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Swans Island: Redefining The Wool Blanket


Swans Island Company

231 Atlantic Highway (US Route 1)
Northport, ME 04849
(2.7 miles north of Lincolnville Beach)
207.338.9691

Email     Website

Martha Stewart called their handmade wool blankets "must-haves." First Lady Michelle Obama presented their Shamrock Green Throw to the Irish Delegation on St. Patrick's Day 2009. They've been mentioned in Vogue, Martha Stewart Living, Down East Magazine, Coastal Living, and Yankee Magazine - just to name a few. They also won an incredibly prestigious Smithsonian Blue Ribbon for Craft in 1996. With credentials like this, you could make the case that Swans Island Blankets is redefining the utilitarian image of the wool blanket.

Owners John and Carolyn Grace were Boston lawyers who dreamt of living off the land in Maine. They moved to Swans Island in the early 1990’s, a small island off the coast of Acadia National Park. They knew that many Maine islands were traditionally sheep islands, and it was here that they launched a small weaving operation using local wool.

First, they first found the people that raised the sheep. Then, the Graces learned how to make their own dyestuffs and how to weave on hand looms, soon transforming these skills into a formula for making elegant one-of-a-kind blankets. In 2003, they added new partners (including brothers Tom and Bill Laurita, Rufus and Susan Williams) and moved to into eighteenth century farmhouse in Northport on the mainland 2.7 miles north of Lincolnville Beach. They soon added local Midcoast Maine weavers and finishers to their team and the company took off.

Today, they are known as Swans Island. While their success has transformed their business into a nationally recognized brand, they have never lost sight of their original purpose; to create handmade blankets and woven products to the highest possible standard.

A labor of love

It all starts with Maine-raised sheep. Then, they carefully select the wool, removing each blade of grass from the fleece by hand. The wool is then washed in organic soap (leaving the inherent lanolin behind) and spun, dyed, and woven with age-old techniques including:

Spun in a certified organic mill

Swans Island’s mill has a Global Organic Textile Standards certification; they are one of only four in the entire United States that has earned this. This certification ensures that Swans Island does indeed adhere to the strictest organic standards – such as using less harsh chemicals in processing. Compared with other commercially produced yarns, Swans Island yarn retains higher levels of natural lanolin. Their extra fine merino feels soft and luxurious on your bare skin.

Skein dyed with a commitment to natural ingredients:

All the Swans Island yarns are skein dyed. The spun yarn first arrives to their facility on cones, and then it’s wound into skeins, washed to remove any residual spinning oils, and prepared for dyeing. There, the skeins are loaded onto large racks and then get submerged into their tanks. These custom-built dye tanks can accommodate around 80 pounds of yarn in each dyelot; a total of around 360 skeins.

The length of time that the yarn spends in the tank depends on the color. Some colors take just a few minutes, while others need an overnight soak. Some yarns even require multiple dips into different colored vats for that rich layered look that many customers crave. Every skein has different variables (drying time, dye soak time, certain positions in the tank to achieve the appropriate temperature) to make these just right.

Many customers are curious as to how Swans Island chooses such unusually beautiful colors. Swans Island likes to say it's the other way around; their colors choose them. Without the specific color in mind that they are trying to create, they often find that the colors turn out even more beautifully than they had imagined. To achieve this one-of-a-kind result, Swans Island uses only natural dyes, produced from living things with little to no processing. For example, their blue comes from the fermented leaves of the indigo plant, while the Osage Orange tree shavings provide their yellow hue. These natural dyestuffs are a far cry from synthetic dyes that are derived from petroleum and often used by other manufacturers. So different in fact that Swans Island makes it their mission to know everything imaginable about their natural dyes. They know where the dye plants were grown (and in what soil conditions), how much rain these plants received, the pH of the soap used to wash the yarns after dyeing, and even how much mineral was in their well water on a certain day. All of these variables matter to the highly skilled artisans that dye these precious yarns... and to their customers.

A wool-lovers’ paradise

Blankets

Known first and foremost for its blankets, Swans Island’s handmade creations are incredibly soft, luxurious, and stylish. All blankets are woven using traditional shuttle looms. The edges are all hand-finished using silk thread. These blankets are available in a range of sizes and weights; they even offer a perfectly soft baby blanket as a forever keepsake to new parents. Each blanket comes with a linen storage bag and slats of protective aromatic cedar, and must be dry cleaned only.

Wool accessories

Warm and extremely soft, these aren't your typical wool accessories. Their organic merino wraps and scarves are hand-woven, hand-dyed, and trimmed in silk.

Handcrafted yarns

Swans Island sells a wide variety of their hand-dyed and spun yarns to customers from these collections: Washable Wool, 100% Organic Merino Yarn, 85% Organic Merino, 15% Alpaca Yarn, and 50% Fine Merino, 50% Tussah Silk Yarn. All these yarns are spun and dyed in Maine, and are certified organic wool.

Wedding woven gifts

Whether it’s a wrap (made from luxurious silk and organic merino wool) for your wedding dress, or linen with your wedding date on it, these products are designed for your (or a friend’s) special day. These all come with a classic gift box.

Visiting Swans Island

During your stay at Lincolnville, Swans Island invites you to see these amazing Maine-made creations firsthand. The hours for the studio and showroom are:

January – Memorial Day: Mon-Fri 9-5
Memorial Day – October: Mon-Sat 9-5:30; Sunday 10-5
November – December: Mon-Fri 9-5

Of course, you can always visit Swans Island anytime you’d like online. Their website is a wealth of information from everything to cleaning and repair information, to gift certificates, to blanket and yarn retailers and more.