The Pendleton Blanket
This week we look at a seriously cool heritage product from the USA, The Pendleton Blanket. My sister-in-law hails from Portland, Oregon. As a wedding gift she and her husband gave us an absolutely massive woollen blanket. Now I have to confess that at the time I failed to fully appreciate the thought behind this gift. You see this is not any old throw-over, it’s a Pendleton.
Pendleton Woollen Mills of Pendleton, Oregon, were founded in 1863 by an English Weaver, Thomas Kay. Oregon was America’s newest state at the time and Thomas quickly spotted a market opportunity in producing blankets for the Native American population.
Blankets for Native Americans are about more than keeping out the cold – they have been used for centuries as a form of cultural expression and a medium of exchange. Pendleton sensitively tapped into this and collaborated with Native Americans to produce their designs, a practice which continues to this day. If you watch a Western and see an old Navaho chief hunched over his horse wrapped in a colourful blanket – more than likely it’s a Pendleton blanket.
Over time Pendleton’s product line expanded and they successfully carved out iconic status for themselves with both shirts and sweaters. In the days before neoprene, surfers in 1950s California wore Pendleton shirts over petroleum jelly to keep out the cold. If you want to own the first ever wetsuit – buy a Pendleton shirt. The cult status of these shirts even led to a local rock band adopting the name “The Pendletons”. They later changed to something more catchy “The Beach Boys” and you can see them wearing Pendleton shirts on several of their album covers.
Pendleton’s most famous item of clothing is the Original Westerley Sweater, now better known as ‘The Dude’s Cardigan’. First produced in 1974 this unassuming wooly cardigan achieved immortality when it was worn by Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski. In response to unprecedented demand Pendleton now sell an exact replica.
However, the company’s main stock-in-trade remains the Pendleton Blanket. In addition to Native American designs, they have produced a series celebrating each of America’s National Parks. These have been around since 1910.
Our Pendleton Blanket is the Suwanee Stripe Queen blanket (below, left). I have learnt that this celebrates the patchwork artistry of the Seminole Indian Women of what is now Southern Florida! It has the warming power equivalent to lying under a flock of sheep and is a permanent fixture in our poorly insulated bedroom over the winter.
It is a bit of a tradition in Oregon to give Pendleton blankets as presents on celebratory occasions, and my in-laws have been kind enough to provide two more mini-Pendletons for our boys as ‘welcome to the world’ presents, keeping them roasty-toasty at night.
Six generations after it was founded, Pendleton is still in Oregon, still family owned, and the woollen mill is still in operation. It is a proper American heritage company with a fascinating history – and that’s the sort of product, from any country or culture, that it is a pleasure to own. So if I failed to do so properly before – a huge thank you to Kyla and Matthew for this very cool gift.