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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Weekend escapes about Maine in October are our favorite times of the year. The leaves turn delicious hues of red, gold, and orange, giving every town a vibrant glow. Pumpkins abound. And the colder days and nights call for light layers and hats. Swans Island cowls and scarves are perfect for fall days–crafted with the finest organic merino wool and using processes that uphold their natural loft, they’re the quintessence of style and warm sophistication.
We love the way they keep us warm on short walks into town or on long drives to our favorite leaf-peeping spots right here in Maine. Here is a short list of where we like to play, explore, and soak in the natural beauty of Maine. Where do you like to spend your days in October?
Top 5 Spots to visit this Fall for weekend escapes in Maine:
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.
Wedding season is a time of excitement here in Maine! With an endless array of breathtaking vistas and waterfront locations, many flock here for their special day. Recently, our friend Jessie tied the knot, and as a special thank you to her bridesmaids, she gifted them with Swans Island grey-and-white wraps, each trimmed in silk and bearing the Swans Island weaver’s mark.
The beautiful bride wore an elegant white wrap.
We think it’s the perfect keepsake for any bridal party: they are luxuriously soft, add a touch of elegance, and their sleek and simple design make them versatile enough to be worn at a relaxed rehearsal dinner, a pre-wedding bridal celebration, as well as the grand ceremony itself.
Might we suggest our Swans Island Wrap when you’re thinking of a unique and stunning gift for your maid of honor and bridesmaids? They can be customized for a personal touch and come packaged in a linen clutch.
* Photography by Sharyn Peavey
Reintroduction to Swans Island
Welcome back Blog! After a glorious Maine Summer, we are happy and proud to reintroduce a regular blog piece. For those of you who may be new visitors to our site, we would like to introduce ourselves a little bit. Swans Island has been known for years as makers of fine hand woven wool blankets. We are currently 6 weavers, weaving on 4 AVL looms.
Earlier this month, we had the privilege of being featured on the up-and-coming, design-centric lifestyle blog The General Aesthete. David Tripp, who curates and writes the blog, covers a gamut of genres, from food and film to fashion and design, and he hones in specifically on work that is beautiful, intelligent and innovative. His gift guides are particularly fun (not to mention great sources of inspiration and ideas), and his roster of interviews, which for now includes Matt Costa (Costalots) and stylist Linda Rodin, are interesting and insightful.
We’ve recently launched our new website — now with better product features, onling monogram ordering and personal accounts.
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:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/20/garden/camp-blankets-and-throws-shopping-with-tyler-hays.html?
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.
Last week we were treated to a very special visit from two of our fabulous yarn reps, Antonia and Narda. When they visited us last year, we were still dyeing yarn from our farmhouse porch, and we’d only had few yarn colors and patterns. But we were brimming with ideas, and we were eager for our yarn collection to take off. This time, Antonia and Narda got to see exactly how far we’ve come since their last visit: 20 colors in three weights of yarn, additional patterns we’ll be making available soon, and a bigger dyehouse to facilitate our growing needs. After spending the morning observing the dye process and exploring the new dyehouse, the ladies joined us for coffee and treats at Dot’s, where we exchanged ideas and feedback, talked about the current trends and state of the yarn industry, and discussed future Swans Island projects. It was a wonderful, productive meeting, and we were so happy that Antonia and Narda were able to join us again this year.