Text and images excerpt from the catalog “Old crafts in Serbia”
Author: Marina Cvetković
„Masons came to cut a beam, they tried and failed, and I cut it.”
The rich weaving creativity in the territory of Serbia was formed and developed during the long and stratified cultural past. It can be traced from Neolithic cultures to modern-day urban communities.
Weaving had an important role in the traditional Serbian society. The pillars of domestic weaving were women. They made textile items for individuals, families, broader communities, and often also for the market, thus significantly contributing to the economy and progress of rural households. They made items to equip households: wool covers (blankets, motley rugs, kilims, etc.), towels, curtains, straw-mattresses, cradle coverlets, wall coverings, bed linen, as well as fabric for clothes – the underdresses and upper dresses, parts of folk costumes… In addition to their practical functions (protection from the cold, sun, dirt, etc.), these various textiles also had a decorative role, and were often symbols of many gender, status, religious, ethnic and other meanings. Woven handicrafts also had a significant role in the ritual and social-communicative life of individuals and their communities.
Unlike modern-day woven items, weaving was once preceded by a long and complex process of the treatment of textile raw materials, which took place at homes. Textile raw materials of animal and plant origin, including hemp, linen, wool, threads from the silk cocoons, and cotton, were used for the production of a yarn.
Hemp and wool were most frequently used for weaving. Each of these raw materials required a specific way of processing fibers into a thread. The most complicated and demanding process was the treatment of hemp, or flax, which, to mention just the most important facts, consisted of the cultivation, harvesting, melting (soaking) and rubbing of stalks in crushers or scutchers. The processing of wool started with sheep shearing, washing and cleaning of the fleece from fat and impurities.
Fibers of wool, as well as hemp and flax, were separated by combing with hand-carders and classified by the quality, i.e. length, and then spun into a thread. Along with recorded archaic ways of spinning without the distaff-with the help of body parts, or only with a simple spindle -the most common way was spinning with a distaff and a spindle. In terms of shape, as well as decorative, technical and visual characteristics, distaffs found in the territory of Serbia are typologically highly diverse. After spinning, the wool was rolled into balls of wool and thus straightened and prepared for further processing. Textile filament was then respun or doubled, depending on the needs.
The thus-prepared yarn was then dyed. Parts of plants, such as roots, trees, leaves and fruits, from the immediate environment were commonly used as dyes, with appropriate natural acids, bases and metals added to their solutions. Dyes were thus provided stability. After dyeing, weaving followed. The making of cloth on a primarily horizontal loom was preceded by the preparation of warp yarns: warping, yarn winding and inserting warp in heddles and the reed.
The most frequent weaving device in the cultural region of the Serbs was a horizontal loom (that has many names in Serbian, including razboj, sane, stative, stan, natra, tara…). Although many variations in shape were recorded, its basic components are: sides or frames that house two shafts, a beater, a reed, heddles (usually two or four), treadles, a seat for weaver and other auxiliary parts.
A vertical loom is much less frequent. It was mostly used for production of kilims in Pirot, from where it spread to other centers of the kilim-making craft in Southwestern Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 20th century.
Textiles were primarily woven on horizontal looms with the smooth-surface, less tufted
techniques. During the weaving process, two or four filaments were usually used. The weaving with two filaments, which is now called “prepletaj” (interlacement), is also known as “pretkivanje”, “lito”, “cuncano”, “nizano”… To make the cloth, heddles and treadles are used to raise half of filaments in order to form a shed through which the weft yarn, carried by the shuttle, is inserted. This technique was performed independently, but it could also accompany decorative techniques. Flax, hemp, cotton and other yarns were used to weave basic materials with the interlacement technique from which garments and bed linen (sheets, pillow cases, etc.), towels, woven diapers and other items were made. Wool yarns were used to weave simple covers using the interlacement technique that were sometimes decorated with various embroidery techniques.
Various supplementary techniques such as the tablet weaving, and “klecanje” (bound weaving) were applied to decorate the woven fabric. By weaving with the tablet, ornaments were performed by inserting the tablet through the raised and counted warp filaments; the tablet was lifted vertically when a pattern was executed, while a yarn of a desired color was carried by the shuttle or a bundle. Thus the front and the back were in contrast (as in photo-negative effect). It is believed that the most luxuriant and technically most complicated items were woven with the technique of “klecanje”. This technique was carried out on both vertical and horizontal looms, primarily for the production of wool items. It is most frequently found in kilims, but not so much in aprons, pillows, bags, etc. The pattern was obtained by the sorting of desired warp threads through which wool bundles were inserted to execute ornaments.
These textiles show a wide variety of color changes in a pattern around the tissue of warp. The strands interlacing technique, also called tatting, is performed by pulling the cut strands through threads of the warp so that their ends hang freely. The best known covers made with this technique, “biljci”, “jambolije”, etc., are later additionally exposed to water pressure. Knotting is a tufted technique where the cut yarn threads are wrapped around two or four threads of the warp, and then, the ends are pulled through the center and tightened in a knot. The interlacement technique is applied with both tatting and knotting, which tightens knots and strands.
The structure of the fabric woven of four filaments is denser; such fabric was used for coarser and thicker objects and textiles exposed to pressure and wear and tear. Four-filament woolen items include various coarse coverings (blankets, tents), bags, etc. This technique was used to produce the woolen cloth for upper dresses.