Rodeo, New Mexico
October 22, 2006
Trade blankets were Pendleton Woolen Mill’s claim to success and fame. When the Bishop family bought the old defunct scouring mill in Pendleton in 1909, they brought a history of weaving expertise and merchant savvy from both sides of the family. The three Bishop brothers not only renovated the building, but more importantly, sent pattern designers out to Indian communities to learn their design preferences. Eventually they widened out beyond the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla to the tribes of the Southwest and the Plains, for additional blanket designs. Result: the already popular blankets became even more so, and their quality has become legendary.
On the tour, you’ll see the wool-making process and learn about the Jacquard looms the Bishops used to produce their blankets. Its double weave basically made each blanket reversible as well as extra warm. If planning to take the tour, wear sensible shoes (you’ll be climbing stairs). In 1929, men’s sportswear was added to the Pendleton line, contributing woolen plaid shirts that last several generations. I wore my father’s two old Pendleton shirts well past my college years. Women’s wear was added in 1949.
Wool and weaves: I had no idea how many different woolens there are until touring and shopping at Pendleton Mills. Beyond the double-sided Jacquards and men’s sports shirts mentioned above, there’s practically no end to the types and varieties of woolens from most rugged to dressiest, even a stretch-wool containing spandex.
The 1980’s saw Pendleton’s expansion from specialty into retail. Currently, they have 8 production facilities, 75 retail stores, plus a full online catalog. Pendleton is still privately owned and managed by the Bishop family.
For more information, call (541) 276-6911.
From journal Wild and Wooly Pendleton