Pendleton Blanket: The History and Legacy of an American Staple

But it wasn’t a one-way conversation: The company enlisted people such as Joe Rawnsley, a British textile designer, to create work that would speak to this audience. Task in hand, he spent six months living in the Southwest in the early 1900s, specifically with the Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni people. During this time, he worked to understand and appreciate patterns and colors he saw adorning homes and clothing, eventually translating them into blanket designs. This immersion resulted in two iconic editions: the Chief Joseph and Harding blankets. Building on the brand’s early connection with Indigenous communities, the Pendleton Legendary Blanket Collection was introduced in 1976 to help tell Native American stories and celebrate symbols important to these communities with new designs.

The brand has not come through the years without controversy. In 2013, Pendleton settled a claim that they violated the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, which ensures non-Natives can’t sell goods labeled with tribal names or market them as Native American–made. Specifically, this centered around the Sioux Star blanket, which was renamed the Plains Star blanket. In addition, Pendleton donated $41,000 to the Red Cloud Indian Heritage Center and did a bit of website redesigning to remove the Native American category and add a new section dedicated to designs made by Native American artists.

Pendleton National Park Blankets

One of the brand’s most successful collections has been the ongoing National Park series. First launched in 1916 with the Glacier National Park Blanket, each one of the 16 subsequent designs highlights one of the country’s great parks. Each edition has a color scheme and design elements that speak to unique aspects of each natural space. For example, the Zion National Park blanket, released in 2020, is made up of various stripes representing the rusty rock formations and the bright blue afternoon sky. Another favorite is the White Sands National Park blanket, which is made of 100% pure virgin wool and a blue-and-brown hued design inspired by the change in light as day heads into twilight over the sand and flora.

Understandably, these have become collector’s items and adoring fans anticipate new announcements.

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AD100 designer Ken Fulk used Pendleton blankets to form these game-room curtains at Instagram founder Kevin and Nicole Systrom’s Lake Tahoe home.

Douglas Friedman

Pendleton Blankets in Design Today

Pendleton has been woven into the costumes of your favorite film stars (think The Dude’s full-zip Westerley Men’s Sweater in The Big Lebowski). Spend even a little bit of time scrolling through page after page of vintage Pendletons on Etsy and you’ll start noticing them everywhere. And you can certainly find them on the pages of AD: Take Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom’s home, for example—his Lake Tahoe manse has a game table surrounded by curtains made from vintage Pendleton blankets. Another creative use can be seen in this Aspen house, where the textiles serve as curtains for a set of bunk beds. Pendleton blankets have a place far outside the stretches of the home, as well. For example, glass artist Dale Chihuly’s “Blanket Cylinders” series was inspired by Pendleton and Indigenous textiles—a collection that he spent 20 years collecting blankets for.

How to Find Vintage Pendleton Blankets

It can be surprisingly tricky to figure out whether your Pendleton blanket is vintage or not—it’s about far more than finding examples that look old or worn in. The secret lies in the brand tag: Like most brands, Pendleton updated its branding from time to time, and the product tags reflect this. For example, they began using a “Woolmark” to highlight products made with 100% virgin wool around 1965, but stopped in 1994.

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Looking to pinpoint the age on that Pendleton blanket you scored at the flea market? Start with the tag.

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Aside from the tags, the stitching can give you a clue. According to a blog on the Pendleton website, the company made the move from satin stitching to overstitched binding in the 1960s, with the color of the latter being stronger. Between 1994 and 2009, the typeface on the tags became a bit more streamlined and utilitarian in vibe, and a yellow box in the design was removed. The most recent change happened in 2009 when the name “Pendleton” was taken off its angle and the typeface got a slight modernization. The National Park blankets also feature fun Easter eggs on the tags, oftentimes featuring park-specific wildlife or flora.

Keep in mind that many of the really popular designs have gone through periods of hibernation before being re-introduced. This can cause some confusion if you don’t know what to look for, but taking careful note of the product tag should let you know if you have a new or vintage Pendleton wool blanket. Whatever you do, don’t throw them in the washing machine—only the (newer) Pendleton Eco-Wise Wool designs are washable. When in doubt, bring it to the dry cleaner.

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