Thursday, October 13, 2011

Blankets from Swans Island


Blankets and throws from Swans Island are expensive.  They are expensive not for the reasons many lesser products are expensive today:
  • The CEO of the leveraged buy-out shell company lives in an expensive New York apartment and has friends on the board. 
  • They need huge markups to pay for marketing and PR to keep stories out of the press that the products are outsourced to sweat shops in China.
  • Sharp-elbowed, competitive housewives will eagerly overpay for them to show off as a posh brand to frenemies in an attempt to appear sophisticated and get a leg up in their status arms race.



Rather, they cost more for all of the right reasons.
  • The blankets and other items are made (and sourced) on the coast of Maine.  
  • The processes used are uncompromising.  If you set out to create a perfect blanket, this is how you would do it.  
  • The items can last for generations.    

A Nice Weave

Their distinctive box...


Seeing the process first hand.

Swans Island Blankets has been renamed Swans Island, although Swans Island (formally Swans Island Blankets) is no longer on Swans Island.  But they do still make blankets.

Swans Island's headquarters is in a 1780 farmhouse in Northport, Maine.
Owner, Bill Laurita.

The organic wool is soft, both in the summer weight and winter weight blankets.

 Cotton soaks up water (and looses its warmth when it does), and even down duvets trap moisture and can create clammy conditions.  Wool, however, keeps heat but wicks moisture away, creating a dry warmth.
They are famous not only for these blankets, but their rare wool as well.
Most commercial wool vendors use harsh processes to get out all of the dirt and twigs.  Swans Island pays their suppliers more for cleaner wool to avoid this damaging step.

Then, all of the sheared wool is custom spun in Vermont using only biodegradable soaps and oils.  And unlike other spinneries, Swans Island gets back the same wool they sent in.  Using less harsh chemicals means more lanolin is retained, which is why their wool is so soft.

Their fleeces come from farms across Maine, including from some sheep who live year round on islands off of northern Maine.

Soft gifts for babies.






(They have some amazing looms.)
Seeing their air-assisted shuttle looms...
...and  their new dye house...


...where the interesting,  complicated, and completely natural dye process was explained. No petrolium-based, synthetic dyes here.  And all their yarn is skein dyed, which means, among other attributes, that wool has slight variations in color. 

Depending on the color "recipe" some yarns are in the large tanks for only a few minutes, some are in overnight.

The Extractor

The new building had just been baptised with its first stain on the white walls. 


Irene explains an upcoming "build a blanket" feature where customers can custom-design their own blankets and throws.

Irene showed her favorite colors.
They also sell yarn for knitting.

Natural Variations
Just down the road from them....




In Lincolnville, one can get the ferry to Isleboro...








Waiting for the Ferry to Go Over

100% Organic Merino Wool

A Perfect Spot

29 comments:

John said...

Another wonderful example of a forgotten American ethos as only you could bring it to us. Your opening paragraphs are bang on the money: quality costs, but when it is widespread as a governing business philosophy, it benefits everyone in the long run.

Yankee-Whisky-Papa said...

You won me at "sharp-elbowed" and "frenemies".

Staircase Witch said...

This is why I love your blog so much. And, Y-W-P, I laughed aloud at that image.

I'll remember this company when it's time to find a special gift. My in-laws sent us a wool blanket from a very similar outfit in Maryland, near where they have their summer place. It is beautiful and warm and a treasure, and entirely American-made, and worth ten of a sweatshop import, no matter how expensive and trendy.

Greenfield said...

Sharp-elbowed and "Status arms race" nailed it! Sounds like you've had a bellyful of my neighbors, too . . . the McMansion-Spandex Stepford Wives who try to run you over with their Lexus on their way to "yoga" class! ;)

Grace said...

Lovely photos! What an amazing business.

Anonymous said...

Islesboro ferry landing, yay! And Leach's!

Those blankets ARE expensive, but they also look like works of art which, as you say, would last for generations. I may ask for one for my birthday. I've gotten to the point where I prefer to just go out for dinner or stay overnight somewhere, because I don't need any more STUFF, but something high quality like that would be great.

Susan R said...

My goodness Muffy. There seems to be no end to the interesting places to visit there.
Love the use of the word "frenemies". I'll have to incorporate that into my vocab more frequently.

pve design said...

Wonderful. I have longed for one of these.
Now I really must invest.
pve

kenny said...

This is so interesting. Thanks for showing us, never would have had a peek into their factory otherwise. have a good weekend.

Marie said...

Did they at one time have a place in Freeport. I still have blankets that are similar to these from the 1950's. They are priceless reminders of gentler times.

Patsy said...

I use my Swans Island throw (a gift from my generous Aunt) almost every evening year round.

These need to be kept out of the realm of the sharp elbowed, lest they poke holes in my blankey!

j.mosby said...

Swan Island Blankets...Nice! Great sunset photos also!

missi said...

The wool blankets look beautiful. Thanks for sharing this company with us. Also thank you for the last few posts. You are my favorite blog right now.

As a former teacher and with a child in public school, I am curious about your book. I just ran across it browsing your old posts and bought it. Then, not a minute later, noticed your comment today on a second printing.

Daniel Holdsworth said...

I spent a month last summer on islesboro island, its a wonderful place, would hands down move there any day.

lorrwill said...

Another outstanding post, Muffy. Honestly, you do have a gift with well written wit and the clever turn of phrase.

I had already surfed over to their site in search of yarn before I got to your pictures of it.

Bye-bye budget. Who needs food when you can support a cottage industry?

Anonymous said...

Some people might consider keeping their “politically correct comments” to “themselves,” because not everyone wants the burden of reading rebukes. It’s not tricky; it’s just about being thoughtful, gracious, and civilized. (Especially when everyone else appreciates the author’s inventive turns of phrase.)

Anonymous said...

LPC - I am confused. (I am a different anon.) In your example, are you taking Muffy to task, or is Anon 4:33 taking you to task?

LPC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I can't imagine "hating" everything that someone has to say. But I do think that tweaks of the political correctness sort on someone else's non-political blog is in extraordinarily poor taste. Regardless of how often you "tweet," perhaps one might consider if one is missing the point of the author's pieces. One has one's own blog on which to make one's own social commentary.

Beth said...

Apparently one of the readers did not have a sense of humor nor know how to appreciate an interesting
article about a beautiful craft and small business of
New England. Their loss..........

kSm said...

Thanks Muffy for another beautiful piece of New England. I love all the things I've learned or discovered through your blog!

Susan R said...

Whoa! You can please some of the people some of the time and...forget the rest.
Relax anonymous, it's called a sense of humor, they're nice, you should get one.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic Muffy. This is why I read this blog.

Sum

BennettAnne said...

I love this post and everything about your blog! I wish I could live in your world instead of the gimme gimme suburban hell that I currently reside in. Let's all move to Maine, sounds like a dream. Keep up the good work! Thank you

Anonymous said...

Muffy, that first picture is perfection!

Barberry Hill Farm said...

How gorgeous those blankets are!! Thank you for the education - I know what I'm putting on my Christmas list this year!

CHR said...

Gorgeous blankets and business philosophy. Thank you very much for sharing, Mrs. A!

The Wilder Things said...

Love the post :) I grew up spending summers in Rockport, and my boyfriend lived on Isleboro working for the Island Institute for a year. Susan Williams is a dear friend, too! Small world! Here's my post on Swans Island's recent collaboration with Levi's, I'd love it if you checked it out! http://www.thewilderthings.com/2011/11/wilder-style-swans-island-for-levis.html

lorrwill said...

Well I guess they only sell the yarn to local people. I have emailed them several times and never got a response.