Making a Great Wool Blanket Is Harder Than You Think

Woolrich, the legendary Pennsylvania-based fabric maker, has been the source of classic, outdoorsy offerings—such as buffalo check shirts and warm, durable blankets—since 1830. Today, the iconic heritage brand sill churns out its heirloom-quality wool blankets by hand at the U.S.’s oldest continuously operating woolen mill. Here’s our look inside Woolrich’s celebrated, American-made process. Photographs by Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

  1. The Legacy Begins
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    The Legacy Begins

    Founder John Rich opened the first Woolrich mill in Plum Run, Pa., 185 years ago as a means to outfit the workers in lumber camps sprinkled across the state. The brand’s buffalo check plaid, which was first produced in 1850, has become iconic for the outdoor clothier.

  2. Headquarters
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    Headquarters

    In 1845, 15 years after opening his first mill, Rich opened a second one a couple of miles down the road in what’s now considered Woolrich, Pa. This site is the historic factory still in use today.

  3. In the Raw
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    In the Raw

    From 2 to 4 pounds of wool—seen here in its raw form before being dyed and manufactured—are required to make one blanket.

  4. Carding
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    Carding

    Side view of a carding machine, which cleans and organizes the wool fibers. Through this process they become a thin web, wherein the fibers are parallel and therefore easier to turn into yarn down the line.

  5. The Factory Floor
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    The Factory Floor

    Excess wool remnants are a colorful byproduct of the carding process.

  6. Carried Away
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    Carried Away

    After loose fiber is carded into a long continuous cord, in a process called roving, the heavy bolts are carried to the spinning frame to be spun into yarn.

  7. Seeing Red
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    Seeing Red

    The wool sits on a spool in “roving” form, awaiting its turn in the spinning frame.

  8. Family Man
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    Family Man

    Woolrich Executive Vice President Josh Rich, seen here among the factory’s spinning frames, is an eighth-generation grandson of founder John Rich. He’s been instrumental in expanding the company beyond its outdoorsy roots, founding a contemporary offshoot brand called Woolrich John Rich & Bros. The line’s signature Mackinaw parka is a great example of its elevated twist on American workwear.

  9. Winding Frame
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    Winding Frame

    In the winding frame, the spun yarn (taken from a spinning tube) is readied for warping or dying.

  10. Teamwork
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    Teamwork

    Only 65 employees work in this factory, many of whom come from Woolrich (population 500). One is seen here filling a dyeing machine, which can hold as many as 216 packages of spun yarn.

  11. Weft
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    Weft

    Packages of yarn on the side of a loom are ready to be used as weft, the yarn that’s woven between the parallel “warp” yarns to make the fabric.

  12. The Loom at Work
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    The Loom at Work

    An employee operates the loom where the warp and weft yarns are woven together to make the fabric. During this step, employees are responsible for ensuring the fabric is being made to the proper specifications for each style.

  13. Quality Control
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    Quality Control

    Here, drop wires are attached to each individual yarn of the warp. If a yarn should break, the wire stops the loom from weaving further. Once the broken yarn is corrected, weaving can continue.

  14. Gears
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    Gears

    The gears of the loom in motion.

  15. Eagle Eye
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    Eagle Eye

    A factory employee watches as red wool thread is woven into blankets and other products.

  16. The Fixer
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    The Fixer

    An employee fixes a snag on the weaving machine.

  17. Sorting Out
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    Sorting Out

    Spools of thread, also called bobbins, are placed on the warping creel—a device that holds the yarn ready to be woven.

  18. The Archive
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    The Archive

    More than 33,000 fabrics and patterns can be found in this archive, which dates back 185 years to the founding of the company.

  19. Pattern Cards
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    Pattern Cards

    Since each fabric may be constructed or put together with different weaves and colors, pattern cards are used in the loom to determine the process.

  20. Harnesses
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    Harnesses

    A mill worker prepares the warp and harnesses before they go into the loom. The harness determines the movement of the warp yarn, which is what specifies the individual weaves for each fabric.

  21. Making Plaid
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    Making Plaid

    The threads of yarn seen here are combining to create a multicolored plaid.

  22. Fabric
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    Fabric

    Here, woven fabric can be seen on the looms.

  23. Napping
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    Napping

    All employees at each stage of operation are involved with quality control. Here, fabric is napped. It can also be sheared or pressed.

  24. Ready for Purchase
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    Ready for Purchase

    Buffalo plaid wool blankets sit stacked before being packaged for purchase. The company estimates about 1,000 are shipped per week.

  25. Presentation
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    Presentation

    A factory worker folds a wool Christmas tree skirt, a seasonal item that’s not always in stock.

  26. Alternate Products
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    Alternate Products

    An archive collection of woolen socks—a speciality item by Woolrich—that’s also made in the mill.

  27. The Buffalo Check
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    The Buffalo Check

    The final product will be recognizable to any outdoorsman.