Irina Tikkuyeva, a recognized artisan of Russia (Olonets),
talks about home weaving in Karelia


Since ancient times weaving has been a craft for women.

In folk culture it was compared to the creation of the world symbolizing the course of life and the destiny of a person. Every peasant family had a weaving loom. It was made by the husband and set up by the wife. This unity of male and female signified their joint life path. Weaving wasn’t for sale; it was a household craft that provided fabric for the family needs. It required a lot of efforts and mother wit.

Operated by the weaver the loom with its the fast movements of the heddles and the flashes of the shuttle that symbolizes a ship sailing with the life streams and the noise of the battens that exorcizes the evil spirits produced fabric for clothes and other household needs - a sail for the boat, tablecloths, towels, bed linen, runners, blankets…

For clothes fabric was made of different quality depending on the type of flax, hemp and wool threads. For festive shirts and tablecloths a thin fabric was woven. For work shirts, sarafans, pants, caftans and other garments fabric was rougher and was made from flax or hemp which was hackled once or twice. In the former Olonets province women in any peasant family emphasized the interior design and decorated their homes with ritual towels and striped runners that looked very bright against the simple virgin wood giving the interior a unique picturesque look. The “red” corners and mirrors were decorated with ritual towels in any home. The Russians in the Zaonezhye and Pudozh areas used blankets made of cloth ribbons as interior decoration with interlaced pieces of colored materials from worn-out clothes. On the other hand, the Karelians and Vepsians preferred to make blankets from wool threads.

A variety of woven fabrics were created by practicing different weaving techniques. Plain weaving was used to make one-color white or gray cloth for shirts and towels and multicolored striped and checkered cloth for skirts, sarafans and other clothing articles. Rugs and blankets were also made in this technique.

Double-weft pattern or embroidery weaving was used to decorate parts of the articles usually the selvages of towels, valances and hems. Almost always the pattern was woven in red on white or gray background with the help of special small boards. Demonstrating creativity and artistic taste and using traditional motives the weavers skillfully developed combinations making different figures longer or shorter in a way that the background between them also played an important role. These patterns were some sort of the life codes with proverbial wisdom incorporated “What you have intended will come true!”

Patterns in embroidery weaving are diverse. Some have purely geometrical shapes such as rhombs, semi rhombs, rhomb grids in different variations, eight-corner stars and rosettes. Others have strongly modified figures of people, animals, birds and trees towards geometrical shapes. All of them were placed in strictly horizontal rows creating a three-part composition with the wide middle part and two border parts. Embroidery weaving was common for the Karelians in the Segozerye area and Olonets and for the Russians in the Pomorye and Pudozh areas.

Multi-harness weaving was another popular technique with the Vepsians, Karelians and local Russians. By using many heddles – 3 to 8 – a weaver could create an amazingly beautiful fabric. A future pattern was carefully calculated at the stage of the loom set-up. Twill weave technique was used to create cloth for outerwear such as pants, jackets and other garments. A white patterned tablecloth with geometrical figures was also woven in this technique. The chatoyant surface of the fabric (from shining silver to dull pearl) gives a tablecloth a unique attractiveness.

“Zakladnoe” weaving in Segozerye area, the middle part of Karelia, is one of the oldest techniques used mainly for towels and hems of shirts. Every element of a pattern is made with separate threads by hand. The pattern is the same on two sides of the fabric. Patterns of rhombs and stripes were made in traditional red and white colors. Small vertical slots on the contour of the patterns which separated one color from another were distinctive for this technique.

Openwork weaving belongs to embroidery weaving where a pattern was created with hemstitches. The pattern is always big, strictly geometrical (rhombs, triangles, oblique crosses in diagonal lines, squares and horizontal lines), modest and exquisitely beautiful. This technique was common mainly for the Southern Karelians.

Elective weaving is also a variation of embroidery weaving. A pattern was broken into several parts and a weaver worked on each part individually with a separate thread in one direction or another. The pattern – usually rhombs and rosettes - could be done in the middle part of the fabric as well. This type of weaving was also rare.

© «Karelian Craft», 2008


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