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Pendleton Sweater Factory
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Dec 3, 2012 15:41:14   #
Many years ago while doing a stent at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN I had some time off from appointments and I decided to go 50miles to my South and visit Winona, MN. This is a college town along the mighty MS and the people there are very friendly. There was a factory there that I'm not able to remember the name of but one of the things they made were sweaters for Pendleton.
I was already a machine knitter but I wanted to see how they were made in a factory. What an education. First off, the knitting machines knitted circular. They would take these giant tubes and throw them in a huge tumble washer. Now I've seen commercial washers at hospitals and all, but these were monsters, and probably older than dirt. The tubes would then be dried and sorted. I never got to see them cut them up but when I did go into the place where the patterns were cut I was really taken back.
Here was a stack of knitted material the size of a bale of hay. They would take a pattern that was made of a piece of plywood, place it onto the pile and then proceed to cut it with what appeared to be a modified jig saw. I asked how on Earth could a blade with teeth go through knitting without snagging the yarn. I was told before the pieces come through it is compacted, very tightly. The blade just whizzes through like it was butter. From there I got to see some sweaters sewn. The ladies were on break but I was the only person on "tour" and it was the middle of Winter. So one of them got up and sewed a few pieces for me to demonstrate. It was just fascinating to see an actual production sweater being made. Granted, she only sewed one piece of a garment and from there someone else would sew on another piece, etc. but taking two pieces from two tubs, sewing them together and then throwing them into another, I don't know how they kept it all straight.

At the end of the "tour" I got to go into their retail shop they had. The prices were quite high, but after seeing all that was involved, I knew they were priced pretty fairly. After all, these were Americans working in an American company.

I'm not even sure if Pendleton even makes sweaters anymore, but one thing for sure, they weren't being made in any fashion we do them at home. It was very interesting. I wish everyone was able to see them being made.

Now they probably have laser's that cut out patterns but back then (this was probably the late 80's early 90's) most procedures were done by hand.
Dec 3, 2012 16:02:05   #
It's always amazing to see how something is made. I like the show on discovery "how they made that"
Dec 3, 2012 16:28:44   #
no1girl (a regular here)
that IS interesting! thanks for sharing.
Dec 3, 2012 16:29:44   #
I don't watch it regularly but have they ever shown a sweater factory? It would be great to see how things are being done now. I do like that show. Have you ever seen the other show about Mega factories and the cars they make? I think they do a different one every now and then, but I don't think it's a regular show. Wow, the Italian sports cars, their interiors and such...amazing. On those high end cars, things are still done the old fashioned hand. They showed stitching a leather cover onto a steering wheel. I don't think I would have the patience. Of course, not everyone has the patience to hand or machine knit either!
Dec 3, 2012 21:36:19   #
I worked for Jantzen Knitting years ago so saw all the work that went into cutting, and sewing the sweaters together, also the bathing suits.
Dec 3, 2012 23:26:48   #
When I was researching into my family tree, I came across the occupation 'Framework knitter'. This is the origin of machine knitting as we know it today. My ancestors came from Leicestershire, England.

Machine knitting was invented in 1589 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

The attached link gives more information about framework knitters and their dreary lives.
Dec 4, 2012 07:33:57   #
Wow, thanks for sharing, that's really interesting. I always wondered how it was done too. I sort of figured they just did what we do on our machines at home, but obviously not. Thanks again!
Dec 4, 2012 08:16:23   #
I just googled Pendelton. yes, they are still selling sweaters but I'd be willing to guess they are NOT made in the US. One is a lovely V-necked cabled classic in cashmere. Wouldn't I love to get my hands on some of those mill-ends! Joan 8060
Dec 4, 2012 08:17:25   #
dolores angleton
How fascinating,thank you for sharing. My hubby has loved Pendleton wool shirts for years and always bought him a new one at Christmas ,as they were a little pricey for our early years.
Dec 4, 2012 09:32:08   #
Thank you all for posting this information. I am a machine knitting newbie. The information about the history of knitting machines is fascinating.
Dec 4, 2012 10:05:58   #
That mill was called Winona Woolen Mills, they made some beautiful pieces while there. I don't think they are in business any longer, but I do recall we could buy cone yarn from them along with HK yarn too. They also had some beautiful sweaters for sale. Oh how the good old days come back to mind.
Dec 4, 2012 10:15:01   #
THanks so much for your story. I love hearing about the history lof the crafts I do. My father was in the commercial sewing machine business and he had 2 friends that owned sweater factories. He made the sewing machines for them that put the sweaters together. After hearing you story I wish I had visited the factories.
Dec 4, 2012 10:17:33   #
It is surprising how we think goods are producede and then as you saw it is completely different and you wonder how they manage such lovely garments. It was very interesting to me as a LONG time ago I worked in the sewing industry {hated every minute}and can remember thinking how do all these pieces make a garment, but they did.Thank you for the tour Rene22
Dec 4, 2012 10:33:32   #
Wow, many years ago I worked for a jeans factory in Texas. They did everything the same as you described in their production other than producing and washing the fabric. They cut the the patterns the same, with a huge jigsaw, and piece meal sewed the jeans down a "line".
You really brought back memories!
I think sometimes we don't realize the true cost of what we purchase. Those jeans were not "cheap" to make and they wore up well. The women and some men, who worked there could make a decent living in decent conditions and the hours were such they could be with their children in the evening. It wasn't easy work, it was physical, and occassionaly tiring, but it was decent work. I can't begin to imagine what it must cost to actually make your fabric in order to make the gament.
Dec 4, 2012 11:20:15   #
What an interesting discussion. Thanks ladies.
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