Friday, March 06, 2009

Museum show "Thread of our Heritage"

The Boundary Spinner and Weaver Guild's Art Gallery show, "Our Daily Thread" and the simultaneous museum show, "The Thread of our Heritage" open tomorrow. Lots of people have been working behind the scenes to make it successful. I was in the museum yesterday while 6 ladies were setting up the Doukhobor textile display. Wow!

The Doukhobors are a religious sect of Russian immigrants that came to Canada in the 1890s to escape religious persecution in Russia. They settled first in Saskatchewan and then bought land in BC, and built a communal lifestyle. Grand Forks, about 20 minutes East of Joybilee Farm, was one of their settlement areas.

Their communal lifestyle was one of toil, like all immigrants to Canada in those years. They grew flax in Grand Forks, and helped to shear sheep in Saskatchewan for a portion of the wool clip. They wore clothing from wool, flax, and hemp that they hand spun and dyed themselves, and then wove into yardage on large 4 shaft floor looms, with overhead beaters, and linen string heddles.

Each family had a bedroom in the communal housing and the textiles in the bedrooms belonged to the family and the women that produced them. These textiles are rare treasures that have been passed down to daughters and grand daughters, kept in trunks in the basement. The museum show has opened these trunks to showcase the work of these grand mothers.

I had the privilege of touching these garments as they were being catalogued. Wow! That's Amazing! Look at how fine and even this yarn is! What skilled work! These were my exclamations over and over again.

I want to tell you about some remarkable items in this never before seen collection. There are 4 styles of rugs in the display, with several examples of each. First there are humble rag rugs. Many of them were made from the fabric of flour sacking used at the Grist Mill in Grand Forks. Others from commercial cottons that were available as the community became more prosperous.

They are woven in both plain weave and twill. The rag strips are pressed and the frayed edges have been turned under before weaving. The colours are white, lime green, navy, yellow and evergreen. This example is woven in a chevron twill.

Secondly, there is a kilim style rug, woven from hard twisted wool. The warp threads are completely covered in this rug. It is woven tapestry style with slits where two colours intersect in the design. The colours are bold chemical colours in emerald green, ruby red, and violet. The pictorial pattern is a series of diagonal steps to minimize the length of the slits between colours.

Thirdly there are 3 knotted pile rugs woven on the horizontal looms. This technique, like the tartar combs that were used for wool preparation, was borrowed from the Caucus Mountains -- the last European residence of the group before they immigrated to Canada. These rugs are masterpieces of skill and beauty.

The knotted pile rugs are made with chemically dyed yarns in purple, blue, green, and pink. The wool has been tightly and finely spun. The carpets have motifs of flowers. Each row of knotted pile is put between rows of hard beaten tabby woven wool so that the rugs are very firm and well wearing. The rugs are about the length of a bed and would be used in the bedroom for warmth and beauty.

There are several handspun flax and hemp garments in this collection, too. The flax is spun finely, to sewing thread grist (6,000 yds per lb.) It is balled into singles yarn and ready for warping. The finished woven yardage is both in tabby and broken twill. It was used for garments -- men's Russian style shirts, trousers with button fly, children's tunics, and table cloths. The linen was undyed -- so the chemical dyes that they used must be made for protein fibers. The old linen still has a sheen and is very soft and drapey to the touch. Funny, it doesn't have the creases that you see in modern linen garments -- even after being stored in trunks for over 50 years.
There is even one spun horse hair basket. It is very wiry feeling and tight. It was used to strain the flax seed oil to get out the seeds.

I'm going to take pictures at the opening reception tomorrow and I'll let you see the amazing textiles at the "Thread of our Heritage" show. I have so much admiration for these ancestors of our friends, the Doukhobors.

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