Pendleton Woolen Mills in Washougal, Washington
Until we toured the Pendleton Woolen Mills in Washougal, Washington, we had no idea how much goes into turning sheep's wool into fabric.
The fascinating tours begin and end at the company's outlet store, which offers a large selection of Pendleton clothing, blankets and fabric. A knowledgeable and friendly guide, Jeanette, patiently answered lots of questions.
Jeanette explained that the wool, which comes from the Northwestern U.S., is colored three ways. It's either dyed as raw wool, dyed after it's turned into thread or dyed after it becomes fabric. Each process produces a different finish in a garment.
Raw wool is dyed in giant kettles that look like huge washing machines. In another area, we saw spun thread dyed on large tubes with holes, which reminded us of huge hair curlers!
The clean wool is carded, or combed, so all the fibers go in the same direction. Then it's spun onto big spools, producing "roving". It isn't quite thread yet; it's very soft and easily broken.
Each strand is twisted very tightly onto a spindle, much like a sewing machine bobbin. After they pass through a steamer to add moisture, enormous looms weave them into fabric.
Next, sharp-eyed workers examine the loosely woven fabric and sew up any broken or loose threads--it was pretty amazing to watch.
Then machines rinse, soak and dry the fabric, tightening it up. During final inspection, workers watch the fabric pass over bright light panels. They mark even the tiniest flaw with a piece of tape, alerting manufacturers.
The fabric is then shipped to Nebraska, where it's sewn into world-famous Pendleton garments and blankets.
With this tour under our belts, we'll appreciate a cozy Pendleton blanket even more!
Before You Visit... Washougal is in southwestern Washington on State Highway 14, about 30 miles northeast of Portland, Oregon and 11 miles east of I-205 (Exit 27).
The Pendleton store is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Tours last 45 minutes and are available Monday through Friday at 9, 10 and 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. The mill is closed for 2 weeks in August and during the Christmas holidays.
For more information call 1-800-568-2480.
More to See... The Maryhill Museum of Art/Stonehenge Memorial in Maryhill is 87 miles east of Washougal on Highway 14.
Goldendale Observatory State Park, which features one of the largest public telescopes in the United States, is in Goldendale, 11 miles north of Maryhill.