The main source of the detailed historical introduction and the weaving section was from “The Forgotten Weaves – A History of Doukhobor Weaving in British Columbia,” a monograph compiled for the Guild of Canadian Weavers in 1993 by Mabel Verigin as she worked towards receiving her Masters in Weaving.
Traditional Doukhobor Weaving
The main fibers used in Doukhobor textile production in B.C. in the early 1900s consisted of linen, wool and hemp. Commercial cotton was introduced by peddlers that visited the communities. Silk was not used, mainly because it was not readily available or popular for the utilitarian quality required in the fabric.
Because very few B.C. Doukhobors raised their own sheep, the Prairie Doukhobors traded fruit and lumber for fleece. As the wool was shipped in burlap bags, unwashed and unsorted, the first wash was in cold water in galvanized tubs in the bath house. In the summer, women washed the wool in a creek or river. The second wash was in warm water and dissolved bars of laundry soap followed by two or three rinses in lukewarm water. After an intensive process of washing, rinsing and drying, the wool was stored in clean flour sacks ready for carding, spinning, and weaving generally during the winter months.
The same spinning wheel was used for both flax and wool. Other spinning equipment included Russian paddle combs, tartar combs and flat carders. Drum carders were not used until after 1930. The fleece that remained on the paddle combs after the main yarn was spun was used for quilt fiber. All life skills were greatly encouraged, so girls were taught to spin as young as 6 years of age. Grandmother’s softly purring spinning wheel provided the comforting rhythmic background to many folk stories and reciting of prayers in many homes in the evenings.
The looms for weaving were home made from hardwood, mostly birch or maple. They were roughly constructed by the carpenters of the village. Each village had two looms. All looms were four harness counterbalance, four treadles, with a direct tie-up. Both feet were used for treadling as the weaver sat on a bench that was attached to the loom.
Usually two people were involved in “dressing” the loom as the warps were from twenty to fifty meters long and from 30 to 60 ends per inch! Threading was done with one person behind the heddles who passed the threads to the person in front, who then carefully, from the draft in her memory, threaded the heddles. As the exact number of string heddles was tied into the shafts for the project at hand, the heddles did not slide like the ones in modern looms of today. Harnesses were threaded starting from harness four and down to one in all drafts. The selvages were sleyed twice as close as the rest of the warp. Some old reeds still exist – eight, ten, sixteen and twenty dent reeds. Sleying the threads through the reed often took more than one day. After the ends were tied on to the front apron in small bouts, weaving began.
Boat shuttles were used for fine threads and stick shuttles for the coarser weaves and weft for rug weaving. Twills were started on treadle two and three to give a good selvage. Plain weave was started on treadle one and three. Picks per inch were never counted. Beating to square was not a consideration. As long as the weave was looking good, weaving went on and on. In many of the woven pieces, one could almost guess the mood of the weaver by the evenness or unevenness of the beat.
When the fabric was completed, it was carefully cut off the loom and overcast with cotton or linen thread. For several days it was soaked in hot water then rolled in a towel to absorb the moisture. If the fabric was linen it was dried in the sun, if it was woolen it was baked at a low temperature for several days. The bleaching of finished fancy linens took up to six months on wet grass or snow. In the summer the cloth was wetted down every day and left to bleach by the sun. In the winter the weather took care of the process, with a daily check to make sure the cloth was not totally covered with snow and lost. Linen cloth for clothing was left in its natural state to be gradually bleached through regular wearing and washing. Pressing was done with a wooden roll and paddle. When the cloth was dried and pressed, it was stored in large chests until ready for use.
The finest linen cloth, bleached and carefully sewn was reserved for burial dress for the respected village elders. The sheerest linen was sewn into camisoles to be worn under the cotton blouses of a bride’s ensemble. The best twill, dyed black, was tailored into handsome suits for the leaders and other dignitaries.
The finest household linens were reserved for hand towels and table cloths for prominent visitors. Table napkins, not the usual squares of cloth were long narrow towels, with knitted or crocheted edgings, that extended across the laps of guests seated at one side of the table. The coarser linen weaves were used for hand towels, dish cloths, covers for rising bread dough and wrappings for storing baked bread.
Most medium weight woolen and cotton twill fabrics were dyed in bright colors and used for skirts. Lengths of yardage were sewn together, had a knitted trim added and were used for bedspreads on Sundays and special occasions. During the week, bedding was covered by a large rag rug. The finer woolen twills were used for winter blouses and aprons for special occasions.
Usually one weaver made the cloth for everyone on her side of the commune in exchange for other more mundane chores. If a woman was the best weaver, she may have had all her chores done for her. All weaving was done from October to April when there was not field work or food preservation to be done.
Twill, broken twill, huck, plain weave and lace made with a pick-up-stick for fancy variations were used. Drafts with three against one shaft were not commonly used because of the counterbalance loom and the direct tie-up system. Household linens were never woven in straight twill and clothing fabric was never woven in huck. No drafts were ever written down.
Doukhobor Drafts - From "The Forgotten Weaves" by Mabel Verigin