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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 1870.

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 mats.

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 many textiles.]

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 sunlight’s radiation.

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.

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