Hand-woven, Homespun Yardage
Many people assume that linen only comes from France. ~ However linen (both made from flax fibers and hemp) was the predominant textile in Europe, and around the world, for many centuries! ~ Each country had and has their own techniques for weaving and looming these wonderful textiles. Often the width of the loom can help to identify the country in Europe in which the textile was loomed. The old weaving techniques can still be found in small villages of Europe and textiles from the past are still passed down from generation to generation in dowry chests and as parts of the wedding trousseau ~
The process of creating these wonderful homespun textiles was a very time consuming one. Both flax and hemp were grown on family farms, without the use of pesticides. The hemp was sown so thickly that all of the weeds were smothered, making it a very easy crop to grow organically both yesterday and today. The flax was pulled (usually by the men) by the root in or around July, and hemp was harvested in August. The processing of the hemp and flax, and the weaving was primarily the job that the women of the household.
The next step of the process was the retting. This is where the sheaths of hemp or flax were taken to local ponds or streams and soaked to loosen the fibers. The amount of time this took varied depending on local weather condition, temperature of the water. The stalks were weighted with rocks to keep them from floating to the surface during this process. The next step of the process was cleaning the stalks and then of course the spinning!
The looming process was the next step in process and the looms and techniques used throughout Europe varied from country to county. There is a wonderful account of the spinning process in Hungary documented which reads:
“Spinning is not only work, it is also an opportunity for entertainment, because during spinning conversation comes naturally. The adolescent girls and girls of marriageable age met in the spinning houses of their own community, separately from the younger and older women. For this purpose they either rented a whole room, or were able to use a room at a house where there were few girls and women in the family and, in return for the room, they spun the roughest hemp of their hosts also. To go to the spinning house, girls did not dress in a festive way, but they wore nicer clothes than for every day. Each girl brought along her distaff and spindle, together with the material to be spun. A permanent and customary sitting arrangement developed. The older girls sat near the door, and the younger girls in the rear part of the room. They started spinning rapidly, because the work slowed down later on, when the young men arrived after having fed and watered the animals and cleaned the stable. Time passed with cheerful conversation. Those who were good story-tellers, knew superstitions and scary tales were especially welcome. Later on in the evening came time for singing and for various games. If a young man picked up a girl’s dropped spindle, it was returned only in exchange for a kiss. In the Great Plain the young people often danced to zither music. They did not stay late and, at a signal from the housewife, everyone left together. Spinning was not only an opportunity to get together for work and entertainment, but also functioned as the match-making institution of the village where young people became acquainted with each other” (i)
The plain linen was used throughout Europe for sheeting, clothing and other household textiles. Both the warp and weft were woven using pure hemp or flax up until the middle of the last century. Since then the addition of a cotton warp has been used, making the textiles less slubby, and slightly less coarse than weave of pure hemp. The striped linen was used mostly for creating the wonderful grain/flour sacks to be taken to the mills and returned to the rightful families as identified by both the colors and the patterns of stripes. Red was the primary color used pre 1900, and blue around the turn of the century in Hungary. Other countries used their own colors and some of the dyes were made using local plants from the mountainsides and more recently natural dyes are added in combination of other colors such as red and blue, red and black and red and green to form new colors and patterns. The narrow widths of these textiles were hand stitched together to create other textiles such as cart covers, mattress covers and hand towels.
The estimated average age of these textiles is c.100 years, some being woven in more recent times, and some being woven mid to late 1800’s. As they were made using the same methods over a long period of time, it is generally not possible to date any one textile precisely without scientific analysis, therefore I do not offer dates for these textiles. They should therefore be purchased for their extreme beauty, durability and high quality. The condition of the rolls is almost always unused, with storage dirt that will wash beautifully. Depending on the conditions and age of the textiles, there may be other damage that has occurred over the years, and this is always described in the listings. These homespun textiles are some of the most durable, and beautiful natural textiles that can be used in our modern homes today. The majority of our customers started their experience of these textiles with the purchase of one of the grain sacks, or one of the linen rolls for a small project, and were so thrilled and astounded at the quality and beauty, that they soon found themselves using these textiles in every room of their house!
These textiles come from many countries across Europe and I work closely with regional specialists to source the highest quality, antique and vintage textiles. It is such a joy to bring the beauty and charm of Europe to our modern homes of today~~
(i) Balassa & Ortutay - Hungarian Ethnograpy and Folklore 1979