NORTHPORT, Maine — When a delegation from the Republic of Ireland visited the White House last week they were presented with a shamrock-green Swans Island blanket made especially for Michelle Obama.
The 50-inch-by-70-inch throw of merino wool was presented by the first lady during the Irish delegation’s annual St. Patrick’s Day lunch with the president. The blanket was hand-woven at the knitting room and showroom of Swans Island, whose facilities are on U.S. Route 1 in Northport.
The blanket was hemmed in Swans Island’s signature silk hem and a custom tag was sewn to the blanket stating “Custom Designed for Michelle Obama.” The throw was made from the finest wool, from yarn spun in the U.S. and woven on traditional American-made hand looms. The custom gift box also was made and printed in the U.S.
“I feel like I have the luck of the Irish,” Swans Island president Bill Laurita said in explaining how his blanket was chosen. “We had sent some samples of our blankets along with fabric samples, and it just so happened one of those fabric samples was green. We really weren’t thinking St. Patrick’s Day. We were thinking more along the line of first lady Michelle Obama’s designer eye and taste for beautiful, rich colors.”
During the New York International Gift Fair in January, Laurita made contact with Chris Harkins of Capital Gift and Awards, a Maryland firm that for years has supplied American-made products and items to the White House for protocol gifts. The two corresponded by phone over the past few weeks. When the first lady saw the blanket, she knew immediately it would be perfect for the people of Ireland.
“We got the call on Thursday before St. Patrick’s Day, and it just so happened we had a green blanket on the loom,” Swans Island office manager Gayle Lear recalled Tuesday. “We managed to put it all together in time. We contacted Camden Custom Embroidering for the custom label, and they were able to do it quickly.”
Swans Island Blankets was founded on Swans Island 15 years ago by retired Boston lawyers John and Carolyn Grace. Although Laurita and his brother Tom moved the company to its Route 1 location when they purchased it a few years ago, wool still is harvested the traditional way from sheep that spend their lives on Nash Is-land. The sheep forage the rugged island for grass in the summer and seaweed in the winter.
The company’s all-natural hand-dyed and hand-woven blankets and throws are made from wool harvested from the island sheep. Because the wool is so clean on the backs of the sheep, it needs only mild organic detergents for final washing, preserving the fiber’s natural oils. Dyes are made from plants such as weld, brazilwood, madder root, indigo, kamala, osage and others. Red and pink dyes are made from cochineal which is derived from insects, Lear said.
“I have provided protocol gifts for over 30 years, [and] it is rare to find such a gem of a company and beautiful product to present. You sometimes feel like everything has been offered before, and then come across a company like Swans Island where true artistic craftsmanship and the highest standards of quality and design meet to create a testament to what we as American people are capable of producing,” said Harkins.
The company sells its products over the Internet and has shipped blankets all over the world. It also sells blankets at stores in Canada and Japan. For information, call the company at 338-9671 or visit www.swansislandblankets.com.