leaves much to be desired. Chlorine? Plastic? All those chemicals aren’t great for the environment, either.

Our Washable Wool yarn Collection is made with Eco-wash, a gentle process that uses an enzyme to gently treat the fibers so they will not felt. Both the yarn and the process are certified organic. The resulting yarns are crisp and bouncy with excellent stitch definition. We feel good about offering a product that is both user friendly and kind to the environment.

Caring for Washable Wool

The Swans Island Washable Wool yarn Collection is machine washable–feel free to toss it in with the rest of your laundry! We do recommend that to ensure that your item will last you lay it flat to dry or let it dry on a drying rack.

Our Washable Wool yarn is available in Sport weight and DK weight.

We have a new free pattern available for our Washable Wool Sport Weight: Twinkle Toes are striped socks for kids with a couple of different striping options!

Twinkle Toes Sock pattern from Swans Island

Here are some of our favorite patterns in Washable Wool DK:

Venus Cardigan, in Washable Wool DK

Washable Wool yarn knit into a cardigan

 

Caesious, by Hunter Hammersen in Washable Wool DK

Shawl in Swans Island Washable Wool Yarn DK weight

Baby Bomber, in Washable Wool DK

Baby hat in Swans Island Washable Wool Yarn

Celebrating Family Legacies: Shelby

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Today we continue our series introducing you to our weavers. At Swans Island we hand craft each piece to become an exquisite piece to be passed on from one generation to the next. Each family has their own treasured heirloom items. We paint these items with our memories and meaning, cherish each piece as a part of our own family history. These special pieces signify our love–for an individual, a moment in time, or an annual ritual.

Keep reading to learn more about Shelby, one of our weavers, and her the scrapbook she made of her great-grandfather, in this artisan spotlight.

What inspired you to become a weaver and what do you love most about the craft?

I have been a knitter for 20 years and have always enjoyed fiber arts. My Mom taught me to knit when I was a teenager and it was a nice way for us to connect when I was that age. We still enjoy getting together and knitting. I love the process of creating and find it gratifying to be involved in the creation of something beautiful and tangible. To be able to see and touch what I have made is really rewarding. It’s a great way for me to spend my work day.

What part of you is most engaged by weaving?

I like to create something that is functional and lovely to look at. I’ve worked in the service industry before and while I enjoyed getting to know people, it is not as gratifying as being involved in the creative process. Weaving touches a part of me that has just not been engaged by other work.

Do you have a particular process when you weave? For example, do you listen to certain music, do you have any tricks to throwing the shuttle? Is there a certain way you manage the warp? What’s special about how you weave that differs from any other weaver?

I take a conscientious approach to my weaving. For instance, I’m a stickler for making sure that there are no skips in my selvedge edges. I know that after I have completed weaving a throw it will be going up to the finishing room for stitching the binding and quality control. I’m friendly with that crew and I want to give them a piece that has few if any errors in the weave.

Do you have something something special in your life that you will pass on to your next generation?

My great-grandfather, Robert Weymouth, performed in air shows in the 1960’s through 80’s as Maine’s Flying Farmer. I have very fond memories of him, and I treasure a scrapbook that I made as a young child that contains photos, articles and other memorabilia. Robert started his career as a fighter pilot in World War II. His act really brought out both his skill as a flyer and his sense of humor. After working the crowd, he would hop the fence and run to his J3 Piper named “Mr. Ed”.  The shocked crowd would watch as he took off and performed stunts like stalling the engine and hanging out of the cabin.

He passed away in 1987 and Mr. Ed is now part of the Owls Head Transportation Museum collection. I want my son to know about his great-great-grandfather. I hope he gets to know him not just as a performer, but also as a wonderful person who loved his family, made the most of each day, and brought joy to many people’s lives. I see these qualities in my one year old son already, and through him I remember my great-grandfathers joyful smiles and hair raising stunts. 

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Celebrating Family Legacies: Alessandra

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At Swans Island we believe in creating items thoughtfully and responsibly. We craft items that are meant to last and be passed on from one generation to another. Today we’d like to introduce you to one of our weavers in this artisan spotlight. Alessandra hand weaves blankets and wraps here at Swans Island.

What inspired you to become a weaver?

The first time I visited Swans Island I brought my kids and we toured the workshop. The sales person gave my kids raw fleece which they played with while we watched the weavers ply their trade. I knew then, in the back of my mind, that I would come to work here some day. The fact that weaving is a traditional woman’s trade really inspired me.

What part of you is most engaged by weaving?

My timing comes through my feet. My feet need to be in rhythm with the loom in order to engage the shed pedal. My non-work life is very busy and involved in a multitude of daily tasks. My work at Swans allows me to be in the now, focused on the task of building this blanket. I’m able to get lost in the concentration.

Artisan spotlight Swans Island Weaver Alexandra

Do you have a particular process when you weave? For example, do you listen to certain music, do you have any tricks to throwing the shuttle? Is there a certain way you manage the warp? What’s special about how you weave that differs from any other weaver?

When I get to my loom I like to do a thorough check of the loom. I pay particular attention to the pedal position. I like to listen to classic rock because I know all the words and love the uptempo beat.

Each of us have items that are special to us–legacy items that are passed down from one generation to another, could you tell us about something that’s special to you? 

My Granddad retired the year I was born. He became my primary babysitter. I’d spend the summers with him on Sanibel Island in Florida and he’d take me fishing, shelling, and woodworking in his workshop. Each day we’d spend hours on the beach watching sand pipers weaving in and out of the waves. From an early age, I brought him his tools as he worked on various woodworking projects. Eventually, I was allowed to help finish sand the pieces. Granddad made many carvings of sand pipers, and I have one that I actually sanded. It lives in my kitchen next to my cookbooks.

My own children knew my grandfather when he was alive and love to hear stories about my early childhood with him. They are captivated by the carved sand piper. It’s a piece of him that is also a part of our household and reminds me of those warm summer days spent with Granddad.

Artisan spotlight Swans Island Weaver AlexandraNext time we’ll be featuring Shelby’s interview and her legacy item.

Where It Comes From: The All American Collection

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Last year we launched our very popular All American Collection yarn, a wonderful blend of alpaca from east cost farms and Rambouillet wool from domestic farms. The fiber is then processed at a historic mill here in New England. Today we’re excited to share some photos of the fiber mill where our yarn is spun and how the yarn is made.

It all starts with a big pile of fiber.
Mountain of wool ready at the fiber mill

Next the wool goes through the picker, this process opens up the fibers so they will be ready for carding next.Wool moving through the picker at the fiber mill

And next, it goes through the carder. In the carder the fiber goes in unordered and comes out ready to be spun. The carder at the fiber mill, processing Swans Island yarn

Next the yarn finally gets spun! Here’s a huge spinning frame, for spinning lots of yarn! Spinning frames inside the fiber mill, making Swans Island yarn

Some empty bobbins, just waiting to be filled with yarn.
Empty bobbins at the fiber mill, ready for Swans Island Yarn

The yarn is first spun into singles, and then will be plied.
yarn spinning, Swans Island

Singles on the bobbins, waiting to be plied, skeins, washed, and then dyed! This grey yarn below will actually go inside baseballs! singles, Swans Island

A photo of the finished yarn, our All American Collection WorstedSwans Island All American Collection
Check out the All American Collection for 11 patterns using this fabulous yarn!

One Of A Kind

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Centuries of selective breeding have yielded hundreds of varieties of wool with highly specialized characteristics. There are different wools from different breeds of sheep for carpets and for sweaters, for the top of a sock and for the heel, for winter blankets and for summer. Wool breathes and absorbs moisture without feeling damp, so when the early sun warms you will stay equally comfortable.

Sheep

Swans Island Company was founded on Swans Island in 1992. Right from the start we had a deep commitment to the quality of the goods that we produced. Now located on the coast of Maine, we continue to be deeply influenced by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement as well as the reawakening of the craft movement in this country with its commitment to high quality hand work. Swans Island Company’s location on the rugged coast of Maine is not just happenstance. We find ourselves impacted by the natural beauty of our home. The ragged granite cliffs, the winter sea smoke coming off the Atlantic on a frigid morning, the quality of the light – all these elements affect our approach to design and our choice of natural fibers.

Maine Coast

Swans Island continues to produce its signature hand woven blankets and throws. We also now make scarves, wraps, cowls, gloves, and hats and a new line of blankets and throws. All of these items are made at our studio in Northport or with high quality production partners in the U.S. Every item we sell has our hand dyed artisanal yarn that we painstakingly produce at our dye house in Northport. Each skein of yarn bears the imprint of our master dyer’s years of experience and loving care.

Northport Dye House

Dyeing the Ikat yarn is a process that took years to perfect. “Ikat” literally translates into “to tie”. In most dyeing endeavors we are attempting to have full penetration of the dye into the yarn. The Ikat approach seeks to allow penetration in some areas of the yarn while resisting in other areas. It is an extremely labor intensive process, but one that results in a natural dispersal of lighter to darker indigo saturation.

Preparation of IKAT yarn

Swans Island Ikat yarn

Hand weaving the Ikat wrap is a true labor of love. Once the weaver selects the hand dyed skeins that she feels work best together the weaving can commence. It is then a matter of laying down each strand, one after the other, making sure that they blend beautifully with one another. Each Ikat wrap is somewhat different. It reflects the Ikat hand tying and dyeing process and the choices that each weaver makes as they create these timeless pieces.

Swans Island weaving our signature hand woven blankets

The term “heirloom” typically refers to a possession that has accumulated some history of its own, that has served and been cared for by a succession of owners. But age alone is not enough. Certain essential qualities must be built into the object from the beginning. It must be functional; it must be sturdy enough to survive generations of use; it must be pleasing to use and own, so that people will value it enough, even when it is old, to make it a gift to someone they love. It is those qualities–functionality, durability, and simple, timeless beauty–that artisans of Swans Island seek in their work. In an age of burgeoning consumer choices, they choose to pour their skill, effort, and time into making signature hand woven blankets that that might stand out as special.

Swans Island Ikat Wrap our signature hand woven blankets

IKAT hand dyed yarn

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IKAT is a Indonesian method for hand dyed yarn using a resist dyeing technique for a woven fabric. Here at Swans Island we’re releasing a limited edition IKAT hand woven wrap that we’ll be debuting soon, and also skeins of the IKAT Indigo hand dyed yarn for hand knitters. For both the wraps and the hand dyed yarn we’ve used Indigo to hand dye the yarn. Today we’re taking you through the process of creating these beautiful unique skeins of hand dyed yarn.

First, the 100 merino wool skeins are tied with cord. The portions of yarn underneath the cord will not be dyed.

Swans Island IKAT Yarn

It takes a while, but once we have enough skeins tied with cord, it’s time to dye!

Hand Dyed Yarn from Swans Island in the IKAT tradition of Hand Dyeing

Then, it’s time to put the skeins into the dye pot full of indigo.

Hand dyed Yarn from Swans Island going into dye bath 
100 Wool Yarn in the dye pot. Because the yarn is hand dyed with indigo, a pigment not a dye, you may experience crocking (when excess dye rubs off of one dry fabric onto another dry fabric) while knitting with the IKAT yarn. It will not, however, bleed into the white or fade. On a molecular level, indigo imparts its color onto whatever you are dyeing by means of tiny molecules of indigo pigment adhering to the fibers.  When the fibers are rinsed and dried, the molecules of indigo expand to fit the spaces between fibers.  Sometimes, if the molecules are especially tiny, or the fibers are especially fine, (like the merino used in IKAT) the loose indigo molecules can slough off with friction.  You will see this as your bamboo needles turn blue, or a blue line across the finger you carry your working yarn with.

Hand dyed yarn blooming in indigo 100 merino

What should you do if your hand dyed yarn is crocking?  Well, first know that it will wash off your hands easily with soap and water after your knitting sessions.  When you have finished your project, give it a wash in warm soapy water.  The water will likely turn blue, as the loose molecules are rinsed off.  Simply rinse until the water is clear, and your project should remain stable for its lifetime.
100 organic merino hand dyed IKAT yarn from Swans Island

hand dyed 100 merino wool, IKAT dyes Swans Island

A finished skein of hand dyed IKAT yarn!

hand dyed yarn from Swans Island in 100% organic merino wool

Swans Island Company, Handcrafted in Maine USA Since 1992

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