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The New New England Heirlooms

The New New England Heirlooms
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ShackletonThomas, Bridgewater, Vermont. 802-672-5175;


Most commercial wool products are made from fleeces that have been through a rather unpleasant process called carbonization: bathed in toxic chemicals (think hydrochloric and sulfuric acids) to remove the chaff (bits of seeds, hay, and other debris), which also strips away the natural lanolin. Not so with the fleeces used to craft the simple, soft, elegant blankets from Swans Island. “We wash our fleeces in organic soap,” explains co-owner Bill Laurita. This gentle process leaves the fleeces clean and toxin-free, but doesn’t chemically eliminate the chaff; Bill and his dedicated team remove any remaining chaff from each blanket by hand–with surgical tweezers. “It sounds like a joke,” he laughs, “but we really do.”

Following an apprenticeship at Swans Island, Laurita took over the company from founders John and Carolyn Grace eight years ago. He now oversees all operations and design work and is currently working to build a best-in-class all-natural dye house. Laurita insists on using all-natural dyes, derived mainly from plant sources such as lotus trees and indigo plants, for all Swans Island products.

Though he acknowledges that the company’s off-the-beaten-path location presents challenges when it comes to running the business, he has no intention of moving. “There’s nothing like the coast of Maine,” he says. “It’s inspiring. You can go out and fill yourself up with the nature experience, and then if you’re lucky, you have some sort of artistic outlet.”

Prized heirlooms: “A few pieces from the old house in the Adirondacks where I grew up, and an original painting that we bought when we first moved to Maine by J. R. Braugh, an artist and ship’s captain who runs a schooner out of Camden Harbor.”

Favorite Swans Island blankets: “Our ‘Rare Wool’ blankets. They’re made from beautiful brown wool that comes right from the sheep–it’s not dyed. There aren’t many sheep with that kind of wool, and they keep the color for only a few years, so it’s a lot of work to find enough fleeces to spin up. But the color is so rich and inviting.”

Famous fans: Michelle Obama, Norah Jones

Swans Island, Northport, Maine. 888-526-9526, 207-338-9691;


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