Borodino, Bessarabia Folk Textiles
One glimpse of textile arts among Bessarabian-Germans is recorded
by Ernst Hoeger. Heimatbuch: Borodino and Friedrichsfeld
by Ernst Hoeger, Lahr, Germany, 1982, pages 314-320, (English translation
by Alice Morgenstern, GRHC; and further technical craft paraphrase
inserts and commentary by Jay Gage, GRHC). A photograph of Marta Ost
(Kloepplerin) completing an open-work “Koeppeln”/bobbin-lace
shawl upon Koeppeln pillow, page 315 of Heimatbuch.
Various “bobbin-lace”/pillow-lace have diverse patterns
from very dense filament-lace, to tape-lace such as “Battenburg”,
to open work Koeppeln in bold-pattern. Typically a female textile
skill, bobbin-lace was produced by few artisans among Bessarabian-Germans,
yet it was highly prized among wealthier families. From Borodino,
only one young Kloepplerin in Dalnik, Marta Ost, was known for making
bobbin-lace and practicing commercial production, especially the
lacy spitzentuch and the spitzenschal.
According to Frau/Mrs. Winkler-Luetze, Bessarabian-German women
wore a folded cloth or “sprang” net bonnet on their
heads, until the mid-19th century. Later, spitzentuch came
into fashion. Usually, women wore a head-scarf woven of cotton.
These cotton square head-coverings were folded once diagonally to
form a triangle. When put on the head, the folded front edge was
again folded inwardly on each side and tied below the chin. However,
some women double-folded the front folded edge back another few
inches, before covering their upper forehead – especially
during cold weather. Thus, the visual image of a woman wearing a
head-scarf has survived, as even today, older traditional German
women are recognized as “coming from Eastern Europe or Balkans.”
Most head-scarves were black or dark-grey, while girls and young
women preferred more colorful shades. The colored scarf was worn
especially during warm summer season to provide protection from
the bright sun when in the wheat fields, horticulture and vineyards.
However, on Sundays and festive events, the black-triangular bobbin-laced
scarf was preferred over the folded-into-triangle cotton or woolen
head-scarf. Although bobbin-laced doilies were produced for tables
and chests, most decorative doilies were needle-crocheted by housewives
and their daughters.
Mrs. Winkle-Luetze emphasizes that the spitzentuch, usually
of pure silk, was also worn as shoulder-shawl. Labor-intense “sericulture”
reminds us that Bessarabian-Germans lost a source of income through
neglect of silk worms, although scattered attempts existed before
In Manifesto, article two of the Czar’s granted privileges,
the imperial manifesto states: “The colonists are requested
to occupy themselves preferably with the improvement of horticulture,
viniculture, and sericulture.” Thus, one or two mulberry trees,
found on almost every farmstead, indicate a serious effort in the
past for silk production.
Two reasons may have caused the neglect and abandonment of sericulture:
first, the necessary knowledge and experience for silk production
was lacking among many families. Secondly, horticultural and vinicultural
pursuits were so labor-intense; while pre-empting every able-bodied
family member for heavy labor, with insufficient time for successful
sericulture. Mr. E. Heer has described this vocational history and
challenges of sericulture in more detail in his essay Der Seidenspinner
(The Silk Spinner) (Heimatkalender 1975, p. 149).
The textile “cottage industry” reflected venerable
family traditions, plus highlighted skills of their prospective
brides for dowries/“mitsift.” All hand-skilled trades
for textile production, which were practiced in a domestic farm
house for the purpose of self-sufficiency, will be included in this
descriptive survey. Most tool repair and maintenance functions were
done in the domestic household. Many specialized tools and equipment
for processing iron and wood could be found in each farmhouse.
However, the true textile cottage-industry begins production when
harvesting and gathering the necessary raw materials, which were
usually self-produced resources: wool, flax and hemp. Sheep were
sheared for wool fleece on every farmyard. Flax was grown for both
pressed linseed oil and for raffia roving. Hemp and sisal were grown
exclusively for domestic and industrial fibers, ie. roping and floor
Wool processing was also a home industry with the exception of
cotton bolls, which were teased, carded, and combed through specialized
hackles into cotton roving by a sub-contractor.
Processing wool fleece included the following processes: 1) “scour”/washing
out excess lanolin, 2) pulling fiber staple full-length/sort out
debris, 3) “carding”/combing fiber into “rollags”/cylinders,
4) hand-spinning into twist-“schuttle”, with foot-treadle/transferring
spun yarn to bobbins/multi-plying of yarns, 5) “swift”
skeins for mordant bath and color-dye bath, 6) “warping mill”
for “warp” yarn sleighing unto weaving loom/wind “weft”
yarn on bobbins of “boat shuttles”, 7) weave “weft”
into “warp” sheds with use of loom “heddles”
and “reed beaters”, 8) selvedge and hem finishes, 9)
“fullering” bath and “blocking” from undue
shrinking and distortion.
The shuttle-spun woolen yarn was a half-processed resource, from
which loom-woven and needle-knitted garments were created. The use
of foot-treadled Saxony “spinrad”/spinning wheels generated
a high-speed twisting through a yarn-shuttle to create an evenly
strong thread/yarn, usually later combining multi-ply strands with
a counter-twist for interlocking strands into yarn. In every home,
grandmothers, mothers, and daughters were constantly spinning yarns
during spare hours of fall and winter. [The frequent laundering
of work clothes with harsh homemade lye soap rapidly deteriorated
Women needle-knitted socks, stockings, mittens, wrist-warmers,
scarves, shawls, vests, sweaters, and ear muffs from spun-woolen
yarns. They also wove on warp-and-weft loom-heddles sufficient fabric
yardage for tailoring kitchen aprons, men’s work clothes,
men’s dress clothes, along with tailored men’s suits
and winter coats. Coarse fabrics of long hoar-haired wool were reserved
for producing “Burkas.” A “Burka” (parka)
was cut extra large for wearing over a common winter coat/pelz-mantel.
People were thus protected from hard frost and wind-chill, when
driving greater distances with a sled or a buggy (small-carriage),
such as to the trade market or train station.
The processing of flax and hemp (and sisal) was similar to wool
processing, but with distinctive features. After retted, scutched,
and hackled into supple fiber, flax roving was suitable for spinning
and weaving into linen textiles. Linen cloth yardage was sewn into
cereal grain sacks and flour sacks, while plachten/tarp
(storage envelopes/par-fleche) slip-on sack-covers were made from
coarse hemp. The plachten were cut over-sizes as tarpulins/tarps,
measuring two meters by three meters or more. These large envelopes
of woven hemp could serve multiple purposes. For example, to prevent
oil-seed plants of mustard, rapeseed (canola), or wild radish/mustard
from prematurely shelling-out as shake-loss, when transporting from
harvest field to threshing area; the larger harvest-wagon cart (harbi)
was protectively lined with a “placht”/tarpaulin. When
sieving/winnowing or sun-drying cereal grains, the oil-seed kernels
were poured out thinly on the “placht”; or stored to
prevent contamination with dust or sand.
In Borodino village, multi-corded ropes were made of hemp fibers,
[but more usually “manilla rope” was made from sisal
fiber.] [Sisal fiber was also twisted into small colorful cords
for woven floor mats/covering.] However, textile “counter-marche”
looms/“webstuehl” for differing weights of textiles,
from rug-weaving to delicate textiles, were located in several domestic
homes of the village farmers.
In mentioning fiber processing for flax and hemp: both flax stems
and hemp stalks do not grow of pure fibers which can be spun immediately.
The unprocessed fibers grow at the surface of each stalk and are
embedded in pectin. The separation of desired fibers from accompanying
cellulose pith (pectins) uses a process, beginning of “retting”/rotting
in water brine. For this “retting” procedure, flax or
hemp is spread in small bundles in a standing pool of water 40cm
to 60cm deep, plus weighted down with heavy dirt or with wool boards,
so all hemp or flax is completely covered with water. Humidity and
air-tightness are necessary to speed-up decaying process, which
is often completed after 14 days to 21 days. Then all “retted”
flax or hemp is taken out of water brine and is cure-dried in the
The desired fibers of flax or hemp, having become soft mush from
the “retting”/rotting, now easily separates from the
pectin glue by breaking off flax or hemp cellulose called “scutching”;
thus, brittle cellulose and pectin break into chaff unto the floor,
while supple fibers remain intact. Any remaining pectin shards are
removed by pulling the supple fibers through a stationary flax comb/“hackle”
with vertical upward-pointed teeth (essentially a “toothed
card” to strip off any pectin and cellulose), from which supple
fiber “roving” is ready for the next process of spinning
thread or yarn.
Envelope sacks or “plachten”, woven from hemp threads
are put to utilitarian domestic uses without further treatment.
Linen woven from strands of flax roving is naturally grey or yellow.
A brighter white is required for table and bed linens, as well as
underwear and towels. Whitened linen roving undergoes a bleaching
process for several days. Neither money nor bleaching chemicals
were needed for the bleaching process: water and sunshine were used
to obtain the desired white hue. Linen roving was spread on a flat
grass lawn for solar-bleaching: fibers were moistened with water
and exposed to sunshine, until achieving the brightest white.
The labor demands for “scutching”, “hackling”,
and “spinning” roving were accomplished through a neighborly
work-gathering with social festivity.
The weaving of woolen textiles, especially the woven wool blanket
(wolldecke) “kindsplacht” in various bright colors (bunte),
either in vertical stripes (gestrifte) or plaid (kariete), is culturally
recognized as Bessarabian-German folk-art. The vibrantly colored
“kindsplacht” provide a distinctive visual image, because
infants were envelope-wrapped into a folded pouch-sling, which then
were carried over the shoulder by their mothers whenever having
gardening or household tasks outdoors or during a pleasure stroll.
The size of “kindsplacht” was 90cm to 100cm width and
2m to 2.2m in length.
[Often referred as “Paradies-Decken” or “Kanapee-Schal”]
These vividly colored woolen “plachten” found various
uses in a domestic household and provided extra protection from
winter cold. Also, the suspended-spring seats on buggies were festively
covered with them when visiting a neighboring village. Commonly
the seating areas of “kanapees”/day beds and “truhen”/trunk-chests
were festively covered with them. [For further warmth, these afgan-type
shawls comforted both the elderly and the sick.]
[Known as “Bodenteppe”, these woolen floor coverings
mimic-sported the identical colored stripes of the kanapee-schal.]
Related in pattern, but different as thick-slubbed weft, were the
“Bodenplachten” or “Lumpenplachten”. They
were the “Persian rugs” (Perserteppiche) of the Bessarabian-Germans.
This rag-rug (teppichen) was woven of slubbed open-weft, using chain
strips of woolen or cotton rags. They were 60cm to 160cm wide and
2m to 8m long.
A weaving-triumph specialty in using six-and-eight-heddle counter-marche
looms: were the interlocked two-layers of double-weave “wollen
tuch”/fringed woolen blanket (which was felted, knapped, and
blocked into a dense fabric). [Since the women’s dress conventions
of that century included neither additional protection of men’s
pants (“bloomers” were very yet unknown before 1890)
nor men’s “pelz-mantel”/winter sheep fleece coats
for maximum warmth.] Women merely draped layers of clothing: commonly
draping around their shoulders these extra-heavy felted double-weave
shawl-blankets with long twisted fringes. With distinctive 30cm
border-patterns of either plaid or jacquard patterns (plus double-back
twisted woolen fringes), these heavy mantels served as “kindsplacht”
during frigid winters. They had a square shape, rather than rectangular
shape, with 22cm long double back-twisted fringes. [A similar textile
comparison is the extra heavy Pendelton woolen blankets.]
In later years [circa 1900-1920], these blankets were purchased
in dry-goods merchantiles. After 1914, all of these distinctive
hand-crafted textiles were no longer produced within the domestic
household, soon becoming an extinct folk tradition.