7.03.2013

field trip: Pendleton Woolen Mill Store

Pendleton Woolen Mill Store: Pendleton blanket, hanging

Everyone knows about Pendleton blankets: expensive, multicolored, quintessential Western-themed, made-in-the-U.S. woven woolens. Admittedly, ranch-themed cabin d├ęcor has never been my style, maybe because I was reared among a herd of high-desert, southern Oregon ranchers and farmers, so I've never paid Pendleton gear much attention, though even on design blogs, they still earn respect.

I've driven past the Pendleton Woolen Mill Store on SE McLoughlin Avenue too many times to count, back and forth to work or on errands, their sign outside advertising seasonal sales. Out of curiosity, I've always wanted to peek inside. Yesterday was the day.


Pendleton Woolen Mill Store, Portland, Oregon

My friend Jeff recently found a long mid-century sofa in need of reupholstering, and because he's Jeff and knows practically everyone in town, he has a friend in the upholstery business who'll do the work. But he needed fabric. Finding enough vintage-fabric yardage for a large sofa is difficult if almost impossible these days, so most everyone in the reclamation business buys new fabric.

The day before, while running errands, we'd stopped into the Mill End Store near closing time down on McLoughlin, but their cheapest upholstery offerings were around $15 a yard, with the fabric content mostly guesswork. (A staff member even pulled out a lighter and lit up a scrap for a touch-and-smell test.) Jeff wanted to pick something right then to get the project going, but when you need 14 yards of fabric at $15 a yard, it's a significant bit of wallet. I suggested he wait and mull it over, maybe even check out the Pendleton store across the street, just for kicks.


Pendleton Woolen Mill Store, interior

The Pendleton building is a big warehouse space, with polished cement floors, high ceilings, and lots of tables and hanging fabric bolts. Last year's or past-season blankets and other finished goods are on sale, and by sale I mean a small throw here will still be $150. Pendleton isn't known for cheap products, and with good reason: this is one of the few companies in the country still producing in America. Made in America—versus in China or Bangladesh—almost inevitably means higher prices. However, Pendleton's sweet little secret is that great deals can still be had here, if you look around and take your time.


Pendleton Woolen Mill Store: ceramic sheep head

Or better yet, ask a friendly salesperson. I'd been envisioning Jeff's sofa in a medium-gray wool felt as the most sellable fabric choice. And indeed Pendleton's gray felts were beautiful and tightly woven, available in the perfect shade; but at Pendleton, the price was more like $60 a yard. (Sixty times fourteen equals $840 just for fabric, plus $600 in labor, plus the initial $75 for the used sofa, in case you want to do the math.) But instead of giving up, we pressed on. We expanded our options beyond gray felt.

Over on the wall of hanging bolts, with help from our pretty sales fairy, we hovered like bees around a stack of lightly textured upholstery fabric in vintage shades of chartreuse, plum, mahogany, and teal selling for $8 a yard for 80% wool and 20% nylon blended for durability. This was not your average Pendleton faux-native print, jacquard, or cowboy plaid. These were mid-century colors and texture. (Why didn't I snap a photo?) And to sweeten the deal as we were debating, the salesperson said she'd give it to us for just $5 a yard since that's what the table pieces were selling for. Jeff selected a staid mahogany for the rather masculine sofa and also picked up enough of the chartreuse and teal for future teak chairs. They were almost giving the stuff away. Thinking ahead, he also bought four vintage spindles ($5 a piece) to use as table legs for some future repurposing project.


Pendleton Woolen Mill Store: sale fabric displays

Pendleton Woolen Mill Store: fabric displays and sale bags of selvedge

While two salespeople were rolling Jeff's fabric into take-home bolts on a big wooden contraption, I browsed the selvedge section. You might remember the used-sheet knitted-rug project I'm planning for my new bathroom, so seeing these precut wool strips got my gears spinning. I ran the idea by the sales fairy, who showed me some round crocheted-rug samples using the gray-wool selvedge I was considering for a rectangular shag rug. But that type of selvedge was badly felted on the samples from wear and looked more like dirty sheep flattened by a semi-truck. (Sorry, but true.)

So I shifted from the worms back to the $1.25-a-pound wool-felt scrap strips that I'd first been drawn to in shades of gray, tan, cream, chartreuse, gold, and turquoise, all sitting bunched up in a big wooden bin, the new stuff thrown on top of the old. Jeff helped me pull out each strip, like drawing a loose thread from a seam. Instead of shag, this rug would be nubbly, maybe like woven jute, only softer. I won't know exactly how it will look all knit up until I make some swatches, and I may have to knit with sharpened broomsticks because of how wide the scraps are. And the last thing I need right now is another decorating project when I have a whole apartment to put together. But for a mere $13.13 to DIY a pristine, one-of-a-kind Pendleton-wool rug for the new apartment's old wood floors, I'm in.


Pendleton Woolen Mill Store: bag of wool selvedge, $1.25/lb.

If Pendleton prices on new items are out of budget and you can't make it to the Pendleton Woolen Mill Store here in Portland, good deals on vintage secondhand Pendleton blankets can be found on eBay and Etsy. Some are truly striking and graphically modern. Because I'm all into fuchsia at the moment, if I had a spare $200 right now, I'd buy something like this like-new, hot-pink, green, and gold, graphic-triangles shawl blanket—it's like Madonna mating a Turkish carpet.

Do you have a Pendleton story? Tell it here!

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for another awesome post, Brooke. I've always wanted to go to the Pendleton outlet but just never made it happen. Now I know it's a must! - Melissa

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  2. Thanks, Melissa! And if you sew (unlike me), your options would be even wider at the outlet. But even if not, it's still an interesting trip just to look at pattern and color and think about Pendleton's part in Oregon's manufacturing history and its place in the textile design field. Support local when you can, right? Have fun when you go!

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