Nestled snugly against the rugged coastline of mid-coast Maine, along a quiet, rural stretch of Route 1 sits an old New England cape-style home.The kind of dwelling you’ll see often in this area — I grew up in one just like it — but this house is different. Step over the threshold and inside you’ll be greeted not with the expected furnishings of a Northern family’s home, but with shelves, and baskets, and bundles, and boxes filled with the most gorgeous naturally-dyed yarn you’ll ever lay eyes on. Welcome to the home of Swans Island Company.
You may recall mention of Swans Island back in October for the launch of our Heirloom Collection, a selection of wares inspired by old traditions and timeless, quality craftsmanship. With these words you could just as easily be describing Swans Island, where our team sourced the naturally dyed yarns used within the collection, and where, on a cold and snow-blanketed Friday morning, I had the opportunity to visit. Greeting me at the door, Swans Island Company Product Development and Social Media Specialist Jackie Ottino Graf lead me through the process of dying the yarn, and through the creation of one of the heirloom-quality blankets the company is famous for. Founded in 1992 on a remote island off the coast of Maine, the company is surprisingly young for one so steeped in craftsmanship and tradition. As I wandered from room to room and through the weaving studio and dye house, it struck me that seeing exactly where a source material or product comes from is such a rare but meaningful experience. To speak with those whose hands created the blanket that warms your back. To see the painstaking care that goes into a quality piece. It all gives you a deeper appreciation for the final product, one that has had love poured into it from the start.
The process of creating each blanket is a collaboration between man and machine. While the looms incorporate modern technology, the majority is done by hand, each weaver carefully measuring the distance between patterns.
Each blanket takes hours to complete and is hand-picked before being either placed in the showroom or boxed up and readied for its destination. This means hours spent — quite literally — going through the completed product with a fine-tooth comb, picking out stray fibers left over from the sheep with a pair of tweezers.
Because the dyes are natural and the wool pristine, there will inevitably be variations between each batch and even within a single skein of yarn. This can be seen on our Heirloom Belfast Pullover, which is knit from indigo-dyed yarn sourced from Swans Island.
Each skein of yarn, and blanket, and scarf carefully crafted by one of the few employees at Swans Island Company is completely unique, interwoven with care and respect for the timeless processes used for centuries, now married with modern technique. A rarity these days, and one that is so often hidden from view, but a process that we could all benefit from witnessing first hand.