Six Weeks on the Velvet Highway: A textile Journal by Joe Lewis PDF  | Print |  E-mail

Honiton lace sample

A Sample of Honiton Lace circa 1870 from the Allhallows Museum Collection (www.honitonmuseum.co.uk) Honiton lace is a very fine English hand-made bobbin lace made in the East Devon area. *1

“In my youth I saw the purpose of it, now when there is none I see the beauty”

Queenie Turrill say this as she is about to give Ruby Pratt a Bobbin lace making lesson, (Lark Rise to Candleford BBC TV show set at the end of the 19th century based on Flora Thompson's memoir of her Oxfordshire childhood, episode aired 2011-10-15).  (1)


In an attempt to present a chorological account of a six week period of my daily life starting on August 30 through to October 14th 2011 during which I had an intensely textile filled life for a number of reasons, chronology went out the window and curiosity got in the way. The event central to this specific time period was the European Textile Network’s conference Rewind into the Future - Celebration 20 years of ETN (2) which occurred the opening weekend of the 8th Kaunas Biennial TEXTILE 11 in Lithuania (3).  Here I will move back and forth in time using the facebook albums which I use as a practical and efficient way of note keeping, and while being assisted by “friends” who through comments fill in missing information and provide me with new insights.  A calendar of schedule events, openings and unexpected run-ins with textiles occurred at random times and in interesting unexpected locations such as on the TV, the Internet and in the real world are the fodder for this writing. So just sit back, relax and enjoy this “textile Journal”


This blue and white “Rose and Stars” coverlet, woven in 1865 by John Campbell, is on display at the Ontario Science Centre. The construction is free double weave with one layer of white cotton and one of dark indigo blue wool. In Campbell’s work the warp proportions of the two layer weave are 4:1. The white cotton layer is a balanced tabby weave; the other layer has a heavy wool weft weaving with a widely spaced and quite unnoticeable cotton warp that only occurs between four of the warps from the other layer. *2

Starting from the end and going back to the beginning

 Wednesday October 12: I have been home from my trip to the Kaunas Biennale Textile 11 in Lithuania for a week. Tonight I attended my regular, monthly meeting of the Toronto Guild of Spinners and Handweavers (4) where Deborah Livingstone – Low  (5) gave a rather dry academic presentation -- dry, but extremely exciting and, in context of Canadian textile history, rather important.  Guild weavers and students in courses taught in Canada institutions are familiar with the reference tome called “Keep Me Warm One Night: Early Hand Weaving in Eastern Canada,” (6)  by Dorothy and Harold Burnham, published by the University of Toronto Press in co-operation with the Royal Ontario Museum in 1972.  This 372 page book is full of images of cloth, coverlets, and pattern drafts, documentation of some of the pieces housed in the collection of the ROM and some oral history research of specific weavers in the last quarter of the 1800s.  The presentation of Deborah Livingstone – Low (PhD candidate, graduate studies, Dept. of Scottish Studies, University of Guelph) was called " 1881 CENSUS: WEAVER COMMING OUT OF THE WOODWORK."  It was inspired by the Burnham book; she has looked at available primary source material online in searchable data bases to do her research. Using the 1871 and 1881 censuses, she has been able to locate and identify a number of professional handweavers businesses in Canada. Statistically broken down into different categories, she provides age ranges (the oldest being 96 the youngest being 13, with the majority being between 26 and 50), countries of origin (Scotland, England, Ireland, Germany  --all of which took in Huguenot weavers after 1685 when Louis XIV of France revoked the Edict of Nantes, ending a period of Catholics tolerating their existence and kicking them out of France; so the ‘ethnic” background is not necessarily grounded in the country they came to Canada from), type of weaving (plain on two harness looms or “Float,” called “over shot” today,  on looms with multiple harnesses and some jacquard looms), and cloth/ product   (blankets, rugs, coverlets and some yardage). In her research, Livingston-Low has been able to give names to a handful of these weavers and add more to the story of John Campbell, whose loom is presently operating at the Ontario Science Centre.

lang weaving shop

This is the S.W. Lowry Weaver Shop and Jacquard Loom Interpretive Centre at Lang Pioneer Village, The collection of three 19th century hand looms of Samuel Lowry, who was born in Warsaw, Ontario, in 1862, which were donated to the village by Mrs. John Moes. She was a master weaver who had purchased the looms and account books of Samuel Lowery at an auction of his former landlord, the Buller’s estate, with whom he had left them in lieu of $200 in back rent.  Samuel Lowery and John Campbell are two of the professional male weavers documented in “Keep Me Warm One Night *3

I bring this presentation up because of the Q&A after Livingston’s presentation. While most questions were about her own weaving, which she barely mentioned, there were also frantic questions about her male dominated statistics. Where were the woman, didn’t they do most of the domestic weaving, wasn’t there proof of traditional weaving in the census records? The notion that the women in the rural regions of North America where sitting at looms weaving cloth from which they clothed their families and made domestic textiles has achieved mythic proportions. If considered at all in the minds of textile hobbyists, which most guild weavers are, they assume they are part of a continuum of woman weavers.  The reality of the history of home textile production is missing from the how-to books and guild lessons. The difference between weaving for the market and weaving for personal use needs to be part of the answer to where the women were. A few minutes on google using the phrase “early Canadian weaving” brings fourth documents that address both the gender divide and end use; market place or home.

 lang weaver

Lang Pioneer Village “interpreter” Carrie Osburn weaving rag rugs on the 2 harnesses Samuel Lowery “Barn Loom” during the 2009 Lang Fibre Fest.  Lang Pioneer Village is an open air museum outside of Peterborough Ontario.  *4

In their 1993 essay for the Journal for Economic History Volume 53 Issue 2 Kris Inwood and Phyllis Wagg citing an 1842 book present the following:

“William Thomson, a Scottish textile worker who toured eastern North America during the early 1840s, found extensive Handweaving in rural areas 3 Manuscripts census data, personal diaries and merchant ledgers indicate that in Canada many hand weavers were woman who used a mixture of wool and cotton yarn. Pre-capita Canadian production of hand woven cloth peaked around 1870. More cloth was woven by hand in that year then on power looms4 Thomson explained the persistence of hand technology on the grounds that North American wages were high enough to allow weavers to support themselves with their craft.” (7)

While Inwood and Wagg address the gender divide Dorothy Burnham in one of her contributions to the Canadian Encyclopaedia addresses what happened to domestic weaving done by women in Ontario in the time period of 1870 1880 that Livingstone covered in her presentation to my weaving guild.

  “Spinning and weaving are crafts that go with pioneering and, just as the skills were falling into disuse in eastern Canada (around 1900), the West was opening up. Store-bought goods were available by mail-order catalogue, but many textiles were produced locally. Pioneers from eastern Canada or Britain had, for the most part, lost their textile-making skills a generation or 2 before. Those from Scandinavia, Germany or Eastern Europe were accustomed to spinning yarn from their own home-grown wool, flax and hemp. Many spinning wheels used on the prairies have survived, but the hand-spun yarn was knitted into warm garments that have worn out. Fewer looms have survived; most of the weaving was for perishable things like rag RUGS, few of which still exist. UKRAINIANS and DOUKHOBORS did more ornamental weaving, some of which has been preserved. Ukrainians furnished their homes with handsome, woven bench covers of linen, hemp and wool banded in colour, and gave their rooms a warm brightness with tapestry-woven woollen wall hangings in bright geometric patterns. The Doukhobors produced coarse tapestry weave in very bright colours and rugs with a thick woollen pile knotted into a plain firm ground (in the same way that oriental carpets are made). These 2 patterning techniques, typical of their earlier homes in the Caucasus, have been quite widely used since the Doukhobors settled in Saskatchewan and BC. Canada's weaving traditions reflect the nation's fascinating cultural diversity. Some of the older traditions have blended together; those that came later still stand uniquely on their own.” (8)

While these two pieces of research address questions and that are being examined in a male focused issue another question that might be looked at is why are men weaving in the first place. In her 2010 essay in the catalogue for the “Male Textiles" (9) exhibition which was at the Artifex Gallery in Vilnius, Lithuanian textile historian Lijana Sataviciute gives us an answer.

 linen shirt

Model on right is wearing a married woman's costume. Note her hair is covered as was the tradition. 
Textile historian at Open Air Museum in Rumšiškės is  discussing shirt construction with conference participant Andrea Milde holding shirt. *5

“The origin of stereotypes lies in Lithuanian weaving traditions. In Lithuanian villages of the 19th and beginning of the 20th c., every woman used to weave like in other patriarchal agrarian cultures. Male weavers are more frequent in countries where this craft turned into trade transactions early on, due to specific circumstances or the exceptional artistic value of woven artifacts (in some African tribes, areas of India, Kashmir, etc.). Men used to abandon hunting, fishing, warfare and other ways of supporting their families for the sake of weaving. Meanwhile, in Lithuanian villages, weaving was inseparable from women’s way of life and their most important rituals: preparation for matrimony, matchmaking, wedding, christening and family celebrations. Fabrics performed an important social function, especially because growing and processing the main raw material for weaving — flax — used to gather women for harmonious communal rituals that inspired creativity, songs, myths and fairytales” 

To go back to ethnic textile traditions that came to Canada and the ways in which these practices adapted to the realities on life in a new land we can go back to citing another book by Dorothy Burnham, “Unlike the Lilly,” (10) she speaks directly to this ‘ethnic” practice of the Doukhobors -- a religious sect whose roots go back to a schism brought about by reforming movements in the Russian Orthodox Church in the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1899 - 1900 7,500 Doukhobors immigrated to Canada. In the chapter headed “Preparation of Textiles Fibres” she looks at wool and linen production; speaking of wool, she states: “During the first years of settlement in Saskatchewan, the Doukhobors raised their own sheep for wool.  As time went on, however, this practice was discontinued and wool was obtained, either by purchase or by barter from farmers of other ethnic backgrounds, who made use of the meat as well as the wool from their flocks” (p.5), while “Flax was a crop that was grown … in many of their communities from the beginning of settlement until about 1940. Usually it served a dual purpose. Linseed Oil (ALEYA) for cooking was extracted from the seeds. From the stems came the bast fibres for making linen thread (alnyanie) and linen cloth (Kholstina)”

 dower chest

Dower chest with handwoven textiles from which a new bride can equip her new home. it is the plain woven rolls of Linen from which traditional shirts constructed from a simple pattern which used the two difference widths of linen which produces no textile waist. This chest was on display at the Open Air Museum in Rumšiškės (25 km from Kaunas) *6

Yes, there were women spinning and weaving at home in the last half of the 19th century and through the first half of the 20th century.  If it is reasonable to ask why men are weaving the same can be asked about woman. At the point in time when the industrialization of textiles is in full swing you might actually ask why any one in eastern North America is bothering to do any Handweaving. I suggest reading Ellen Mary Easton McLeod 1999 book “In Good Hands: The Women of the Canadian Handicrafts Guild:” (11) and the recently published Makers: A History of American Studio Craft (12) by Janet Koplos; Bruce Metcalf, I looked for some answers to who was weaving in Canada, where and why after hearing " 1881 CENSUS: WEAVERS COMING OUT OF THE WOODWORK." I am looking forward to more from Deborah Livingston – Low as a textile historian. It should be noted that all this information came from a diverse range of sources and textile history infiltrates many aspects of human activity and curiosity that takes the lead in my life rather then my schedule. 

Sunday October 9, 2011:

 Dorothy Caldwell Human Trace, 2011
Dorothy Caldwell Human Trace, 2011, wax resist and silkscreen discharge on cotton with stitching and appliqué, 30.5 X 39 cm., 12 X 15 1/2 in. *7


Today I went to the David Kaye Gallery on Queen Street West in Toronto to see a new body of work by Dorothy Caldwell one of Canada’s premier artist, a person who has chosen to work with textiles through out her career and has reach a pinnacle of skill with which she creates marks that transfix and transport in resist discharge, appliquéd scraps with large, tiny broken and continuous stitches. On August 30th I was in Montreal to see The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. I was both over and under whelmed by clothing design by Jean Paul Gautier. It was too much to see and not enough time to observe, yet I can close my eyes and see details of a beaded Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary on a long following gown of layered organza and try to sort out it’s origins in the cannon of two centuries of religious art.

 I  also saw a felted dress by Eglė Bogdanienė, a professor in the Textile Department of the Vilnius Art Academy, in a featured solo exhibition at the Picture Gallery in Kaunas Lithuanian as part of the Kaunas Biennial Textile 11 on September 24th, and on October 4th  I had the opportunity to view a selection of printed and embroidered chintz circa 1740-60 from Gujarat Indian in the South Asian galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  

La Vierge aux serpents (Kylie Minogue), 2008 Painted photograph, framed by the artists © Pierre et Gilles. Courtesy Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, Paris
  La Vierge aux serpents (Kylie Minogue), 2008
Painted photograph, © Pierre et Gilles. Courtesy Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, Paris
[Image provided by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts used with permission.] *8


 “Dedication 1”, felted dress by Eglė Bogdanienė  Photo: Joe Lewis, Taken with permission

 “Dedication 1”, felted dress by Eglė Bogdanienė  Photo: Joe Lewis, Taken with permission*9

 Embroidered chintz dress circa 1740-60 textile made in Gujarat Indian for European market dress made in England 1765 in the South Asian galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  t.391-1970 http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O88581/dress/ Photo: Joe Lewis used with permission from V&A

Embroidered chintz dress circa 1740-60 textile made in Gujarat Indian for European market dress made in England 1765 in the South Asian galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  t.391-1970 http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O88581/dress/
Photo: Joe Lewis used with acknowledgement and permission from V&A

Some how TV and life get tied together in my world: After seeing the embroidered chintz dress at the V&A, a few days later I saw yet another BBC show called “Garrow's Law” a legal drama inspired by the life of pioneering 18th century barrister William Garrow. In this episode Garrow is now a celebrated Old Bailey barrister and, encouraged by John Southouse, defends the case of the infamous Monster, a man who carries out a series of stabbings on young ladies across London. This crime however only caries a prison term. In order to appease public outrage, the prosecution locates an older law which makes “The wilful and malicious tearing, cutting, spoiling, burning, or defacing of the garments (like the embroidered Chintz Dress above) or clothes of any person passing in the streets or highways, is felony” and therefor, is a hanging offence. “This was occasioned by the insolence of certain weavers and others; who, upon the introduction of some Indian fashions prejudicial to their own manufactures, made it their practice to cast aqua fortis in the streets upon such as wore them”(13)

 The history of textiles is fraught with drama, legal and otherwise. Protectionist sentiments on behalf of manufactures are supported or ignored politically by which ever easily necessitates the current need to balance imports and the GNP,  rather than workers needs. A reality which the contemporary textile workers in the “western world” understand first-hand. But I digress. It is what happened after I saw the Gaultier show in Montreal and before I saw the chintz dress at the V&A that I mean to write about.

 Lithuanian folk costume

Selection of Folk Costumes from the different ethnic regions of mid 19th century Lithuanian from  the collection of Tamošaitis Gallery Židinys, Vilnius Lithuania photo provided by  Andrea Midge

September 20, 2011:

At a pre-conference visit to the Textile Department of the Vilnius Art Academy for an introduction of the textile education program and art projects by Prof Eglė Bogdanienė, this event got rolling and did not stop. To just give you the schedule of the Galleries and the work seen would be too much information and not enough.  The VVA Exhibition Centre where we saw the textile graduate show along with the Artifex Gallery are both attached to the University Textile program.  At the Artifex Gallery,  we saw a solo exhibition “Stitch System" by Inga Likšaitė  (go to her website to see images of this work). It was here that some one offered up the comment “wouldn’t it be nicer just to look at the work rather then photograph it” This was said as 50 people are crowding into the small space as cameras are raised and the sound of snapping is all around.

At the next gallery, The Anastasija & Antanas Tamošaitis Gallery Židinys  I was very  intrigued. Built to house the ethnographic collection of Lithuania born folk historians, teachers and makers, Anastazija Mažeikaitė – Tamošaitienė (1910 – 1991) and Antanas Tamošaitis (1906 – 2005) it functions as a folk costume research and weaving centre. There is a Canadian connection as this husband and wife team immigrated to Canada in 1949 after a short stay in Austria where they helped restart weaving education in Austria and Germany. Their involvement in preserving Lithuanian folk traditions in weaving and “costume” construction continued in Canada. They also wove tapestries and worked in other media, contributing to the school of Canadian landscape which had been first ‘cracked-open’ by the Group of Seven. Antanas returned to the newly independent Lithuania in 2003 bringing their collect back to their roots. When I returned home, with more time to do a bit of research about them, it seems their contribution to textile knowledge/ history in Canada is centred on folk costume and Lithuanian ethnography. Unfortunately, not much is known outside of  their local community in Kingston. I feel, they need to be brought to a larger audience here in Canada.

 student in folk costume

Lithuania has a both a long and short history. It was during the brief period of independence between WWI and WWII that Anastasija and  Antanas Tamošaitis, in their roles as educators, encouraged students of ethnography, history and weaving to go out into the county side and find the stories, the patterns and the techniques.  

This tour of Vilnius concluded after attending the opening of The Seventh International Biennial of Textile Miniatures “VANISH/SURVIVE” at the Gallery Arka, http://www.arkagalerija.lt/ It was good to run into some Canadian work here: Joanne Soroka [tapestry] Gordana Olujic [Printed textile] and be introduced to the work of Estonian maker designer Monika Jarg, whose presence at the Biennial would grow over the next few days.


"Katinas" (Cat) sculpture by Vytautas Umbrasas. located on Laisvės alėja/ Liberty Alley photo by Joe Lewis

September 21, 2011; Kaunas

I attended the ETN General Assembly during witch their year-end reports dealing with the operating of the different parts of the European Textile Network: Textile Form (the magazine and its new electronic edition), Textile Routes and other business were presented to the membership and accepted. There were no surprises here, like most cultural organizations that struggle to increase membership and therefore, income, is of the utmost importance. Discussions around necessities of social networking and how to best use them is also a vital aspect . This discussion spills out into the general discourse of the entire event and remains on-going. That night was the official opening of the biennial. After a pleasant stroll down the Laisvės alėja, a wide pedestrian main boulevard of the historical old town with two Italian ETN members (who have become friends since our meeting at the 2009 ETN meeting) Eva Basil from the Lisio Foundation [http://www.fondazionelisio.org/ ]  and Barbara Girardi [from 'Le Arti Tessili Association' http://www.leartitessili.it/  presenters of the 'Valcellina Award'] , we passed by what quickly became my favorite public sculpture. There are many, but this one, "Katinas" (Cat) sculpture by Vytautas Umbrasas, is my favourite. Then onward and to the cathedral, then turn toward the M. Žilinskas Art Gallery, where I was instantly over whelmed by the immense crowd gathered to attend the opening of 9th Kaunas Textile Biennail.     

 opening crowds

During The Grand Opening of Kaunas Biennial on September 22nd, winners of the competition REWIND PERSONAL STORY were announced.

Grand Prize / With invitation to hold a personal exhibition in the Kaunas Biennial TEXTILE’13 : Gao Yuan (Taiwan)

Distinction Award: Nina Bondeson (Sweden)

Distinction Award: Beili Liu (China / USA)  

Emerging artist: Amélie Brisson-Darveau (Canada)


Amelie Brisson Dareau
Emerging artist: Amélie Brisson-Darveau from Canada opening night of Kaunas Biennial Textile. photo: Joe lewis

  The end of part one.you can read par two in Volume 7 Issue 4 Winter 2011/12

Look for my coverage of the embroidery at the 8th Kaunas Biennial TEXTILE 11 in an up and coming Fibre Report in A Needle Pulling Thread  

You Can read Alice Kettle’s revieveiw of the Texerre exhibition else where in this issue of fQ

find refrence notes with links and more photographs on next page,

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