Early Canadian Spinning & Weaving
While doing research for the Basic Level of the Master Weaver Program of the Canadian Weavers Guild, I became aware of the historical significance of the weaves being tested. Weavers have been using them in this country for about 300 years to produce essential clothing, bedding, linens and carpeting; and handspinners have prepared the fiber and spun the yarns the weavers required. Much of their work is admired today for the skill and expertise with which it was crafted.
My fascination with these productive pioneers resulted in my decision to try to create fabrics similar to those produced in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The first step in my research was to locate photographs and written descriptions of the historical fabrics. But I realized that before I could duplicate these fabrics, I first had to understand the fibers. dyes and yarns that formed their basis. It was impossible to duplicate exactly the yarns of early spinners without being able to study actual samples of the yarns and their constituent fibers, and this placed a severe limitation on my study, but I was able to find some written descriptions on which to base my experimentation.
My research showed that fabric design was greatly influenced by the availability of spinning fibers, and early weavers used what would now be considered unconventional mixes of yarn, due mainly to the shortage or relative abundance of specific fibers. It was interesting to discover that wool did not become abundant until the mid-19th century. The fiber most readily available to early spinners was the domestically produced and processed flax, and linen yarns were often used to extend the small amounts of wool. Linen was later supplemented with cheap mill-spun cotton yarns when they became available from cotton mills in the U.S. and Canada. The wools that were available came primarily from four (4) breeds of sheep: the Southdown, Leicester, Lincoln and Scottish Blackface, and their crossbreeds.
Today spinners use mainly synthetic chemical dyes to colour their yarns, but before the mid-19th century, spinners had to use dyes from natural sources. Native dye sources were used to a limited extent, but usually dyes were purchased. I experimented with natural dyes to get an idea of what colours were available to early spinners, but I did not duplicate early dyeing procedures which have since been replaced by faster, safer, and more dependable chemicals and procedures. While natural dyes do not produce the bright, clear colours of synthetic dyes, they do produce a surprisingly extensive palette from which to design fabrics.
While most fiber preparation and spinning was done in the home by the distaff side of the family, it seems clear that most domestic weaving was of a fairly simple type, with more complex weaving being done by professional weavers who were, more often than not, male. In this study I have placed the emphasis on the domestic dyeing, preparation of the fibres, and spinning of yarns which would be suitable for fabrics woven in Canada over the last three centuries. I have woven samples to show the appropriateness of these yarns, but I have not tried to duplicate the wide variety of fabrics. I have instead chosen a few fabrics which I feel represent general categories of early weaving.
My study of pioneer spinning and weaving is far from complete. However, even within its limitations, I have greatly increased my understanding of the subject.
If interested in the physical copy of the thesis, follow this link for location https://catalogue.neoslibraries.ca/catalog/2676902?lib=olds