Betty Hauger grew up on a farm in Winterport, Maine, not far from where Swans Island is located today. Her mom still lives in the original farmhouse, while Betty has built her own home behind it. The farm spans 250 acres, where Betty raises Romney sheep for our winter blankets.
This breed originated in a rugged part of England that demanded hearty stock. Their fiber ranges from coarse—perfect for rugs—to the finer end, tailor-made for blankets. Betty breeds the finer Romney for us, yielding a medium-fine, low-chaff fleece that’s soft and durable, with plenty of scales on each hair to catch the light and give the yarn a wonderful luster.
The Green Mountain Spinnery is a small, employee-owned operation known throughout New England for producing the finest woolen spun yarn. Located in rural Vermont, they use vintage equipment, combined with a deep knowledge of the nuances of each fiber blend, to ply their time-honored craft.
They start by scouring the fleece in organic soap, leaving some of the lanolin on the fiber, where it will remain an integral part of the yarn. Most processors scour fleece in acid to burn out the chaff and, in the process, remove this vital component. As a result, the Spinnery’s yarns are lofty, airy and wick moisture away from your body as you sleep—perfectly suited to our blankets.
There are two key considerations when it comes to dyeing: how the dye is made and how it’s imparted to the yarn. At Swans Island, we start by blending all-natural dyes derived from plants, minerals and insect shells to produce a range of rich, tonally varied colors.
Next, Betty’s Romney fleece, now spun into yarn, goes into the dye pot, where it’s hand-dyed, one small lot at a time, by our master dyers. This process is labor-intensive but ensures the highest quality, loftiest yarns. The fibers undergo no additional processing or compressing—and the yarn is now ready for the loom.
Whether the yarn has been hand-dyed or remains its natural color, it’s now ready to be conveyed across the warp yarn in that ancient journey from one side of the loom to the other. The weaver carefully lays down one yarn after another, diligently moving the shuttle back and forth across the cloth until the piece comes to life.
Swans Island dyed blankets are carefully blended, ensuring that the richly variegated colors are artfully disbursed throughout. Our undyed blankets are crafted with similar attention to detail, making the most of the wool’s natural colors, from warm whites and greys to sumptuous browns and blacks.
The last step is to hand-finish what started on Betty’s farm. The blanket comes off the loom and is laid out on the finishing table, where it’s scrutinized for flaws in the weave, which are carefully repaired. Our finishers pick out any remaining chaff with surgical tweezers, and the silk binding, which bookends each blanket, is carefully sewn into place.
We soak the blanket in organic soap and never agitate it, which would diminish the wonderful softness and loft our wovens are known for. A linen bag is then cut and stitched together to store the blanket, leaving room for cedar planks on three sides, which provide a natural moth repellent and imbue a comforting aroma.
The journey is now complete as you unfurl your blanket, lay it on your bed and savor the handiwork of a succession of skilled artisans, of centuries of tradition made tangible.
Enjoy your new heirloom, and thank you for supporting Swans Island’s ongoing commitment to crafts and craftsmanship dating back to Maine’s, and our country’s, earliest days.