Folk Craft Area

Textile Traditions

Lucy Larcom Park, Saturday & Sunday, 12 – 5 p.m.

Banner Craft Area images_web
Textiles are all around us. Both utilitarian and decorative, textiles can be as varied as clothing, containers, bed coverings, wall hangings, and floor coverings. Textiles serve as both functional items for everyday use and as finery for special occasions.

Here in the folk craft area you will have a chance to watch traditional techniques used in the making of textiles: twining, coiling, weaving, quilting, hooking, and lace making. We also explore how textiles are used in what is called the “unstitched garment,” i.e., wrapping Indian saris, African headwraps, and Islamic headscarves. You will discover how the pattern of a textile’s weave, its thread count, and the way it is worn can convey religious belief, marital status, wealth, or social standing.

What began as basic survival skills have evolved largely into expressions of aesthetic creativity. Come compare quilting traditions from African American and Anglo American quilting guilds. Watch how embellishments such as bobbin lace are created. Try your hand at hooking a rug. See how you look in an African head wrap.

Craft Artists

Linda LaneBobbin lace

Linda Lane, Hamilton, MA

In lace, there is a whole world of technique in just getting around a corner.

Although lace, being woven, is technically a textile, it is more truly an embellishment. Indeed, lacere, the Latin root of the word lace, is to entice or delight. Bobbin lace, the type that Linda Lane excels at, dates back to the 1450s.

To make bobbin lace, one must have tremendous patience and keen eyesight. One square inch of bobbin lace takes approximately an hour to make. An accomplished weaver and spinner, Linda learned to make lace by watching another lace maker for a number of years. Then, with the aid of a few formal lessons and some very good instructional books, she taught herself. Like a musician following sheet music, Linda reads tiny pin prickings on a strip of rolled paper.

Lace patterns get their names from the geographic areas in which they were derived, e.g., Bedfordshire bobbin lace, Valenciennes edging lace, and Bruges flower lace.

Although there are lacemaking guilds here and in England, with active members, there are fewer younger people taking up the craft. “We would like more to carry it on, but it’s very time consuming.”

Florence BetgeorgeAssyrian needle lace

Florence Betgeorge, New Britain, CT

Florence Betgeorge was born in northern Iran in the Azerbaijan Province, a traditionally Assyrian Christian area. Assyrians speak a language similar to ancient Aramaic and trace descent from the Babylonians of Mesopotamia. While attending Catholic school there, she learned to sew, embroider, and make lace from the French nuns who ran the school. After her marriage and a move to Tehran, diplomats and other wealthy patrons commissioned baby clothes, bedcovers, and trousseaux from her. Persecution of Assyrians intensified in Iran during the Islamic Revolution; in 1984, Florence and her family immigrated to the US. They settled in New Britain, CT where Assyrians have established a strong community. Florence creates exquisite embroidery, lace, decorative home textiles, and she can tailor any garment.

Florence makes lace using only a needle and 2-or 3- ply fine-cotton thread in a French style learned from nuns. This style creates knots that secure the delicate thread as the lace strands are built up, whereas in crochet lace the stitches are continuous and unravel if pulled. She describes her lace technique as “needlework” or dentelle in French. Her special addition to this technique creates writing in lace, with scripts in Aramaic.

Rug Hooking

Cranberry Rug Hookers’ Guild, S. Dennis, MA

Rug hooking fits into the “waste not, want not” mentality. Using recycled wool from clothing and remnants from textile mills, rug hooking was once common in households along the eastern seaboard in New England and Atlantic Canada. The technique is still used to create colorful floor rugs, table mats, pillows, and wall hangings.

Rug hookers work on a small frame, using a hook to pull strips of cut wool or other fiber through a loose weave, such as burlap. “It’s like coloring with wool,” says Kathy Blake-Parker, president of the Cranberry Rug Hookers on Cape Cod. The guild, which is a chapter of the Association of Traditional Hooking Artists, meets at bi-monthly “hook-ins” to work on individual rugs, learn from each other, socialize, and do a “mat swap,” a version of a gift swap game.

Some women use commercially produced patterns while others create patterns of their own design. Most everyone re-dyes their wool. In addition to the pleasure had in creating something of beauty, guild members comment on how comforting rug hooking can be during life’s changes, like a daughter going off to college or the death of a loved one.

The guild displays their work at the Barnstable Fair every summer and also produces the Biennial Cranberry Rug Hookers Guild show in mid-May.

BosnianCarpetFatimaVBosnian rug weaving

Fatima Vejzovic, Hartford, CT

Greater Hartford is now home to several thousand Bosnians who arrived between 2000 to 2002 as refugees from the war in the former Yugoslavia. The community includes many widows who find that continuing to practice their familiar textile crafts of knitting, crocheting, weaving and embroidery helps them to cope with the trauma of the genocide suffered by their families.

Fatima Vejzovic is one of several master weavers who make exquisite carpets (çilimi) on simple looms constructed by family members in their homes. She learned this traditional skill from her mother and other women in her village, using wool from sheep raised on local farms. After the war many weavers worked for Bosfam, a crafts cooperative established in Tuzla to assist women with income-generating projects, while providing therapeutic and social support.

Fatima creates large floor carpets and smaller wall hangings, and fashions the woven tapestry fabric into bags, purses, and pillows. Bosnian flat-weave carpets, called çilimi after their Turkish antecedents (kilims), adorn all parts of the home – floors, walls, chairs and sofas, tables, beds. They serve an important function as prayer rugs for Muslim families. Fatima has been teaching other women in the community to weave, helping to pass on this beloved tradition. She will have a demo loom ready for festival goers to try.

Jonas Stundzia Lithuanian weavingLithuanian pick-up weaving

Jonas Stundzia, Lawrence, MA

As a weaver, Jonas Stundzia creates tablecloths, table runners, scarves, sashes, and items for religious celebrations, such as table coverings for Easter. Much of his knowledge of techniques, patterns, and color schemes came from his family and the Lithuanian community in Lawrence, where he was born and raised, and through strong ties to his family heritage in the old country, which he visits regularly.

Jonas will demonstrate a style of Lithuanian weaving called kaisytinis (a hand method of thread lifting where patterns and colors are incorporated into the weave. This detail work requires lifting each individual thread using the head of a fine tool. “That’s where the art is,” Jonas says. “That’s where the tradition comes.” The work is done on a simple frame loom, which evolved from an ancient harness loom, a portable loom used by shepherds while tending their flocks.

What once was woven by every household has been replaced by machine-made textiles, yet mechanization has not wiped out the tradition. Instead, it has stimulated Lithuanians both here and in Lithuania to maintain weaving guilds and folk art institutions to help preserve this ancient craft. Even during the period of Soviet Internationalism, which sought to eradicate local folk culture, Lithuanian folk patterns and traditions survived, keeping national identity alive.

Jahar GhalleyBhutanese Nepali weaving

Jahar Ghalley, Worcester, MA

Jahar Ghalley weaves traditional Bhutanese patterns using hand-manipulated wefts on a modified four-harness loom. Rather than measure her stitches by counting threads, Jahar uses her eye to determine the width of the patterns. Using vibrant colors, she inlays each thread by hand. Once finished weaving, Jahar turns her textiles into shawls and scarves.

Jahar grew up on a farm in southern Bhutan. Girls were denied an education. She tended cows, goats, and sheep and harvested vegetables. Jahar married at 15 and had her first child a year later. When inter-ethnic conflicts intensified in Bhutan during the 1990s, Jahar’s family was among thousands of Bhutanese of Nepali descent who were forcefully evicted by the government.

“I lost everything. I had to leave my home and all that I grew up with in Bhutan,” says Jahar of the move.

For the next 19 years, Jahar’s family lived in a Nepalese refugee camp; it was there that she learned to weave. In 2010, the family resettled in Worcester, now home to over 600 Bhutanese refugees. Thanks to the non-profit, Refugee Artisans of Worcester (RAW), Jahar has a loom on which to work in her home. In addition to the creative and therapeutic benefits of weaving, Jahar earns income from selling her scarves and shawls.

Sisters in StitchesAfrican American Quilting Guild

Sisters in Stitches: Joined by the Cloth, Holbrook, MA

When founded in 1997, Sisters in Stitches was the only African American quilting guild in New England. Many of these women grew up with mothers or grandmothers who sewed. Most are from the Greater Boston area and some have roots in Barbados.

“We’ve become a family,” says member Karen Beckett. “We’ll laugh, joke, cry. I consider these women my sisters.” Indeed, many describe quiltmaking as a way of relieving stress. Using one’s hands and seeing something evolve creatively has a remarkable, calming effect.

Use of bold colors and textures, asymmetry, freedom from strict rules/precision, and thematic choices are some of the things that distinguish African American from Anglo American quilt making. Guild elder Naomi Henry says, “We, as African Americans, tend to utilize things that represent us; we have the history of oral tradition.” Common themes in the guild’s quilts reflect life experiences, including family and ancestral history, personal trauma, and collective memory.

Like many women adept in the needle arts, these “sisters” make quilts to give to family members, to raffle in support of charities, exhibit at shows, and for the sheer pleasure of creating something of beauty and utility.

Chelmsford quilting guild_Amy LindsayAnglo American quilting guild

Chelmsford Quilters’ Guild, N. Chelmsford, MA

The Chelmsford Quilters’ Guild, founded in the 1980s, holds meetings the 4th Monday of each month from September through May in N. Chelmsford, MA. Guild members, who now number just over 100, hail from surrounding towns and cities. Their monthly meetings are a time to share skills, display work, seek advice from fellow quilters, and socialize.

Being a larger-size guild means members represent a wide variety of techniques, from traditional piecing and applique to embellishments like hand beading and thread painting. Some members piece quilts using very traditional block patterns. Others experiment with non-traditional design elements, creating what has come to be known as art quilts. The latter are never meant to be used on a bed, but are made to be displayed on the wall.

In addition to holding raffles and auctions, the guild is active in charitable and community outreach projects. Members make lap quilts to give away to nursing home residents, babies in neo-natal intensive care, and women escaping domestic violence. Like other textile craft guilds, they also have fully integrated the internet into their work – Facebook pages, blogs, and mystery quilt challenges. A highlight of the guild is its biennial quilt show in May.

Elizabeth James PerryWampanoag soft twined baskets & weaving

Elizabeth James Perry, Dartmouth, MA

Elizabeth James Perry is an enrolled member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head-Aquinnah located on Martha’s Vineyard. Since childhood, she has practiced traditional weaving and wampum beadwork having learned from family and community members. She has also done extensive research of Native American textiles at museum collections in the US and Europe.

The early-Contact period of Eastern Woodlands Algonquin material culture is a rich source of inspiration. This includes woven regalia and baskets using twining, weft weaving, and wampum adornment. In addition to reviving natural dye techniques, Elizabeth harvests local natural resources: quahog shell, white cedar and poplar bark, wool, and milkweed bast (inner bark) for making original art and museum-quality reproductions.

Some of her larger textiles are inspired by the rugged northeastern Atlantic coast, and incorporates the tonal variations of the multi-colored Aquinnah clay cliffs as a background for fine black storylines. She also makes traditional Eastern Woodland pouches, baskets, wampum jewelry, cuffs and hand-spun milkweed cordage.

In 2014, the Massachusetts Cultural Council awarded Elizabeth an Artist Fellowship in the Traditional Arts. To help commemorate the 38th Voyage that summer of the Charles W. Morgan, a 19th– and early 20th century whaling ship, Elizabeth made a pouch combining wampum, handspun yarns, and plucked fur after the manner of ancient seal fur clothing.

Patrisiya Kayobera Rwandan BasketryRwandan basket making

Patrisiya Kayobera, Worcester, MA

Patrisiya Kayobera was born and raised in a farming family in Rwanda. By age 14, she learned to weave baskets by watching other women in her village. Two years later, war broke out and Patrisiya’s parents were killed, leaving her an orphan. She made the decision to run on her own. After a harrowing journey to Burundi, she found help.

In 2009, Patrisiya emigrated and settled in Worcester. Within a few days, she heard about Refugee Artisans of Worcester (RAW), an organization supplying artisans with equipment, materials, and marketing. Patreceya finds great comfort in returning to the craft of basket weaving. “Today, I am still the same person that I was in Rwanda. I like to garden and make baskets. I am glad that I am a part of RAW because it gives me a chance to be good at something, and I am proud of that.”

The type of lidded basket Patrisiya makes is called agaseke. Originally woven by the Tutsi women, it is popular for gift giving, especially for weddings. Agaseke are made from natural materials like reed, sisal, and raffia, as well as from recycled materials, like unraveled rice bags. In recent years, these baskets have become a symbol of unity for the Rwandan people, who suffered so terribly during the1990s Rwandan Civil War.

South Asian saris_ Lakshmi NarayanSouth Asian saris

Lakshmi Narayan, Auburndale, MA

For over 1,000 years, women throughout the Indian subcontinent have worn the sari. Conceived on the loom as a 3-dimensional garment, the sari is made from a single piece of unstitched fabric 5 to 12 yards in length, that is wrapped and pleated, pulled and tucked around the body.

Lakshmi Narayan knows the sari both as cultural insider and researcher. Born in South India, she immigrated to Massachusetts with her family in 2000. She travels to India when possible working with people involved with Indian handicrafts and handlooms.

Lakshmi notes that there are over 100 different traditional styles of wearing the sari in India. “You could tell from the way the lady drapes her sari, which community she belongs to.” Once common for everyday wear, the sari now survives as special occasion wear, especially here in the United States. “Women now go to the tailor to have pleats stitched and pinned up. We are losing the ability to wrap the sari, something that was traditionally passed on.”

How comfortable do you feel in a sari? Lakshmi is often asked this. “I can bike miles in one, my aunt played tennis in a white sari with the British memsabs, and today it is worn with pride in corporate India to board meetings.”

Rosaline Accam AdwadjeAfrican textiles, headwraps, & fashion

Roseline Accam Adwadjie, Worcester, MA

In many cultures around the world, clothing and head adornment are made by wrapping textiles around the body. Roseline Accam Adwadjie, who grew up in Liberia, says, “Africans, we wrap, but not all of our clothes are wraps. African women love dressing, they love colors. They are very elaborate in dressing.”

Roseline runs Chic D’Afrique, a store in Worcester specializing in imported African textiles. “Fabrics come in different grades,” she explains. “The highest quality of waxed cotton has a supple sheen – almost like fine leather.” She also carries plain brocades and Dutch wax prints known as Hollandaise. The latter are stiff from sizing, a combination of wax and starch. “In Africa,” Roseline explains, “after dying the cloth, they put sizing on it and beat it with sticks. They sing as they beat the sizing into the cloth – both as a way of keeping rhythm and avoiding boredom.”

African headwraps can be truly sculptural in form. Their voluminous style enhances the face, like a crown worn by a queen. Roseline’s more fanciful headwraps are wrapped, pinned, and sewn, thereby holding their shape. A single headwrap provides multiple looks, depending on how it is positioned. The variety is a form of improvisation, a concept fundamental to African and African American performance.

Qamaria Amatul WadudIslamic headwear & fashion

Qamaria Amatul-Wadud, Springfield, MA

Qamaria Amatul-Wadud designs and sews clothing for Islamic women who choose to dress modestly. She is skilled in making both the hijab (headwear) and the abaya (outfit). Her creations are primarily for herself, but also for friends and family. In her Muslim community there are many women who sew for themselves, because modest, fashionable clothing is often hard to find commercially.

The Islamic hijab can be square or rectangular, and fastened with a safety pin under the chin and worn with a decorative hijab pin or headband on top. Qamaria adds her own twist to a traditional craft. She considers her style comfortable, yet elegant and modest, pointing out that her designs adhere to religious customs.

Qamaria grew up the youngest girl in a family of 10 children. She started sewing her own clothes when she was 14, following in the footsteps of her mother and older sisters. She makes outfits for every-day, party, and wedding wear, including headscarves, tops, and pants. She never makes an outfit the same way twice, preferring to “switch it up a little.” Now she is passing on the tradition of handmade clothing by teaching her young niece to sew.

CurateMCC logod by Maggie Holtzberg (Folk Arts & Heritage Program), Massachusetts Cultural Council 

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