If you ask a Lithuanian what he or she is proud of, you will hear plenty of praises to dark bread, basketball, wonderful forests and hard-working people who still cherish ancient traditions and are able to create fashionable garments from linen. Nevertheless, few fellow-countrymen know that skilful weavers are on the verge of extinction, even though not so long ago, in the XIX–XX centuries, practically every woman in a village knew how to weave fabrics, and the most ingenious of weavers would come up with intricate patterns and successfully sold or bartered their creations for other goods.
In search for the forgotten thrum
Back then, women who couldn’t weave would hide this shortcoming because a fabric was (and still is) not only a material gift, but also a meaningful action, pertinent to a woman’s intentions, beliefs and desires. “Today, crafts and handmade products are usually presented at fairs or regional festivals, but that’s not enough. The majority of Lithuanians who don’t participate in events lack a means to restore the connection with the cherished traditions of their ancestors. The transfer of knowledge is devoid of innovation, and craftsmen who continue the traditions encounter obstacles. The majority of them are senior people who lack entrepreneurship skills and the ability to find their market niche. That’s why we have to aid them in finding that ‘thrum’ which would help cherish traditions and join the old Lithuania with its new generation,” says Indrė Rutkauskaitė, President of the Fine Crafts Association of Vilnius, which implements the international Lithuanian-Norwegian project Making and Growing – Traditions between Fibre & Fabric . The two-year project is financed under the 2009–2014 European Economic Area Financial Mechanism Promotion of Diversity in Culture and Arts within European Cultural Heritage Programme.
Friendship born of linen and wool
The realisation that weaving may remain but a nice memory in Lithuanian and Norwegian cultures was like a wake-up call, and that’s why the idea materialised into actions in the autumn of 2015. The Fine Crafts Association of Vilnius, together with the largest cultural history museum in Norway, Norsk Folkemuseum, launched the international project Making and Growing – Traditions between Fibre & Fabric. The project’s organisers, researching the weaving traditions of Lithuanian linen and Norwegian wool, after months of hard work will invite to a live educational exhibition which will provide the opportunity for the old and new generations to meet.
The organisers already have a vision of the mobile exhibition. “We will show the intriguing road of linen and wool from fibre to fabric. We believe that this magical process will leave no one indifferent. Modern people have once again started valuing handmade products and more and more often dream of making unique products that have their history and value themselves. The mobile stand exhibition will not only convince every young person, dreaming of continuing the work of their ancestors, that exploring ancient traditions could lead to a lucrative profession, but also allow participating in the weaving process. To see the difference between seed and fibre linen, to find out how it used to be sheafed, dried outside on poles and threshed using a ripple. The project’s participants will see how retted linen used to be dried, how boon used to be removed via breaking and will find out the purpose of a scutcher and a heckle. Wool-processing tools should receive a lot of attention as well. Visitors will find out about the peculiarities of Lithuanian and Norwegian sheep, will see genuine shears, combs and other intricate tools. Tools for processing linen and wool (a spindle, a spinning wheel, a winder, a reel and rigid heddles) will be available for visitors to try. The majority of these tools sound unfamiliar to modern people, but our ancestors couldn’t imagine their daily lives without them. They used to say that weaving was a process that healed the spirit and the mind, and that’s what we want to demonstrate to the exhibition’s visitors,” claims Agnė Žilinskaitė, CEO of the Fine Crafts Association of Vilnius Old Crafts Workshop, stressing that all the necessary tools to show visitors the difficult, but interesting road of wool or linen fibre are being prepared.
Exchange inspired changes
In order to breathe new life into weaving, a Lithuanian delegation visited Norwegian partners on 17–21 August 2015, and later, on 3–9 November, invited them to come to the Old Crafts Workshop and get to know linen processing in greater detail. “During these educational visits the processing technology of linen and sheep wool was analysed, looking for similarities with and differences from the works of our craftsmen. It was a very interesting exchange process. We got to know history and traditions, analysed linen and wool processing tools and identified their similarities and differences which will be reflected upon during the mobile exhibition-workshop,” says one of the project’s organisers, Marija Kajotienė.
She and Dalia Banišauskaitė, Head of the Krikštėnai village community and organiser of cultural events, were the first ones to explore foreign weaving traditions and draw inspiration for an open exhibition. One of the most significant locations of the educational visit was the Norsk Folkemuseum (Norwegian Folk Museum) in Oslo. Established in 1894, it is the largest open-air cultural history museum in Norway. Its collection boasts items brought from the entire country, demonstrating the way people live(d) in Norway from the year 1500 to this day. The museum’s 160 buildings represent different regions of Norway, periods and differences between rural and urban areas and social classes. The Norsk Folkemuseum has 4 workshops: the jeweller’s, the potter’s, the weaver’s and the candlemaker’s. Exhibitions, educational programmes and activities aimed at preserving intangible cultural heritage are constantly taking place at the museum.
Good examples are infectious “The Norwegian museum’s practice is a great example of good experience that should be applied in Lithuania as well,” says Kajotienė. She and her colleague Banišauskaitė saw that a sheep-shearing event organised at the museum every September attracted numerous visitors. To make the process even more comprehensive, there are plans to build a watermill-based wool press. “If we organised a similar workshop in Lithuania not only on special occasions, our museums would become more attractive, lively and would inspire the younger generation to continue the ancient traditions. The first step towards this goal will be the crowning event of the project – a mobile open-air exhibition. In order to gain as much experience as possible, the project’s mobile exhibition will be organised following the same principle: people presenting their craft will tell about the historical process of weaving, and visitors will be able to freely explore the ‘wool and linen road’ and touch and try various tools and devices,” clarifies the project’s coordinator Žilinskaitė. Those interested in the mobile exhibition’s programme and seminars can follow the news on makingandgrowing.com.
Amazing and funny differences
While staying in Norway, Kajotienė and Banišauskaitė found out that Norwegians sheared standing sheep, whereas Lithuanians laid them down before doing so. “In Norway a spinning wheel is fancy and ornate, in Lithuania – simple, retains the natural colour of the wood it is made of. In Lithuania there have been no examples of a tool to roll yarn that is beautifully decorated and has wooden balls inside that make a sound. In Lithuania, both when weaving with a spindle or a spinning wheel, distaffs were used to attach fibre. Norwegians didn’t use them. The same function was performed by a beautifully decorated stick, held under the arm,” says Banišauskaitė. Both participants of the educational visit came back with the conclusions that all linen and wool processing tools and devices used in both countries may vary in size, shape and decoration, but their principle of operation remains the same. “For example, woven fabrics would be washed and then ironed. A wooden iron-roller comprised two parts: a stick to wrap fabric around and an ironing board. In Lithuania and Norway fabric ironing tools are the same, but there’s a difference – in Lithuania the bottom of an ironing board has grooves, but it’s flat in Norway,” notes Kajotienė.
Lithuanians surprised Nordic guests Having arrived and settled in Vilnius, Norwegians Lars Olav Muren and Anne Kristin Moe of the Norsk Folkmuseum wasted no time and visited the Lithuanian Folk Culture Centre, where they had the opportunity to watch how the national Lithuanian costume is made. The guests from Norway also met the project’s partners at the village of Krikštėnai, where the programme The Road of Linen was presented, and visited an exhibition at the Open-Air Museum of Lithuania in Rumšiškės.
“At the Open-Air Museum of Lithuania in Rumšiškės, which could be easily compared to the Norwegian Folk Museum, material components are well preserved, presented and complemented by the comprehensive linen processing from plant to fibre documentation in the form of slides,” claim the guests from Norway. According to them, the Krikštėnai community dissemination programme is the most important example of good practices from which they drew inspiration for their future activities. The Krikštėnai community is a group of volunteers conducting activities at the village’s community centre. There the Norwegians were presented their educational programme The Road of Linen that shows the entire linen processing procedure taking place after pulling out, retting and drying the plants.
ABOUT THE PROJECT (No. EEE-LT07-KM-01-K-017)
- Aim: to reconstruct, exchange and spread traditional knowledge of textile making in Lithuania and Norway.
- Activities: research of Norwegian sheep wool and Lithuanian linen production through the scientific and physical processes and the creation of the innovative product – mobile, live, open and educational exhibition. During the project the traditional tools and archaic practical methods of production of weaving in both countries will be analysed. In this way the research of museum artefacts and practical knowledge of craftsmen will be joined through historical reconstruction techniques.
- Expected results: publication of the process of scientific research and reconstruction on the project’s website provided in three languages (Lithuanian, Norwegian and English).This website (blog) will initiate discussions online while teaching or exchanging information, ideas and knowledge. In this way the project will create additional qualitatively good alternative to transmission of art, culture and knowledge and the development of cultural tourism. It also creates the possibility to touch the life history at a non-traditional environment, will ensure the interests in social, cultural, artistic and nature environment of the local region.
- Value: EUR 132,467.73