Our blankets tell a lot of stories. Of people, place, history, and tradition. But we’re always ready to add new chapters, especially at the request of our customers.
Last summer, one of these customers visited us in our Northport showroom, excited about the prospect of a custom blanket. He talked with General Manager Scott McCormac about what he had in mind: a summer-weight blanket with larger gingham-type checks in the colors of the University of North Carolina, where he is a professor. It was going to be a special Christmas gift for his wife.
Coincidentally, Swans Island President Bill Laurita had been wanting to translate the large-checked design of our winter-weight blankets into a summer-weight version. “Making a custom blanket like this was the perfect opportunity for us to do a little research and development,” says McCormac, “and find ways to perfect the blanket.”
Wovens Production Manager Laura Matthews and her weavers warped the 90-inch loom with alternating four-inch swathes of blue and white yarn. For the weft, they chose an alternating scheme of white and sky blue. “The interesting thing about this is how dark the indigo seems on the warp,” says McCormac. “But the effect is diminished when combined with the white and sky blue weft. It lends itself nicely to Tar Heel colors”—as well as to the ever-growing Swans Island story.
Here at Swans Island we love to highlight the natural beauty of the materials we use. Our Natural Colors line of yarn uses only the highest quality certified organic merino wool which is spun here in Maine, and then all dyed by hand with natural dyes in our studio here in Northport, ME. We’re lucky to have working with us our color creator and dye maven Jackie Ottino Graf, and today we’re sharing some photos from a class she taught last summer on the natural dye process.
When using natural materials to dye yarn instead of adding synthetic dye to a pot of water, we add vegetable matter (plants, minerals, or insects). This is dried Cochineal, the dried bodies of the cochineal beetle, used for centuries to create rich, vibrant shades of red. At Swans Island, we use Cochineal in our Garnet and Beetroot colorways.
In this pot the Cochineal beetles have been finely ground and boiled with water to create the dye bath. In Medieval Europe, Cochineal was highly prized, and used to dye the robes worn by Cardinals in the Catholic church.
After the natural dyes are mixed we place the yarn in the pot and heat dyepot so that the yarn absorbs the color. Yellow is the most common color achieved with natural plantstuffs, this pot contains the pigment from the Tansy plant.
Would you like to take a natural dye workshop with Jackie? You can find her next at Halcyon Yarn in Bath, Maine where she’ll be teaching a Natural Dye Workshop and an Indigo Dye Workshop. For a complete list of 2015 offerings, feel free to contact her at email@example.com