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. ￼
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
You can’t miss Margo Moore Interiors. Driving North on Route 1 into downtown Camden, the shop is one of the first points to catch your eye. Its ever-vibrant, ever-changing street-front window display room engenders a distinct joie de vivre that is the mark of the Margo Moore sensibility.
Walking into the shop gives one a complete picture of the breadth of its offerings: boldly colored home wares, elegant furnishings, bedding, carpets, lighting, soaps, gift trinkets, and more can be found for sale on the first floor of the shop. Also on the first floor is their famous display room usually showcasing a thoughtfully laid out and well-curated bedroom or cottage dining room. On the second floor is an interior design studio complete with thousands of fabric swatches, a textile library, trims and wallpapers, and other design samplings. The desks of Marcy Van der Kieft and her daughter, Megan, also live on the second floor.
It is a family affair, with Marcy at the helm, her husband Peter focused on the marketing and the designing of the window displays, and Megan instilling her own personal touch as a partner in both the interior design aspect of the business as well as in the curation of the shop’s offerings. On this particular day, Megan and staff are rearranging displays on the first floor. Marcy is tending to her golden lab, a friendly fixture at the shop.
We’ve long been fans of Margo Moore Interiors, which has been a staple of the community for more than 40 years. We were so thrilled when they started to carry Swans Island blankets, so we decided to stop in one day and hear a little more about the history of the shop, which we were surprised to learn started neither in Maine nor in interior design. The seed was first planted with Marcy’s mother (and the shop’s namesake), Margo, who opened a women’s clothing shop in Darien, Connecticut. Margo’s passion for fashion and clothing and her keen sense of style greatly influenced daughter Marcy, who went on to a career in textiles and fashion, which included a stint as associate fashion editor for Mademoiselle. Marcy took over the Darien shop but eventually moved headquarters to Camden and shifted her focus on to interiors. Ever since then, Marcy and Co. have established themselves as authorities on the Maine style vernacular — transforming houses into homes by incorporating their distinct warmth, meshing old traditions with new, refreshed styles, and elevating simple elements with pops of color or with unique twists on pattern combinations. All the while ever respectful of and highlighting the beauty and splendor of Maine.
“This is a very special, magical place,” says Megan. “I’ve traveled to a lot of places, but there’s nothing like Maine. And the sense of community you find right here in this pocket of the midcoast is something we don’t take for granted, not in our personal lives nor in our work.”
Indeed they are designers who pride themselves on their ability to listen to their clients and to balance this with their own respective design philosophies, which, as you can imagine for a mother and daughter, are slightly distinct from one another. Marcy favors traditional styles and bold colors. Megan, who grew up in Camden and graduated from the Wentworth Institute of Design, has a more understated and modern palette. Yet they work together in complementary ways. And their experiences have offered them an intuitiveness and a knack for what patterns and styles will go well together.
“I was working on a woman’s bedroom and she grabbed a bunch of blankets that she then laid out on the bed for styling,” says Megan. “They looked completely fine and beautiful, but I had a sense that I could elevate that warmth and sophistication.”
So she made a suggestion: Replace the blankets with Swans Island blankets. Immediately, Megan says, it changed the setting of the bed and the space, giving it beautiful, understated hues of color and a style that was both classic and modern.
“It just looked so elegant and perfect,” says Megan. “When Mom and I believe in something, we can sell it. When we understand and know the product, like we do Swans Island blankets, there is an organic way in which we are able to incorporate those products into the style of a home. What I love about Swans Island is its natural look; it’s not overly colorful or pretentious. There is a natural touch and feel that is unique to these blankets.”
“Part of our job is not just to make a room distinct but to also make it feel like home. When you add in accents of Maine, it really transforms a house into a home.”
There are few things more comforting than curling up in a handmade blanket on a cold day. Blankets keep us warm in bed, on the couch, on our porch or at our writing desk. They soothe us when we’re unwell, provide warmth for our little ones asleep in bed, and help us unwind after a long day at work.
But what separates Swans Island winter-weight handmade blankets from most other handmade blankets is that our wool blankets are made in the USA and are designed with both practicality and beauty in mind, providing breathable warmth and an inimitably classic style. Thanks to the processes we honor and use at Swans Island, much of the natural lanolin in the wool is retained, making for the softest, most supple and loftiest handmade blanket you’ll ever own. And each Swans Island winter blanket is hand-woven with two layers of 100 wool, which means extra warmth for colder climes. And with a handful of styles to choose from, you’ll find one that suits your personal style. Our natural colors range from solid colors—like our all-indigo or all-white blanket—to checked colors—like our white with yellow checks and the popular white with grey checks. There is also our rare wool equinox blanket, made from naturally brown and black sheep, and designed in longitudinal, alternating lines of dark and light.
Best of all, the lasting quality of our winter blankets make them wonderful heirlooms, cherished and memorialized from one generation to the next. Create memories with your very own Swans Island handmade blanket.
Don’t forget to check out our event this Friday, October 24th at Portland Dry Goods! Swans Island Artisans, dyer Jackie Graf and weaving studio manager Laura Matthews, will be on-hand for demonstrations in spinning, dyeing, and weaving – all processes involved in making our beautiful blankets, throws, wraps, scarves and cowls.
Jackie has been with Swans Island for 5 years, and is heavily involved with product development and colors in the yarn department. She is an accomplished fiber artist who also teaches spinning and natural dyeing at fibers events throughout the country. She will bring her dyepot and spinning skills to PDG for an afternoon of fiber and color! Laura has a degree in fibers and is the weaving manager at the Swans Island studios. She creates custom designs for our clients and keeps the looms running smoothly. She will bring her weaving and knitting skills!
Finding a unique wedding gift for the couple can be challenging. The perfect gift is something that is stylish and beautiful, as well as timeless; something both the bride and groom can enjoy; and something meaningful that can be passed on from one generation to the next. Swans Island products make exquisite gifts and come elegantly packaged in a Swans Island gift box. Handcrafted with care, using the best fibers and processes, Swans Island blankets and throws are a one-of-a-kind way to commemorate new beginnings. We’ll even help you customize them for a uniquely personal, elegantly packaged gift.
Visit our new Swans Island Company Wedding Page, and let us help you choose the perfect gift for the perfect couple! When you arrive at Swans Island Wedding just fill out the form and we will be in touch.
Swans Island isn’t just a blanket. It is a story. It is history and tradition interwoven with craft, vision and painstaking labor. We take pride in every aspect of our production, and we think it’s what sets us apart from other blanket companies.
Some of our fleece comes from a 250-acre sheep farm in Winterport, not too far from our Northport studio, and is spun into yarn at Green Mountain Spinnery in Vermont, where it is then scoured in organic soap, its lanolin preserved for loft and moisture-wicking warmth. When it arrives at our dye house, we give it the best treatment possible, imparting dyes that are comprised of plants, minerals and insect shells, and that have been tested and modulated until its color is just right. Once dyed, our yarn is transformed into blankets, throws, and accessories by our team of talented weavers, who use air-assisted shuttle looms that require the utmost precision, patience, and delicacy.
Our minimalist design gives each of our products a timeless feel. Our respect for traditional processes and hand-crafted perfection make each Swans Island product a work of art, as well as a treasure for the home. Tour our website, or check out our blog, for more information on our history, process, and products. Or visit our studio to feel the luxurious warmth of Swans Island blankets.
Wrap yourself in timeless warmth.
I recently had the privledge of visiting two of New England’s wool spinneries, S & D spinning mill in Milbury, Massachusetts and Jagger Brothers spinnery in Springvale, Maine. I just love New England’s textlle history, from cordage plants to dyehouses, spinneries and weaving mills. Sadly, few of these mills still exist today, but a few treasures still spin on, and S & D is one of them. They occupy an amazing old brick building that is America’s oldest continuously running mill. Talk about patina! S & D is a woolen spinning mill, which has to do with the style of yarn they are able to produce. They take raw materials and process them into yarns. Below is a mountain of wool that has been sprayed with an oil mixture to condition it and control the static. It will rest like this for a day or so before heading to the picker.
The picker is a big messy machine that fulffs up and picks apart the wool so it is nice and loose. If the yarn is going to have more than one fiber type, they throw it all into the picker and the blending begins.
Swans Island Blanket in the Finishing Room
In our weaving studio we have 4 looms that produce all our wovens: the classic Swans Island blanket, available in both Summer and Winter weights, throws, baby blankets, scarves and wraps. The wovens are cut off the loom in a large roll containing many pieces. read more
I have always loved the outdoors and as a child had many wonderful experiences camping in northern Maine, in the shadow of Mount Katahdin. The mountain can be viewed for miles and is a beautiful spectacle whatever the season. I would stare at Katahdin as I was fishing, gathering firewood or falling asleep under the stars. I was awed by its height yet never thought of climbing its peaks. read more
In honor of our Limited Edition Indigo Breeze throw, we wanted to share a little about the process of indigo dyeing. Indigo has a long tradition of providing deep, rich blue shades to every aspect of the textile industry. It is unique in the natural dye world, as it’s pigment is insoluble in water and must be reduced and oxygenated in order to release it’s dye potential. Dyeing with Indigo is a broad topic, but in a nutshell in order to dye with indigo, you must create a dye vat with precise chemical specifications: pH, oxygen levels and temperature. If any of the conditions are unbalanced, the indigo vat will not fulfill it’s color obligations. Our potent organic Indigo comes from India, in powder form.
Our good friend Charlotte Wilder sat down with our creative director, Susan Williams, to talk about Swans Island‘s recent collaboration with Levi’s. The collaboration was for Levi’s Made Here series, a project that puts the spotlight on hand-made goods, crafts and apparel made right here in America. You can check out Charlotte’s write-up about the Levi’s-Swans Island collaboration on her blog, The Wilder Things. And check out all the goods from Levi’s Made Here collection at its boutique on 131 Newbury Street in Boston. A big thank you to Charlotte, a talented Boston-based photographer who graduated from Colby College last year. Her article aptly captures not just the unique quality of the Swans Island collection, but also the special mystique of Maine.