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THE ARTS OF WEAVING AND SPINNING.
William B. WEEDEN, Providence, R. I. Weaving and its daughter spinning, are such ancient and universal arts that, it is necessary to go beyond historic records and study them in the oldest monuments. Even now, or within a generation, processes of weaving practiced in old Egypt, or which clothed the pre-Columbian man, are or were commonly used in Africa and in the far-off isles of the Pacific.
Weaving does not depend on threads or spun filaments. To comprehend this homely process, we must go back to the centuries before Columbus and the Spaniards saw the Americas, and in the elder world, investigate thousands of years before Moses was launched in bulrushes on the Nile. Before spinning or a thread was conceived of, weaving began by interlacing rushes, stems, split canes and vines, strips of elm bark, palm and other fibres. It is customary among archæologists to classify prehistoric weaving into 1, wattle work; 2, basketry; 3, mattings; 4, pliable fabrics or cloths. Wattling was very primitive, sewing in the early fish wiers and in other stiff and heavy textures. Plain “twined-weaving" is considered to be a refined sort of wattling. Nothing of the textile sort was more important to the American aborigines, and by inference to any prehistoric barbarians, who lived thousands of years earlier — than basketry. Any supple fibre was deftly woven into a great variety of self-containing forms; baskets proper, hampers, cradles, shields, quivers, seives were useful in primitive life; matting soon followed for seats, carpeting, hangings, coverings and wrappings. Mats were used also for temporary shelters and rude houses. Pliable fabrics or cloths appear in later stages of development. Strands led to spun threads. The North Americans — and their experience was comparatively late in prehistoric time — in using rushes, grass, etc., doubled smaller strands for uniformity. The New Caledonians quite lately made beautiful girdles from fibres of banana stalk, which were rolled and dried. The Hill Dyak women wore in modern times a “ saladan " made of split bamboo and fitting closely to the body. There were fabrics of fibres, manipulated without spinning, in the South Seas, which were said to rival in softness the shawls of Cashmere. The Ainos, one of the elder races of Japan, were making in 1890 beautiful Ohiyo cloth from fibrous bark, generally of the wych-elm, occasionally of the common elm, on a horizontal warp pegged out on the ground. The inner bark was soaked and softened in water, then split into long, slender strands. The strands, tied without drawing or twisting, were wound into balls.
Primitive man, emerging from a world that was indifferent to his daily comfort, if not hostile to his existence; was immediately lifted up by these practices and stimulated mentally by this growth in the arts we have described. Furs might protect him from the cold of severe climates, but the elder man probably subsisted in a favoring atmosphere. The actual need of clothing was not the only motive in inventing fabrics. As suggested in basketry, his weapons were hardly more useful than the numerous contrivances furnished to his ready and skilful hand by the art of weaving.
We forget how slow, fragmentary and eccentric has been the progress of civilization.
All the phases of weaving developed by the primitive loom, as above indicated, are or have been recently employed in the actual, industrial life of our present world. If we leave the process of analogy and turn to the investigation of history proper, abundant material exists for tracing the weaver along thousands of years of progress. There is ample documentary proof of the gradual introduction of the processes we have sketched, though we may not follow the
strict order of time. Perhaps the most satisfactory and complete record of textile manufacture is to be found in the scenes depicted on the tomb of BENI HASSAN in Egypt, now some 4,000
These scenes are rendered in outline by WILKINSON in his ancient Egyptians. Many generations of cloth makers must have worked in the ways we have roughly indicated, before such a manufactory as this could have been conducted or even conceived.
Remember, this is a manufactory spread before us in these pictures, which render a typical account of actual industries. Two women are weaving at an upright loom; on another plate the more primitive weaving on a horizontal warp pegged out is represented. To return to the organized factory, three women are standing to spin. One woman sitting, is hackling or carding fibres, with a small instrument. Some are doubling and twisting single threads, and one male is apparently an over
The Egyptians exported linen fabrics largely throughout the Mediterranean, and labor to produce them must have been carefully organized, as is indicated here.
Distaff and spindle are now established in such an organization to rank equally with the loom. The primitive weaver was generally a male and the spinner a female, though this division of labor was not absolute. The hand that wielded sword or shield or the hunting spear, seldom bent to the task of spinning. Nimble feminine fingers were better adapted to this patient labor; and the processes of hackling, carding, combing and spinning were usually feminine and domestic.
As has been stated, weaving was in operation in the dim prehistoric light of faraway time, before the weavers could conceive of spinning. Primitive man in the struggle for existence had not time for spinning; nay more, he had not the mental development needed to draw a possible thread from a mass of tangle fibres. Our inventors, environed by motive power, with libraries recording mechanical agencies, work easily in comparison with those who toiled to change primitive ways. The reference to the soft, pliable garments lately made from banana, palm
and other fibres, to be worn by the islanders of the South Seas and elsewhere, was not casual but significant. These comforts antedated woollens, linens and cottons, while they stimulated and unfolded latent powers in the human mind, which crude nature could not satisfy. If a long fibre ready to the hand, was so convenient, why should not man combine the many fibres of wool or flax and sometimes cotton, to make a continuous thread of his own.
The Greeks took over Egyptian and Babylonian culture, and they amply symbolize the dignity of spinning. PALLAS was the especial patroness of all the arts connected with it. Spinning embodied some of the deepest and most mystic relations of man and nature as conceived by the men of that time — for the fates spun out the thread of man's destiny, even as woman chew out the filaments of his garment.
The distaff in the left hand carried the carded fibres. The spindle, a stick about a foot long, cleft at the top, with whorl at bottom, dropped to the right hand. The graceful Grecian lady drew out the thread, twisting it with thumb and finger; then she detached it from the cleft and wound it on the spindle. Our automatic mules of today accomplish results similar to those reached by the Egyptian and Grecian spinners.
We can trace yet more rudimentary processes. For the Indians of New York and Pennsylvania, having no distaff, rolled the fibers of wild hemp on their naked thighs. The Cherokees had gone one step farther; for they hacked the hemp, and the old women spun it with a distaff.
The upright loom of the Egyptians and Greeks was much more developed than the early forms of primitive weaving. At first the warp was pegged out on the ground, while a rope around the sitting weaver kept the tension, or sometimes there was a roller beam before him. Icelanders, East Indians, the Ainos of Yezzo, the Japanese, the Solomon Islanders, weave today, or wove recently in this simple manner. The East Indian often dug a hole in the ground to accomodate his legs.
This simple process of weaving brought in the use of a loom
early in development if not in time — which was brought from West Africa in 1867, by Du CHAILLU, and is shown in his book, “ Ashango Land.”
The Ishogo people of this region were famed for their bongos, woven from the delicate and firm cuticle of palm leaflets, skilfully stripped and divided by hand. There was no drawing or spinning. The men made needles and stitched the bongos into robes elegant in design, the threads being dyed for stripes and checks. There were four or five looms in a house or rudimentary factory, where the weavers sat at work, smoking and chatting cheerily, throwing the shuttle with the right hand and holding two “ rods " in the left.
This sort of loom has been well-nigh universal. The Caribs, Samoans, New Caledonians, Javans, Japanese, East Indians, Mandingoes are recorded as using it, and the Aryans must have passed through these stages of weaving on their way to processes established by the Egyptians and Greeks.
The Navaho Indians wove blankets before their contact with Coronado's Spaniards. The warp was suspended between the posts several feet apart, or better between two trees. The shed was kept open by a rod, somewhat as the African Ishogo managed it. There was a sort of looping of the warp, by pushing balls of yarn between first and third threads. There was no shuttle. There was a batten and a reedfort, with some six or eight sharp, thin, wooden tines, then by fulling, a firm blanket was finished.
Complex machines have not made fabrics more perfect, for the finest textiles known were spun and woven by hand. Of these were the rare muslins of ancient Dacca. One when wet on the grass was invisible, hence Shabane, “the due of evening.” Another, ab rawan or running water, could not be seen when immersed in water. We must remember that Jacquard only put into automatic action the “motions " which the weaver and his attendant “ drawboy" had practiced for centuries. Some of the Japanese textiles, woven on the drawboy loom, are superior in texture and design to any existing in our present world.