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Weaving - Ancient History to Modern Women

Historical Connections of Women and Weaving

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Weaving has usually been associated with women, as a women's craft in many cultures and times. Today, weaving is a popular handicraft and art for many women.

Here are a few of the highlights in the history of weaving women, with some links for more details. Photographs are from the 2002 Smithsonian Folk Festival, of artisans demonstrating weaving and related handicrafts.

Household Economy

Woman weaving, from the 2002 Smithsonian Folk Festival
© Jone Johnson Lewis, licensed to About.com
Until the Industrial Revolution, spinning and weaving were time-consuming and essential household tasks. Carpet and basket production -- also both weaving tasks -- were crucial parts of the household economy from the Americas to Asia from very early times.

The Industrial Revolution

Woman weaving, from the 2002 Smithsonian Folk Festival
© Jone Johnson Lewis, licensed to About.com

The Industrial Revolution began, in large part, as mechanization of the production of textiles, and so this change in weaving and cloth-making production meant immense changes in women's lives -- and may have helped give rise to the movements for women's rights.

Ancient Egypt

© Jone Johnson Lewis, licensed to About.com
In ancient Egypt, weaving linen and spinning thread were important activities of the household economy.

Ancient China

Woman weaving, from the 2002 Smithsonian Folk Festival
© Jone Johnson Lewis, licensed to About.com
China credits Si-ling-chi, wife of the prince Hoang-ti, with discovery of the usefulness of silkworm thread and the methods of weaving silk thread and of raising silkworms, all about 2700 BCE.

Weaving in Vietnam

Woman weaving, from the 2002 Smithsonian Folk Festival
© Jone Johnson Lewis, licensed to About.com
Vietnamese history credits several women with the introduction of silkworm breeding and weaving -- and even has a legend crediting a Vietnamese princess with the discovery of the use of silkworm.

Persia (Iran)

Woman weaving, from the 2002 Smithsonian Folk Festival
© Jone Johnson Lewis, licensed to About.com
Persian rugs are still well known: Persia (Iran) has long been a center of carpet production. Women, and children under women's guidance, were central to the production of this practical and artistic creation, crucial to the economy as well as the arts in early and modern Iran.

Anatolia, Turkey

Woman weaving, from the 2002 Smithsonian Folk Festival
© Jone Johnson Lewis, licensed to About.com
Carpet weaving and, earlier, carpet tying have often been the province of women in Turkish and Anatolian culture.

Native Americans

Woman weaving, from the 2002 Smithsonian Folk Festival
© Jone Johnson Lewis, licensed to About.com
Navaho or Navajo Indians in the Southwest of the United States tell how Spider Woman taught women the skills of loom weaving. Navajo rugs are still popular for their beauty and practicality.

American Revolution

Woman weaving, from the 2002 Smithsonian Folk Festival
© Jone Johnson Lewis, licensed to About.com
In Revolutionary era America, the boycott of British goods, including inexpensive manufactured cloth, meant that more women went back to home production of cloth. Spinning wheels were a symbol of independence and freedom.

18th and 19th Century Europe and America

In Europe and America, in the 18th and 19th century, the invention of the power loom helped speed the Industrial Revolution. Women, especially young unmarried women, soon began leaving home to work in the new textile production factories using this technology.

20th Century: Weaving as Art

Woman weaving, from the 2002 Smithsonian Folk Festival
© Jone Johnson Lewis, licensed to About.com
In the 20th century, women have reclaimed weaving as an art. In the Bauhaus movement, women were virtually relegated to the loom, however, as sexual stereotyping shaped assumptions about "women's art."
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