Boutenné and Its Origins
This is a guest post from Weaving Today contributor Sara Bixler.
When I plan a project to throw on my rigid-heddle loom using a technique such as Boutenné, I can’t help but consider its origins. When we limit ourselves to the most basic two-harness weaving, we can imagine the thought process weavers of the past must have explored to make the most of what they had available to them.
The term "Boutenné" originates from a small region of Quebec along the St. Lawrence River. If we make like an archeologist and “dig” a little deeper into its history, we’ll find that the technique of bringing loops to the surface of a piece of fabric to add texture and pictorial imagery can be traced back to as far as 2000 BC during 11th-dynasty Egypt. Most of the examples found through the Coptic period have a linen ground fabric and naturally dyed wool to create patterning through the piles brought to the surface. Beyond the history of Egypt, many examples of this same technique carry through the 15th and 16th century in Italy and Spain. Gold and silver threads were often incorporated into some of the velvet fabrics to highlight some of the imagery and the contours of the designs. Examples of this pile and loop technique continued to survive in Europe through the next four centuries.
Today, the most recognizable form of Boutenné is the Bolton coverlets produced in Lancashire, England. These coverlets were produced in cottage industry setting, established somewhere around the late 18th century predating the industrial revolution, but not clearly documented. Characterized by their white-on-white cotton motifs, they continued to be produced on a large scale for domestic use and export. Some similarly produced quilts are still being manufactured today and can be found at many home goods stores.
Although this technique varies slightly from culture to culture, one common thread they all share is this wonderful ability to create amazing imagery with as few as two harnesses. In this day and age where we have access to the greatest tools and computer-interfaced technology, it’s wonderful to return to creating unbelievable fabrics with the most rudimentary equipment.