When you’re in the Portland, Oregon area, you’ll be enticed by beautiful southwest and Native American inspired designs on blankets, jackets, vests and more. And, if you don’t know already, you’ll soon find out these are Pendleton wool products… a part of the history of the American West.
Pendleton just opened a new flagship store in downtown Portland. The 2,500-square-foot space at the base of the Park Avenue West tower at 825 S.W. Yamhill Street opened its doors this past summer. It’s filled with the newest Pendleton styles shown in high-end displays. You’ll find home décor items, clothing and the iconic Pendleton blankets. But, at this store you’ll also be paying top dollar.
Visit the Pendleton Wool Mill Store for a Tour and Bargains
I prefer shopping closer to the source and saving a bit of money, too. If you haven’t visited the Pendleton Woolen Mill in Washougal, Washington you’re in for a treat. It’s a quick zip across the I-205 Bridge from Portland. Not only can you shop for bargain priced blankets, fabric and sportswear, you’ll be able to tour the mill itself.
Pendleton Woolen Mills products have woven their way through my entire life. My parents wore matching brown plaid wool shirts in the fall when they went to our family cabin and took a red Pendleton throw to football games.
When I volunteered with the Adopt a Native Elder Program out on the Navajo Reservation I found out how special “Pendletons” were. Trade blankets in brightly colored southwest designs were prized possessions and were given as gifts of honor at ceremonies.
My first Pendleton throw came from a trading post close to the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. It was a Chief Joseph design and, because it had fringe, I was told that it was a woman’s blanket.
The Chief Joseph design, one of the oldest and most recognized Pendleton trade blankets honors Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe. When the US government tried to force the Nez Perce to leave their home in Oregon’s Wallowa Valley and move to a small reservation in Idaho, Chief Joseph refused to go and led the tribe into Canada.
And you’ll find Pendleton in more recent history. Did you know that the Pendleton plaid shirt became the surfer’s uniform as the Beach Boys (formerly the “Pendletones”) hit it big? The Board Shirt, made today of washable wool, kept 1950’s era surfers warm. The Pendleton website tells the story of how California surfers layered the shirts over petroleum jelly to keep warm. The Pendleton Board Shirt is still Pendleton’s #1 shirt.
I have frequented the mill store in Washougal to search for gifts, home décor items and, on occasion, a new Pendleton shirt for myself.
One day I decided to take a free behind the scenes tour and see what went on in the mill. Linda Parker, head of Public Relations for Pendleton Woolen Mills shared with me that in 2015, Pendleton was rated by CNN as one of the top nine best tours in the country because guests are allowed on the Mill floor where all the action happens.
The free 45-minute tours take place Monday through Friday, at 9:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and 1:30 p.m. You don’t have to have a reservation but the tours are kept small on purpose. Call 360-835-1118 to reserve a space and to check the schedule (the mill is closed for vacations for two weeks in August and two weeks in December).
When you arrive for your tour, you’ll be given a headset with earphones. Why? The mill can be noisy with machinery running so this helps the tour leader communicate with participants. No photos are allowed on the tour.
When you tour Pendleton Woolen Mills in Washougal, you’ll see many of the processes that are part of creating Pendleton wool fabric.
The tour leaders are very patient and ready to answer questions. As you walk throughout the mill, you’ll see the making of Pendleton fabric from the state-of-the-art dye house, through spinning and weaving, to the finishing of blankets and fabric for clothing.
The huge looms are automated, but much of the finish work still is done with skilled staff. At the Washougal mill, they only make the plain striped and plaid fabric while in Pendleton, Oregon the mill makes the well-known trade blanket material. It is then brought to Washougal for finishing.
Shopping at Pendleton Wool
When you finish the tour, you’ll have developed an even greater appreciation for Pendleton wool blankets and garments. Fortunately, you’ll be in the right place to purchase Pendleton products at significantly reduced prices.
You'll find bargains galore at the Mill store. Each time you go you'll find a different product being featured for deeper discounts. While there are a wide range of men's and women's garments and home decor items, Pendleton wool fabric can be bought by the yard at the store. Seconds are highly sought after and bargain priced.
Of course the blankets and throws are the most popular. Second to that are the shirts. They are a mainstay in the Pacific Northwest and part of the Portland “hipster look.”
When You Go to the Pendleton Wool Mill Store
The Pendleton Mill Store is located at 2 Pendleton Way, just off SR-14 (take the exit off I-205 once you are in Washington). At Washougal River Rd (previously 15th Street), turn left. At the next right, turn in to the parking lot.
Pendleton Wool has three other stores in Portland as well as stores in Eugene, Medford and Pendleton, Oregon, a huge store in Seattle and more than a dozen locations throughout America.
Enjoy more articles on visiting the Portland area from Wander authors.