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Weaving and other types of textile production represent some of the most persistent domestic production activities in the Upper St. John Valley from the earliest years of settlement to the 1940s. Today, very few weavers continue this tradition, but its processes still live vividly in the memories of many people who describe trips to a local carding mill, scenes of their mothers weaving on looms, and occasions such as weddings when white blankets with colorful bands on each end were presented as special gifts.

Mrs. Fabienne Landry of Edmundston, New Brunswick ripping guenilles (rag strips) for the weft of a catalogne (woven blanket with a cotton warp and salvaged cotton weft) from salvaged cotton fabric.Fieldworkers visited Leona CÙtÈ Cyr of Madawaska, Maine, who was born in St. David parish in 1907. Her father raised sheep that produced the wool knitted into the stockings, mittens, hats, and occasionally coverlets, for the family. She remembers the hand-sheared wool being washed, hand-carded to take out sticks and dirt, and then taken to Martinís carding mill in Madawaska, Maine, for additional carding. The carded wool was then spun by her mother, and then the knitting began. Mrs. Cyr learned most of what she knows about weaving from her mother-in-law, Delina Gendreau of St. David parish. Mrs. Cyr continues to participate in the weaving tradition by buying or saving cotton material which she cuts into strips and rolls into balls to then be woven into cotton coverlets, known as catalognes. She takes these balls to an acquaintance in Saint-Jacques, New Brunswick, who arranges the colored strips into aesthetically pleasing bands when weaving catalognes on her loom.

Historical references to home-based textile production corroborate the continuity of the tradition. In their survey of St. John Valley settlers in 1831, Deane and Kavanagh wrote that the "women prepare the wool and flax with which they make clothing." These activities were still in evidence in 1902 (Pullen):

The farms are apportioned into potato and pea and buckwheat patches, with always a pasture in which fed a flock of sheep; for in the homes of this quaint region the arts of spinning and weaving, like the folk tales and songs of the older Acadia, still survive.

Ray Morin of St. David shows how a barrel is assembled.  American Folklife Center photograph by David Whitman, 1991.

Marie Albert Dumond weaving on an old loom in one of the upstairs bedrooms of her home in Lille, Maine, October 1940. Hand-woven blankets made by Mrs. Dumond and her mother-in-law are now on display at the Acadian Village in Van Buren.Photographs of the 1940s (Farm Security Administration Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress) show an extensive amount of hand-spinning and weaving at that time by Maine Acadians in the Upper St. John Valley. For instance, see the photo of Marie Albert Dummond to the right.

The many tools and woven items held in local museum and private collections also reflect the strength of textile production activities throughout the history of settlement in the Upper St. John Valley. Wool blankets and wool sheets survive. Examples of linen are rare, but tools particular to the long process of making flax into linen such as flax breaks, hetchels, and distaffs can be found. Spinning wheels, yarn winders, and looms, which could have been used in both wool and linen production, are also part of Upper St. John Valley collections relating to textiles.

Wool blankets, because of their quantity, hold a particularly important place in the Valleyís traditional material culture. They are also significant for their variety of styles and production techniques and the extent to which these styles and techniques reflect the Valleyís cultural connections to Acadian and French-Canadian populations of Canada as well as to Acadian Louisiana.

This two-panel twill blanket made with a two-ply cotton warp and a two-ply wool weft was woven around 1916. It is one of several hand-made blannkets belonging to the St. Agatha Historical Society museum.Generally, blankets that survive in Valley collections today were made with a wool weft and a cotton warp and were woven on two-harness looms. The blankets range between 80 and 90 inches in length and were made of two panels, each approximately 32 inches wide, hand-stitched together. Single-panel blankets made as baby or christening blankets can also be found. Upper St. John Valley residents describe blankets as either "dÈfaite" or "new wool," depending on the type of wool used and the particular way it was prepared for weaving.

Two défaite blankets from Upper St. John Valley collections. The recycled wool fibers in the one on the left were pulled apart, rewashed, and respun. The blanket on the right, with the bands of color throughout, is typical of blankets woven with recycled wool yarn that was unraveled from knitted sweaters or socks.During the 19th and early 20th centuries, nearly every Valley farm had sheep to provide the family wool supply. Even so, quantities of wool were limited and had to meet the many clothing and bedding needs of large families. As a result, thrifty Valley people recycled knitted and woven wool for reuse in blankets. Literally translated as "undone," some dÈfaite blankets were made of wool yarn that was unraveled from knitted sweaters or socks. These types of blankets are recognizable by alternating bands of color throughout the piece. In their design incorporating well-balanced bands of color, these blankets show a strong relationship to French-Canadian and Acadian weaving in Canada and Louisiana.

Other dÈfaite blankets incorporated an even more arduous wool recycling process that, according to some residents, involved the work of family members from children to adults. In this process, wool from worn-out knitted or woven garments was pulled apart, rewashed, respun, and reused as the weft threads in woven blankets. To add strength to the yarn, new wool was spun with the reprocessed wool fibers, producing a mottled gray or brownish yarn that was used predominantly throughout the blanket. Weavers then added bright bands of color on each end.

Traditionally, the most highly prized wool blankets were those made from new, rather than recycled or reprocessed wool. New wool blankets were almost always white with a pattern of identical bands of color at each end. Many of these new wool blankets were given as wedding presents or made as christening blankets and bear a strong resemblance to similar blankets woven in Canada.

While wool blankets are the most numerous survivors of the weaving tradition in the Upper St. John Valley, other materials and products came from Valley looms. One Maine Acadian spoke of weaving líÈtoffe. This material incorporated wool yarn in both its warp and weft. After it was woven, it was dipped first in hot, then in cold water in order to shrink it. The result was a tightly woven fabric that could be sewn to make a very warm garment.

Catalognes are another important survivor of the Valleyís weaving tradition. In their designs, which often incorporate patterns of colorful bands alternating with a solid color throughout the piece, catalognes are similar to the banded dÈfaite blankets made with recycled yarn.

Ray Morin of St. David shows how a barrel is assembled.  American Folklife Center photograph by David Whitman, 1991.
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