How The Hudson’s Bay Point Blankets Became a Canadian Icon

Photograph courtesy of HBC

With a Royal Warrant from the Queen, the historic AW Hainsworth woolen mill is the birthplace of iconic Hudson’s Bay stitch blankets and princely wedding attire.

In the well-lit storeroom of the AW Hainsworth woolen mill in Pudsey, West Yorkshire, England, tight bales of raw fleece are stacked like cordwood along a wall. It took three months for the fleece to arrive from Australia and New Zealand, and within 14 weeks these balls will be made into a beautiful stack of hand finished Hudson’s Bay spiked blankets for homes Canadian.

It is fitting that the historic AW Hainsworth Wool Mill is the place where Hudson’s Bay stitch blankets are made. The family-owned factory has been in business for over 230 years or, to put it in perspective, since the reign of King George III, the great-great-great-great-great-grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II. The factory, which is nestled at the end of a winding road, is made up of a maze of buildings, some dating from the 1800s. The famous point blankets go back even further: the Hudson’s Bay Company makes them. in England since the late 1700s. Awarded a Royal Warrant from the Queen, the Hainsworth name is synonymous with quality wool products – from the softest merino to the famous Hudson’s Bay stitch blankets. AW Hainsworth is also a supplier of tunic fabric, the heavy and stiff fabric used by military regiments around the world. The bright red of the British Army was officially adopted in the 17th century and is still in use today. In 2011, a beaming Prince William wore a scarlet frock coat to his wedding to Kate Middleton. For his brother’s nuptials seven years later, he and Prince Harry wore a more understated navy.

Photo by Max Mumby / Indigo / Getty Images

Tradition is also very popular in the manufacture of point blankets. “The blend is painstakingly true to the original recipe,” says Julie Roberts, Marketing Manager at AW Hainsworth. “What makes Hudson’s Bay dot blankets unique is that they are made from a specific blend of seven different types of wool.

Once the fleece balls are opened, the fibers are mixed and blown from the mixing room into the adjacent carding room through a network of pipes resembling Willy Wonka. The card untangles and cleans the wispy fibers as they move through a rumbling complex of rollers covered in fine yarn. The wool fiber is then “rubbed” into unbreakable flakes, which are tightly wound on spools to prepare them for spinning. Roberts points out that the patenting process at AW Hainsworth is an age-old process. “This card is about 60 years old,” she remarks, laughing. “But, as they say, ‘If it ain’t broke …’!”

Throughout the winding maze of rooms (“Make sure you follow the blue line or you’ll get lost,” says Roberts), there are signs of dot blankets everywhere. Spools of newly spun indigo, yellow and red woolen threads, three of the signature colors of the famous multi-stripe stitch blanket, are nestled in metal containers in the spinning room. Outside in the hallway, there are a range of oversized plastic bins filled with reams of unfinished striped fabric waiting to be washed and then shrunk. “It’s the millennium dot blanket,” Roberts said, fingering the still rough fabric. “It’s one of my favorites.” A classic in neutral decor, the Millennium Point blanket is ecru with various shades of warm brown stripes. Along with the Multistripe, the Millennium has been one of the most popular point blankets since its release in 2000.

A History of Hudson’s Bay and Point Blankets:

Once the slubbings have been spun into yarn, the next step is warping. A mother-daughter team works in unison, arranging the threads in long lengths of equal tension to prepare them for weaving. Nicola Gartland, 29, has worked at AW Hainsworth alongside her mother, Jeannette, since the age of 18. Walking back and forth along the vibrating warping machine, Nicola checks each section of warp threads as they wind. “I tried working on the warping machine once, and it was a disaster,” says Roberts, explaining how precise and skillful you have to be to warp the wire. “Nicola must have unraveled the mess I had made.

Once the thread is deformed, the magic begins in the weaving workshop. The warp and weft threads intertwine on weaving machines in a fascinating way. On several machines, green, red, yellow, then indigo are woven in stripes on an ecru background to create the fabric of the iconic multi-stripe dot blanket. A row further, three machines weave limited edition gold stitch blankets, one of six special designs launched to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Unlike the Multistripe, where the wool for the colored stripes was dyed before it was woven, the Gold Point Blanket, a reissue of the 1929 Point Blanket Pastel series, is first woven and then overdyed to achieve its marigold shade. intense.

Although Hudson’s Bay spiked blankets are regularly installed on AW Hainsworth production lines, the legendary factory also supplies yards of bespoke fabric to fashion houses like Chanel and Alexander McQueen. AW Hainsworth Doeskin, a delicate woolen fabric, owes its name to its softness and luster. A favorite of designers, AW Hainsworth Doeskin can be made in any color specification. The late Karl Lagerfeld used black Doeskin by AW Hainsworth for Chanel’s pre-fall 2015 collection. “Karl Lagerfeld loved working with,” says Roberts. “He was so happy with it that he made it into a tie.

hudson bay blankets
Photograph courtesy of HBC.

Attention to detail is one of the many reasons AW Hainsworth is the source of fabrics for many international brands. Nowhere is this more evident in the production of stitch blankets than when each “stitch” – lines woven into the edge of each blanket that signify the overall finished size of the blanket – is cut by hand with small scissors. . The fabric is then examined closely and any imperfections, no matter how tiny, are corrected with a tiny pickaxe. Once approved, the fabric is washed and then dried over a high heat. The drying process shrinks and condenses the wool to create the characteristic soft, dense texture of the dot blanket. The last step before the labels are sewn is the most satisfying: two team members work together in rhythm as they unwind the bolt, then measure, cut and tear the fabric into individual covers. Raw edges are left unfinished.

With each blanket finally tagged, tagged, and zipped in its individual plastic case, it’s hard to believe the place to start was a fluffy raw duffel bag. But what’s not hard to imagine is how much each Hudson’s Bay dot blanket will be appreciated when it reaches its final destination. Whether it’s a special edition Camel spiked blanket folded at the end of a bed, a classic multi-striped stitch blanket tossed over the arm of a chair, or a scarlet spiked blanket. worn like a serape on a cold night, there is no doubt that each is a lasting treasure.

Want more HBC in your home? Check out some of our favorite striped pieces below …

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