Weaving traditions

Lithuania has a long weaving tradition. The earliest Lithuanian textile fragments found in the burial grounds date back to the second-third century. It was found that most of them are woven from local raw materials - wool and linen yarns. The first millennium featured mainly woven plain, flat (initial) woven fabrics. Two heddle woven bleached cloth was used for the holiday shirts, white aprons, linens and thicker linen smock - summer work clothes and bags. Burial grounds of the nineth-thirteenth centuries show findings of woolen and linen textile fragments, woven mostly in three heddle technique, at times - four heddle technique or a fir tree style. Tissue fragments suggest that Lithuanians used two basic weaving techniques: weaving with vertical and horizontal looms. Vertical looms have been used in the primitive communal system. With a breakdown of a tribal system and formation of a feudal structure, the horizontal weaving looms were launched.


Very thin, multiple heddle canvas, the so-called “atkočine” (woven by men in the 18th century manors) was used up to the end of the nineteenth century for wedding veils, table clothing and linen cloth. Thick, felted wool, 4, 6 or 8 heddle woven fabric – the so-called rough cloth – was used for the warm outerwear, blankets and bed sheets. Large woolen or semi-woolen winter shawls, woven in two or four heddles, usually checked, belong to warm nature women's outer clothing. Woolen cloth remained of natural fiber colors or was dyed. With a development of production, rural weavers began to use cotton thread, and since the nineteenth century end, fabric-made cloth displaced several kinds of domestic fabric.


Lithuanian folk fabric patterns are usually geometric or made to be geometric with vegetable forms; it is not overloaded with details and has a clear rhythm. While the fabrics are characterized not so much by their technical perfection, but by the beauty of print and color combinations, their weaving techniques and complexity differ. Patterned fabrics are divided into four groups by weaving type: napkin type, diminis, felted and selective (exquisite). Lithuanians have woven bedspreads, aprons, belts with neat patterns.


Servetiniai (napkin type) (damask) fabrics - one of the oldest patterned fabrics.



Lithuanian fabrics survived from the first centuries of our era. They were mainly used for clothing. In the eighteenth-nineteenth centuries bed linen (mats), tablecloths, linens, towels, cloths, curtains, carpets, walkways, and other fabric were woven from linen, wool, and sometimes hemp yarn. In the second half of the nineteenth-century, weavers came to love cotton and silk, and in the twentieth century - artificial silk and other synthetic materials.


Until the nineteenth century, yarn for weaving was painted in natural colors: plant blossoms, leaves, roots, moss, tree bark, marsh and iron rust. Aniline dyes, introduced in the nineteenth-century, have enriched and intensified the colors of the fabric.


Linen (the so-called white), household and decorative fabrics (towels, tablecloths, linens, bed sheets, bed-trays in the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth-century) are mostly monochrome. They combine bleach and non-bleach linen or cotton yarns, enabling extraction of geometric patterns. Rugs, bedspreads in the eighteenth - nineteenth-century beginning, fabrics for garments (especially women cloths), and others were painted in various colors. Use of color and their coordination differs in separate Lithuanian regions. Different intensity and different shades of warm colors are mostly aligning with cool colors (red and green, yellow and violet, black and white, orange and blue, etc.).


Lithuanian folk tissue patterns are characterized by clear, restrained composition. Fabrics painted in geometric patterns, rhythmically reiterate and form rich graphic designs. Compositions of geometric patterns in towels and tablecloths are often closed. Larger patterns arrange in the center – more detailed patterns – on the extremes. Changing weaving technique destined the change of fabric patterns. Next to the stylized geometric patterns appeared flora and fauna motives, but the tissues of Lithuanian artists of the day dominate with geometric motifs (sun, stars), and ancient ways to combine colors.


Romanticism in the end of the nineteenth century drew attention to the attributes of ethnic-regional identity: language, folklore, songs, folk art, traditional clothing. Systematic exploration of the essence of traditional fabrics and nature came into light.


Creative talents of Lithuanian women opened up in fabrics. They themselves spinned thread from flax, hemp and wool. Dyed them with plant leaves, flowers, roots, tree bark, moss, and swamp ore. At a certain age, girls began to spin and collect white linen, patterned cloths, rolls of band for their dowry chests.


Bedspreads, cloths diverse in colors and unique compositions. Highlanders’ bedspreads featured cross stripes, Samogitians typically liked longitudinal bright color (red, green, beet color, purple, black) stripes. Women of Dzūkija interweaved bedspread with threads of different colors, the so-called spotty bedspread.


National costumes

Clothing always reflects the economic situation. Peasant women always wore linen, tow clothing and less wool. More prosperous ladies acquired purchased tissue. The poor women retained the old style of clothing and their garments reflected the economic condition of the district. Lowlands wore more wool; tapestry-form tissue was already used for woven shawls and aprons in the eighteenth-century. Dzukija residents mostly used tow fabrics. One of the oldest fabrics – for towels, tablecloths, bed sheets, pillow, bedding linen – was flax linen. Their edges are red, sometimes blue tapestry. White and red had a magical meaning and kept away evil from man. Fabrics were nicely decorated with fringes, lace and knits. Fabric patterns established from traditions, material, weaving style and their purpose. These are simple motives improved by many centuries, known as windows, wheels and crosses, harrow, katpėdėlė flower, correlation, clover, oak leaves, etc. One, two, sometimes three motives repeat in one fabric, the extremes have twists, ragged endings, etc.


Traditional clothes (for Highlanders, Dzūkija residents and Samogitians) and other types of decorative-applied traditional fabrics are an important defining feature of ethnic region. The purpose of plain daily clothing - not only protection from the weather, but also a social indicator of human status in the society. Traditional clothes differ from everyday clothing by the intrinsic parts emphasizing their link with the defined part of people in regional society of a particular geographical area. In time space, this is related to the idealization of the past, legends, stories, songs and fairy-tales. In those days, when there were no perfect means of communication or other means to interact, clothes were customized, diversified, because each country, area or region engaged in weaving and sewing by the grand grandparents' traditions.


The situation changed with advancement in textile production, emergence of factories and mass reproduction. Fabric production got cheaper. Advantage of chemical dyes, colors, brightness, and a variety of materials made fabrics more attractive and thinner. Garments of rural people changed their image and were influenced by the imported materials: silk, brocade, velvet. The usual consumers of linen, hemp, wool fibers started using also thin cotton. Root dyes were displaced by aniline dyes. Clothes begin to converge not only in the same parish, city, state, but also in larger areas such as Central Europe, Scandinavia, the Balkans or the Mediterranean Sea.


All ethnographic regions had a tradition to tailor shirts from bleached linen. One shirt was made of three or even four kinds of material. Thin fabric was used for torso and other parts added of sackcloth or tow. Sleeves were woven of narrow linen. Collar and cuffs, sleeves and shoulder part were decorated with woven stripes of red thread and some collective patterns. North Central Highlanders interweaved some red patterns over the whole length of the sleeve. There are also shirts with a collar and cuffs embroidered with openwork white thread.


Skirts were woven in two heddles, rarely in four or even eight heddles. Highlanders mostly have checkered skirts with dominating colors: green, red, purple, yellow. In addition to checked, there are also skirts with longitudinal and sloping stripes. Festive garments are mainly woolen and semi woolen, woven with colored fleece bottom sections, daily clothes - made of tow, in simple patterns. In the second half of the nineteenth-century, skirts are woven with cotton yarn, weft – with silk, wool and are four heddle, eight heddle, in various patterns.


Daily vests are sewn from linen, half-wool, festive garments in wool or semi wool are decorated with fine patterns: stripes, circles or checks. Already in the eighteenth century vests were sewn from bought materials, and skirts and other costume parts - from the domestic fabrics until the beginning of the twentieth century. North of Aukštaitijs (Highlands) distinguishes by short vests with extended tails in front, silver lace trimmed jackets.


Aprons - one of the oldest parts of the female costume. Appearance without the apron was considered indecent. Daily aprons in all the ethnographic regions were striped or squared, in darker linen or tow threads. Festive aprons were usually white linen or cotton. The most simple are woven in two heddles with interwoven red streaks, smarter ones –four, six and eight heddle, napkin type. Apron bottoms are sometimes finished with fringes. In the second half of the nineteenth-century, besides linen, women wore cashmere aprons; they were most prevalent in Kupiskis area.


Bands – also one of the oldest Lithuanian folk textiles. They were used both by men and women. Women decorated their heads with the most beautiful ones. Highlanders usually wore braded, woven and exquisite bands, men wore whips, woven and braded bands. Braded bands are unique to Highlanders, braided of wool and later from other threads in tree, curve or rhombus patterns. Favorite colors: green, red, purple, yellow, rarely black and white. Exquisite Highlanders’ bands are quite modest: white linen or cotton with red, green, blue fleece ornaments, patterns of rakers, stars, and roses. In the second half of the nineteenth-century bands were worn less often, usually by men.


Girl was separated from woman only by head-covering. Women wore veils, caps, scarves; the girls - braids, coronets, headscarves, certain hats “kalpokai”. Kalpokas - a crown shaped wedding head jewelry for bridesmaids, already known from the eighteenth century and made of cardboard, colored paper, colorful ribbons. Worn in Kupiškis around the twentieth century beginning.


Veil, or Palmette - one of the oldest head dressings for married women mentioned in the sixteenth century and worn in Panevezys district until the nineteenth-century. Veils were 3-4 meter long, woven from the most beautiful yarn; daily – plain white woven with two heddles, festive - woven in two, four or eight heddles, ends with red or blue stripes, lace ends completed with frills or fringes.


Shawls and scarves worn in a variety of materials and sizes. Daily ones were woven of white linen, sometimes checked. Weekend shawls - woven, embroidered with openwork. Shawls woven from two or three color (gray, brown, black) thread, checked with different color stripes.


Aprons, checkered skirts were worn even to the twentieth century fifties in some places. Oldest shirts were stitched with red checked material shoulder belts, cuffs, chest, with interwoven herbal and geometric patterns. Nineteenth-century spreads the fashion of embroidery. Lazdijai, Veisėjai residents used brown thread embroidery in floral and geometric patterns. In the neighboring regions of Belarus, shirt sleeves and collars were embroidered in red and black thread.


Skirts in Dzūkija region are mostly checkered, woolen and linen, woven with two heddles. Characteristic colors: green, purple, burgundy, blue, yellow. Broad sectors of weaving stripes in bright colors are split in pairs of narrow streaks. Skirts in Alytus, Varena areas were woven from yarn in two colors, checks increase from small to large. Lazdijai, Veisiejai areas wear checkered and also longitudinal skirts similar to those in Suvalkija region. Gervėčių neighborhood favors white linen two, four or six heddle dynamically woven skirts. In the district of Alytus, people weave stamped (dark colored, woolen cloth, stamped in bright dots or curved patterns) skirts.


Dzūkija region vests – made of linen or half wool in green, burgundy color. Former Seinai, Grodno, Zirmunai districts wore long vests. Varena, Alytus, Eišiškės areas featured shorter vests, Vievis, Trakai, Vilnius, Gervėčių areas liked vests pleated from waist.


Aprons in Dzūkija area were woven in sloping stripes and checkered, squared white- red or white-blue, out of linen. Aprons in Prienai area, like those in Lithuanian Highlands, feature linen braids on ends. Varena, Lazdijai districts wore striped or checkered bottom aprons with dynamic interwoven multi-colored wool and other thread sloping stripes, in red or dark blue background. Nineteenth-century spreads embroidered aprons with colorful silk flowers and leaves on the dark background – in Lazdijai, Prienai and Alytus districts. Vievis, Trakai and Vilnius districts used white cotton aprons decorated with knitwear; later - embroidered with red and black thread. Dzukija aprons survived much longer than in other ethnographic regions. Vievis, Trakai, Eišiškės, Varena areas wore aprons until the World War II.


None of the ethnographic area is as diverse by the ethnic bands as Dzukija. They are mainly exquisite woven, in very different patterns: rakers, trees, roses, birch leaves, stars, teddy bears, crayfish, with Lithuanian sayings and proverbs, etc. The widest and most varied are woven in Varėna, Lazdijai, Alytus districts. Eišiškės, Šalčininkai districts have more conventional. The old bands were narrow, mostly with white less often colorful linen background. Patterns - woolen or of other yarn, colors: green, red, and purple. Pattern colors are laid down in three rows, with woven multicolored streaks on the edges and multicolored yarn fringes on ends.


In addition to selected bands, set bands are also characteristic to Dzukija and are found only here. On the bottom of white linen - multi-colored suns, windows, stars of wool or other threads.


Shirts - white linen, patterns of woven red stripes, clovers on cuffs and shoulder band. Mostly striped skirts: stripes are longitudinal and sloping. In the past, longitudinal striped skirts were woven in weft rep out of linen and woolen yarn, weft - from colorful woolen yarn. Longitudinal stripe skirts in Akmene, Mazeikiai, Skuodas regions are in bright colors: red, yellow, green, purple, white. Checkered skirts are few. They are wool, woven with two heddles, with large checks, in darker, dull colors: green, moss, burgundy, purple, brown. Checkered fabrics have been woven in Plunge, Rietavas, Silute, Kelme districts.


People in the Lowlands (Žemaitija) wore woolen and semi woolen vests, checkered and with longitudinal stripes, woven with two heddles, dynamically. Colors: red, green, purple, brown, white, patterns - minute.


Aprons of white linen with interwoven longitudinal red and blue streaks, clover, checks and certain flower patterns. Woven and multi-colored aprons of the darker threads with smooth and dragged stretches. Colors: red, blue, green, yellow, white and brown.


Samogitian bands are exquisite and whipped, with modest patterns in two or three colors. Selected bands - as well as in other ethnographic areas, on the white linen background - colored wool or other thread patterns.


Checkered headscarves woven of linen and cotton yarns, checked in red or blue streaks. The same with large woven shawls, the oldest of which are with sloping stripes, multicolored, with white linen background and wool weft. Woven in weft rep, striations of various widths. Colors: dark blue, moss, yellow, red, brown, white. The most popular shawls woven with two heddles woolen plaid. Plunge, Rietavas, Kretinga areas characterized by two-colored shawls - red with black. Tauragė region features white woolen scarves.


Men's shirts, as well as women, were sewn from the same cloth and cut in the same manner, only with different details, form of collars and trimmings. Men's shirt sewn with a steep collar, embroidered cuffs and collar. In addition to the prominent white embroidery, cross stitching embroidery is detected, usually in black, brown, red thread. Shirts are worn on pants, girded by bands and are of three types:  sleeveless underwear, short embroidered and long with additional fabric. Everyday shirts are sewn from thick, downgrading fabric, the so-called tow cloth. Their best dresses sewn from thin, bleached linen and embroidered. In the second half of the nineteenth-century, people started using cotton. Firstly for shoulder bands, collars and cuffs. Some shirt parts still remained of tow fabric.


The oldest skirts - mostly checkered - white, black, two heddle. Everyday skirts are woven from flax, sometimes interwoven with wool, and festive – straight from wool. Poor women used to weave festive skirts out of linen too, because it was covered by the apron. With emergence of aniline dyes, skirts become brighter, more colorful. Basic colors: burgundy, green, purple, blue. Square size varies. In most cases they are isolated by dark-colored stripes. Traditional skirt length – down to the heels. In about 1910, the so-called “kameliniai” thread appeared. Monochrome woven skirts are made of this thread, frameworks made of dark cotton.


The oldest aprons (just like skirts) in this area were linen, checkered or with sloping stripes. At the end of the nineteenth-century, sloping and longitudinal striped aprons are woven of multi-colored wool. Color varies the width of streaks, including multi-colored wool. Colorful stripes differ in width, streaks of colorful woolen or other threads are interwoven between them. At the start of the twentieth century, colored embroidered aprons spread everywhere. Their sketches - dark linen or cotton thread and woof - wool or “kameliniai” type. Basic colors: black, dark green, burgundy. Aprons embroidered with floral and plant motifs. Embroidery made with wool and silk yarns. In addition to homemade fabric, embroidery was used for black and purchased materials.


Vests sewn from linen, wool or semi wool sloping stripe fabric. Vests of bought fabrics: brocade, silk, cotton and velvet, spread early. Vests disappeared quite quickly, thanks to skirts woven of “kamelinis” thread and the appearance of jackets sewn from the same material.


Shawls were of various sizes. Some adorned with fringes, others without it. Silk scarves with shiny ornaments or very fine wool scarves with interwoven silk ornaments on ends were the most valuable.


In this region, mostly exquisite bands are found. Their width and colors vary. The importance of bands was crucial to the garment. They were worn by both men and women, and children. Purpose of the band destined its length, width, pattern, even color. In the first half of the nineteenth-century bands were narrow, up to 3 cm in width and 2 m in length. Later, large decorative woven bands came into fashion. A variety of colors: favorite is red, but brown, green, purple, blue also prevail. Colors are coordinated in contrast. The background is light, woven in linen or cotton yarns. Pattern consists of one or two, sometimes three pattern yarns. The patterns themselves also differ: roses, stars, trees, grass-snakes, curves, etc. Men's bands are darker, narrower, with simpler patterns.


Bands are of three categories: woven, braided and whipped. They have been used as garment parts, ligaments, decoration, and occasionally - as parts of harness, and a wide woven belt – to swaddle babies. Bands were given as presents and associated with various folk customs. Bands are made from linen, wool, cotton, silk yarn. Various shades of red, green, purple, blue, white, used in numerous geometric and stylized plant and animal motive patterns are predominating.