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We dedicate our efforts in preserving these textile
skills to all the Doukhobor women whose toil and
peaceful life will not be forgotten.






















Textiles and Fibre Craft in our Cultural History

Doukhobor spinning and weaving, needlework, and tailoring had its origins in Russia prior to the Doukhobor migration to Canada.  Although these strong willed people were constantly persecuted and often resettled throughout the vast Russian countryside due to their religious beliefs and refusal to serve in the military, they persevered by developing their skills in the making of  household linens and their own clothing that made them survive the harsh climates of such areas as the Caucasus and Siberia. The Doukhobors borrowed techniques from the surrounding neighbors of other countries, the Armenians, Ukrainians, Iranians and the Turks, a perfect milieu for acquiring rug making techniques.  The Doukhobor people selected their own spiritual leaders who were literate and aware of the political activities in the country, while the majority were illiterate peasants whose stories, prayers, and songs were passed on by word of mouth, generation after generation.  Craft techniques were memorized and those who had exceptional memories and skill became instructors and were held in high regard by the rest of the community. Everywhere they were moved, even onto the poorest land, the Doukhobors were able to persevere and thrive by practising “toil and a peaceful life.”  More persecution and imprisonment occurred. With the help of humanitarian, Leo Tolstoy, who recognized the constant plight of the Doukhobor people, a migration plan to Canada was formulated. With Canada’s liberal immigration policy, the Doukhobors were welcomed to settle the open prairie – an environment similar to the steppes of Russia.  Here they were promised amnesty, a new country where they could live in peace and be free to practice their religious beliefs.


When the Doukhobors arrived in Canada (approx. 7,500) in 1899, they brought few possessions.  They settled in Saskatchewan and Manitoba working together with their meager tools to build small communities.  Both men and women worked hard to become good settlers. For the first few years, the Doukhobors managed to wear what they brought from Russia, supplemented by donations of cloth from the townspeople and neighbors. Sheep were plentiful on the Prairies and because some spinning wheels and knitting needles were brought from Russia, the women soon began spinning and knitting socks, sweaters, and mitts. The Quakers and the Canadian Council of Women from Montreal sent gifts of spinning wheels, looms, carving and metal beating tools during the first difficult years of settlement on the prairies. Weaving started a few years later.


Many people wonder why, in an era when fabric was available for purchase, the Doukhobors concentrated so much on making their own textiles.  The reason was their affinity for the ethnic costume and household linens which were brought from their homeland.  By producing the cloth here, they felt connected to the country they left behind.  When weaving was in full production, clothing fabric was the main product.  Women’s skirts, winter blouses and men’s jackets and suits were made from the woolen cloth.  It was very sturdy and warm and the preferred costume for the older people.


In 1908, most Doukhobors chose to leave the prairies and move to British Columbia rather than swear allegiance to the government and to obtain a title to their lands.  They continued with the traditions of their cultural attire. As the communities grew in the Kootenay-Boundary regions near rivers where the soil was moist, flax and hemp were among some of the crops harvested.  Hemp was grown for oil, medicine and utility fibres, such as rope.  The hemp fibre was wet spun in a much coarser weight to be used for warp for rugs, large sheets for seed covers and sturdy work pants


Linen became the textile of choice for the summer.  For winter clothing, they still spun and wove wool that was sent from Saskatchewan.  When making linen from flax, a very intricate process was required.  This included:  growing and pulling out the flax, tying it into bundles and drying them, as well as “retting” the flax, which involved immersing the stalks in a lake or slow moving river to break down the woody outer part of the flax stalk.  After that, it was set upright, in the sunny fields so it again would dry thoroughly.  At that point, it was threshed with wooden clubs so that all the seeds fell out.  The seeds were part of the Doukhobor vegetarian diet. The women then spun the flax threads into yarn to be used for weaving fabric or linens or crocheting doilies and edgings.


As time passed, by the 1930s, clothing through the Eaton’s catalogue had become more available, and stores began to carry a variety of fabrics.  Looms were abandoned, many chopped for firewood.  Many spinning wheels went into attics.  Now, only a few Doukhobor women spin and weave, those who cannot disconnect from the feel of fibre flowing through the fingers and the peace these crafts bring to the current hectic way of life.


The members of the U.S.C.C. Cultural Interpretive Society recognize how talented our ancestors were.  Despite the primitive conditions, a small group of peasant immigrants  were prolific textile makers.  The enthusiasm of the crafts people enabled them to create some very beautiful work. Now, 100 years later, in celebration of the Doukhobor migration to British Columbia from Saskatchewan, we dedicate our efforts in preserving these textile skills to all the Doukhobor women whose toil and peaceful life will not be forgotten.  We are happy to share and hopefully inspire future generations to continue to weave the Doukhobor threads into the rich cultural mosaic of our global community.

Some of the heritage clothing and linens in our collection are over 100 years old and are now in a storage unit that will retain their integrity. These items enhance our visual historical exhibitions when we showcase our rich fibre art culture within our community. The clothing and linens are available on loan to groups or individuals for historical productions and events, displays, or as teaching tools for younger generations interested in learning about Doukhobor pioneers.

Please visit us at the USCC Interpretive and Training Centre to view these unique items from our past.



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