Meeting Minutes, Kathleen Maguire GBKG Secretary
This was a fantastic visit to Mid-Coast Maine and a treat for the 99 participants. Bill Laurita, President of SI Company, welcomed us to his operation at the farmhouse in Northport, Maine.
This company was originally started by John & Carolyn Grace, Boston lawyers who dreamt of living off the land in Maine. They moved to Swans Island in the early 1990’s and launched a small weaving operation using local wool.
When Bill Laurita bought the Swans Island Blanket Company in 2004, he moved it from its original home to a new location in the coastal town of Northport. There, the former Waldorf school teacher apprenticed with the Graces & experimented with natural dyes on the porch of the company’s 1780 post-and-beam farmhouse before setting up a separate on-site dye house. Bill was dedicated to preserving not just the art of hand-weaving, but also to creating a sustainable, organic, U.S.-made product. Under Bill’s watch, the mill has won a Smithsonian Blue Ribbon & has been recognized by Martha Stewart & Michelle Obama.
The wool is generally sourced locally (sometimes from Ohio) and sent to Vermont to be spun. The real magic happens back in Northport.
We toured the attached weaving studio. Hand looms are operated using a fiat pedal to raise and lower a harness attached to the warp thread. It takes about 9-10 hours to weave a winter blanket. Once woven, it’s sent off to be finished. The artisan binds off the edges and the blanket air dries. The stitching takes about 3-5 hours. Next, tweezers are used to painstakingly remove the little bits of straw & hay that inevitably get caught in the sheep’s coat. The tweezing can take 2-3 hours. Bill explained that some of the sheep wear little jackets to keep the chaff down, but it still gets in. Since their wool is spun without any chemical treatments, it’s not just the chaff that is left behind, but also the protective lanolin. We also got a brief introduction to the art of indigo hand dying. Each of these blankets is truly an heirloom. Bill also operates a ‘blanket hospital’ for the cleaning & repair of their handwoven goods.
This operation takes place at 231 Atlantic Highway (Route 1) in Northport, Maine — swansislandcompany.com. Check out their website & take a look at the beautiful blankets, apparel, bags and, of course, yarn.