November 15, 2011

Doukhobor Discovery Centre

Went to the Kootenay Doukhobor Historical Society's Doukhobor Discovery Centre in Castlegar, B.C., Canada in search of exhibited tools and textiles.  Found them.

The Doukhobor are a people group that immigrated to Canada from Russia in 1899.  For decades they lived communally and met almost all of their own textile needs themselves.  I find it impressive what they got done.

This is a long blog post.  I will start out with some clothes, go on to fibre arts tools for processing, spinning, and weaving, and then finish with examples of woven textiles.

First, something not strictly a textile: a sheepskin coat.  If you remember your Canadian post-Confederation history, Laurier's Minister of the Interior Clifford Sifton went against public expectation that settlers in the Prairie provinces would preferably come from Britain and places like it.  If they could do agriculture, they were in.  He said, "I think that a stalwart peasant in a sheepskin coat, born on the soil, whose forefathers have been farmers for ten generations, with a stout wife and a half-dozen children, is good quality."

I'm guessing that the sheepskin coat came from an early period, as later the community adopted vegetarianism right down to their shoes.  There are quite a few pairs of shoes made of cordage on display.  There's a slip-on pair that is very coarse and bristly.  This pair is made with particularly fine materials.

Here's a spinning wheel.  There are several, and they looked very similar to each other.  Note that the maiden supporting the orifice is considerably thicker than the other maiden, a design I hadn't seen before.  Burnham's Unlike the Lilies: Doukhobor Textile Traditions in Canada states that the community received gifts of spinning wheels from the Quakers and the Canadian Council of Women, but since Burnham identifies this style of wheel as Russian, the one below could be imported.  Most wheels on display were of this design.  Burnham believes the gifts of wheels explain why there is rare evidence (one photograph and one memory from interviewees) for the use of hand spindles.

I found a spindle on display.

weft beater, spindle, tool for pressing linen

Here are fibre preparation and weaving tools: paddle combs bottom left and at top, bobbins, flax comb-type distaffs and matching small combs, boat shuttles, hand cards, and pulleys from a loom.  I think the proportions and the curve detail on the flax combs in the middle are beautiful, and I really wish these were commercially available.  Want to know how much?  Earlier this year I gave information about flax combs and distaffs to three different professional fibre arts tool makers in hopes they would consider adding these items to their line.  Every other tool on the table you can get new.  I know this makes sense given how many people weave and comb and card wool compared to how few work with flax, but the heart knows no reason.

The long stem of the flax distaff fits into the same sort of board that supports paddle combs for wool, holding the fibre at convenient height first to comb the fibre out then to draw the fibre off for spinning.

Board and post supporting paddle combs set in distaff position
There are two looms on display, a horizontal loom with treadles and an upright tapestry loom.  The rough construction is interesting.  Makes you feel like anyone who's handy enough could have a loom, not just folks with hundreds or thousands of dollars to buy one.  See how the shafts are made of bowed wood.  See how a metal bracket braces the top corner of the tapestry loom.  Also of note, at the right side of the horizontal loom on the floor is another board for holding combs or distaffs, one that I think has nicer lines than the one in the photo above.

Did you notice, on the tableful of tools, that underneath was a linen tablecloth?  There are handspun handwoven linen cloths everywhere in the museum.  The rug on the wall is one of many as well, and there are not only weft-faced tapestry rugs but pile rugs.

Hemp camel bags, probably purchased in Russia
drum carder

Thanks to curator Netta Zeberoff who gave me permission to post these photos.

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