Field Trip: Our Sewing Heritage

Today we headed out on a field trip in search of a good deal on a Pendleton flannel shirt for Josh’s grandpa’s birthday. If you’re not familiar, Pendleton is an Oregon company that’s been around for ages. They weave their fabric here in the Northwest, and the garments used to be sewn here. It’s very nice, quality wool that’s so soft you can wear it directly against you skin. It’s nice stuff, to say the least.

Our first stop? The Woolen Mill Store out on McLaughlin Boulevard—they didn’t have any shirts, but they had a giant warehouse annex of fabric next door. Pretty good deals to be had over there, we got to admit. (Sorry for the graininess of some of these pictures—we used the camera on Sarah’s phone, so the quality is rather hit and miss.)

There were cheap linings at a buck a yard…

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Ultra Suede for $15 a yard (it’s $40 at Fabric Depot)…

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Lots and lots of lovely wools at great prices (ranging from $6-$72, with most being around the $15 price point—and this stuff is wide: we measured, and was wider than 60 inches)…

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Bags of buttons were in abundance at $5 and lots of other zippers and notions—even a big box of fringe—in case you ever need it in a large quantity. (And if you ever need that much fringe, send us the pictures of your finished project—’cause we know it’ll be something amazing.)

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Apparently, the loom selvages are the thing to get here—people make rugs and other crafty stuff out of them that look pretty cool.

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Josh got a pretty cool $2.50 souvenir—a wooden bobbin that’s used in the Pendleton mills for weaving that is dark with dye from the threads and still smells like the pigments used in fabric production.

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Not finding what we wanted and needing to meet up with Sarah’s mom, we decided to continue our search for a shirt for Josh’s grandpa later.

Something that Sarah mentioned in her “About” page is that her mom, Sandy, worked for Pendleton when she was young. She did a bunch of different jobs in the old factory on McLaughlin: lining inserter, thread trimmer, button sewer, etc. Sandy excelled at Pendleton (of course! she’s kind of an over-achiever), and likes to talk about how when she worked there she annoyed the crap out of all of the people who had worked at the factory for ages because she was promoted really quickly. (According to her, “Getting to trim the threads meant you were really good.”)

Anyway, when we met up with Sandy and told her that we’d been looking for a shirt for Shorty (that’s Josh’s grandpa), she got very excited about the idea of going to the Pendleton outlet store at the mill in Washougal, Washington—which seems like is so far away, but it’s actually only an half-hour drive.

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At the store, we did indeed find a great shirt, at a great price, for Shorty. However, what was more interesting was all of the historical stuff that was in the store (the mill’s only open for tours during the week, unfortunately) and how excited Sandy got about so much of the stuff that she found there.

This thing is an old sewing machine from the mill. Check out the pedal! This thing is serious…

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This is what Sandy got most excited about:

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Do you all know about the Pendleton Reversible Skirt (also known as the Turnabout Skirt)? It’s a Pendleton tartan, wool, pleated skirt that can be turned completely inside out and worn so it looks like a completely different garment. One side is lighter colors, the other dark. Sandy claimed that she was the “queen of the reversible skirt” and that she thought that she “looked quite cool in all her Pendleton reversible skirts.” (She had a great employee discount when she worked their, apparently.) She actually found one reversible skirt in the racks of discounted clothing—but it was purple and no one’s size. Too bad.

There were a couple of interesting styles that Pendleton has done for a long time (according to Sandy) that still look quite contemporary and fresh:

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(For what it’s worth, Sarah’s pretty sure that she can replicate both of these expensive skirts using the brilliant instructions found in the Sew What! Skirts book, combined with the super-cheap wool from either of the Pendleton Mill Stores.)

Sandy is a big fabric nut. Which is pretty amazing if you think about it. She said today that when she worked at Pendleton that there was so much lint in the air from all the wool that it would get into her nostrils—they were literally breathing fabric fiber. It’s amazing that she can even look at the stuff after something like that…

Anyway, she got very, very excited about the amazingly cheap prices for all of the beautiful woolens that have been around for ages. She got some of the amazingly cheap wool flannel in a lovely scarlet for something like $3 a yard, and a gorgeous green plaid remnant of over two yards for about $6. Needless to say, she was ecstatic about the deal she got.

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We picked up a few interesting pieces of fabric that we’ll write about when we get around to making stuff out of it, but here’s a sneak peak:

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We could go on and on about some of the interesting stuff that Sandy told us while were on our little field trip to Washougal. The textile industry here is such a important part of this region’s heritage, but I think that we often forget that. It’s wonderful that the wools are still carded and woven here, even if the garments aren’t produced locally anymore.

Perhaps our sewing this locally-milled cloth here in our own home helps preserve just a little bit of that tradition?

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9 thoughts on “Field Trip: Our Sewing Heritage

  1. Wow, this is a great post on so many levels! First, I’ve been wanting to get out to the Woolen Mill Store forever, and so it’s cool to see some of what’s there. And now, you have me jonesing for a trip to Washougal.

    I love the story of your family heritage, AND the idea of sewing with locally-produced fabrics.

    Thank you so much for sharing all this! What a cool day. . . .

  2. I remember the reversible skirts from high school in the 60s. I loved them but could never afford one. There was one I particularly liked and it was lavender and aqua. Just gorgeous!!

  3. Hi there, I have seen your blog before and was surprised and pleased that you read my recent review of the Betsy Ross fancy pants. Thanks for your support — I have sewn a number of other garments since then and think I could do better with those pants knowing what I know now. But I will take your advice and sew up a New Look or Simplicity pants pattern next. :-)

    I hope you will post pics of your Pendleton skirt knock-offs!

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