String is thought to be the earliest manufactured thread and has been described as the unseen weapon that allowed the human race to conquer the earth. String can be used for carrying, holding, tying and trapping, securing and decoration. Textiles underlie the great prints and canvases of Western Art and form a surface to write upon. Paper nowadays is largely made of wood pulp but is still made in the traditional manner with the fibres from plants in specialist paper mills; these fibres are pulped and bleached, washed and dried and then filtered onto a mesh and compressed onto a fine felt.
Sophisticated textile production dates to six thousand years B. C., in southern regions of Europe, and four thousand B.C. Egyptian women were weaving linen on horizontal looms. Archaeologists have unearthed fabric and rope fragments that date as far back as twelve thousand years in the past, making them the oldest known textiles in South America. In China, where the spinning wheel is thought to have first turned, sophisticated drawlooms had woven designs that used thousands of different warps. These prehistoric weavers seem to have produced cloths of extraordinary complexity, woven with ornate designs far in excess of the simple need to cover and protect bodies or to provide warmth and comfort for their dwelling places.
The production of ‘homespun’ yarn and cloth was one of the first cottage industries, pin money was women’s earliest source of independent cash and women were selling surplus yarn and cloth, working as small-scale entrepreneurs, long before the emergence of factories or the mechanisms which now define the textile industry.
There were other spin offs from textiles too. The weaving of complex designs demanded far more than one pair of hands, and textiles production tends to be communal, sociable work allowing plenty of occasion for gossip and chat. Weaving was already multimedia: singing, chanting, telling stories, dancing, and playing games whilst they worked; these spinsters, weavers and needlewomen were literally networkers as well, spinning yarns, fabricating fiction and fashioning fashion. The textures of woven cloth functioned as a means of communication and information storage too, long before anything was written down.
Weaving is often used to mark or announcer information and a mnemonic device to record events and other data. Textiles do communicate in terms of the images which appear on the right side of the cloth, but this is only the most superficial sense in which they process and store data. Because there is no difference between the process of weaving and the woven design. Cloth persists as records of the process which fed into their production; how many women worked on them, the techniques they used and the skills they employed. The visible pattern is integral to the process which produced it, the programme and the pattern are continuous.
The lozenge motif dates as far back as the Neolithic and Paleolithic period and is tied to human fertility and land. The binary male and female principles serve as the basis for deciphering the meaning of this symbol. It consists of two triangles. But in the pre-Ukrainian period, it was believed that the woman held the three corners of the lozenge (the three corners of the home), while the man held the fourth, which completed the integrity of the family. A lozenge with a dot in the middle symbolizes a sown field, which meant abundance and prosperity. In addition to simple lozenges, we often see rhombuses with hooks (tiny horns) in Ukrainian embroidery. This design is called “zhaba” (frog) and symbolizes fertility. In ancient beliefs, this little creature was linked to heavenly moisture that gives life.
Lozenge-shaped patterns were embroidered on wedding towels and bridal gowns. Pregnant woman wore shirts covered with diamond patterns until childbirth as this symbol served as a powerful talisman.
As the frantic activities of generations of spinsters and weaving women make clear, nothing stops when a piece of work has been finished off. Even when magical connections are not explicitly invoked, the finished cloth – unlike the painting or the text, is almost incidental in relation to the process of its production. The only incentive to cast off seems to be the chance it provides to start again, throw another shuttle and cast another spell.