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Varieties of Doukhobor Rugs

Rag Rugs

The favorite warp thread for the traditional Doukhobor rag rugs was 4 ply parcel string which came in very large cones and was purchased from the local general store.  It was sturdy and dyed easily. The favorite colors were dark red, green, brown and sometimes black or wine. Ampollina brand dye from Quebec (probably made in France) was used. It is especially prepared for cotton and could be used without boiling.  One dye bath was used for several fifty meter warps and variation of color was common. All dyeing was done in the bathhouse usually in early October in preparation for winter rug weaving.  The dyed cotton warp consisted of 226 to 250 ends, depending on the width chosen. The most common width was 28 inches.  It was sett at 8 ends per inch to a broken twill draft of 28 ends per repeat. This sett and draft seemed to be a standard observed by all rag rug weavers. Beaming and threading was done as carefully for rugs as it was for cloth.  It was common for a weaver with the best draft memory to thread both her and her neighbors loom.


Weft was cut from old clothing, often donated by non-Doukhobor neighbors. Colorful gingham dresses were the favorite, but women’s petticoats, bloomers and stockings were dyed and used. The cloth was cut into about three quarter inch strips and sewn together then made into very large balls and stored until enough weft was prepared for several rugs. Hundreds of pounds of cut rag were prepared.  The rugs were woven in colorful stripes, about three inches wide, with two rows of black or dark brown weft to separate them. These two pick stripes were called “eyebrows”. Others were in a hit and miss technique so a lovely array of colors followed in a non-predictable pattern. When several rugs were woven, they were cut off, warp ends retied and more weaving continued until the fifty meter warp was finished.


Wool Weft Rugs

These rugs were used as bed covers when company was coming.  Often they were embroidered with colorful yarn in geometrics or flowers.  The background was always either black or grey coarse wool.  The fleece that could not be used for weaving or knitting yarn was spun into rug yarn.  Sometimes the rugs were stitched together into wide blankets to be used in a horse-drawn sleigh. If there was a winter wedding, a wool rug covered the legs of the bride and groom as they sped away to the village where the happy couple would reside with the groom’s family.


The draft for these rugs was the same broken twill as the rag rugs.  If stripes were chosen for the pattern, they were still black but divided with red or green or other vibrant color rather than the opposite.  This was to save dying a large volume of wool.


Rugs Made on Upright Looms

Knotted Pile Rugs


The Doukhobor pile rugs are of typical oriental style.  Those that were brought from Russia were quite elaborate in design with many stylized flowers and geometrics.  These rugs were woven to sit on or put under the bedding of sleeping shelves.  Pile rugs were not woven in B.C. until about 1920 when the Doukhobor settlements were established and the time to weave the rugs was made available. The production of a pile rug was a group effort, often involving sisters, cousins and aunts under the supervision of a mother or grandmother.   Not every family had a pile rug due to the length of time and effort it took to produce one – one rug featured 64 knots per square inch. Rugs were passed down through generations so any remaining today are definitely heirlooms.


Tapestry Rugs – “Paalas”


The common technique as known today is slit tapestry. Because of the Turkish and Armenian influence, the designs are very carefully and beautifully woven.  Most of the rugs featured a border on all four sides.  The patterns are quite sparse with geometrics and florals being the favorite motifs.  The colors are very intense, with black or maroon background colors. Experienced weavers did most of the weaving and younger women did the spinning and dyeing of the wool weft.  The rugs were sett at about 6 ends per inch and the weft was beaten down with a large heavy tapestry fork.  The most elaborate work was done for the leader of the Doukhobors and his family.  Today, any remaining rugs are prized possessions of their owners.



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