TEXT: SHARON GORDON D.
Spinning and weaving are no longer daily activities for the descendants of the Acadian settlers in Southwest Louisiana but the tradition of growing natural brown cotton, spinning and weaving can still be found nearly two hundred fifty years later. The Acadian people, more commonly known as Cajuns, are enormously proud of their culture and heritage and equally devoted to its preservation. The music and cuisine are most well known but the weaving tradition also embodies the heart and soul of this community. It speaks to a core value of this unique French/American culture where family is all important.
The serendipitous discovery of an old Cajun blanket in a Flea Market fueled the authors’ curiosity and subsequent pursuit of the history and tradition. While the origins of natural brown cotton in Southwest Louisiana remain a mystery, its use and rightful place in Acadian history continue to be researched and documented as seen in the film, “Coton jaune – Acadian Brown Cotton – A Cajun Love Story”.
Spinning and weaving were an integral part of daily life in rural Louisiana up to the end of the 19th century. Homespun cotton thread was regularly woven into bedding and clothing on large two harness floor looms. By the early 20th century, commercially woven fabric had become a staple and the labor-intensive spinning and weaving a part of the past. The single exception was the weaving of traditional blankets or coverlets as dowry for Cajun brides.
Oral tradition informs us that a total of 10 were the accepted number of blankets each daughter received. These blankets, made with love and care by a mother, were referred to in French as l’amour de maman, a mother’s love. Acadian women divided their precious time between farm chores and the home. Few hours were left to weave but often by candle light, finely spun and woven blankets were created. Stripes were the most common pattern but creative innovations included spinning two colors of yarn together to form duble’, a technique unique to Acadian textiles. Both long staple white cotton and the shorter natural brown cotton were used. Indigo dyed cotton was also incorporated into the patterns and designs as well as torn rags of varying colors.
A combined love of textiles and film making, the visual and textural quality of the blankets, plus the rich human story led to the making of this film. The descendants of the Cajun weavers, so beautifully documented in the 1983 publication “L’Amour de Maman”, were interviewed and recorded. With the assistance of Ms. Elaine Bourque, a protégé of Gladys Clark, a renowned weaver featured at the 1984 Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., personal memories and photographs of beautiful Cajun blankets were also captured. It is her devotion to the craft and desire to honor these women that inspired this project. Dr. and Mrs. Jack Holden, experts in Louisiana history and material culture, provided great insight into the value of collecting and preserving these textile treasures. University of Louisiana faculty member, anthropologist, C. Ray Brassieur Phd. researched and recorded most of what is known about the pre historic origins of the cotton and the Acadian adaptation and hybridization of the seed.
The encouragement and cooperation from the entire community was overwhelming. From scholars to farmers, fashionistas to weavers, this project has piqued interest and warmed hearts beyond the bayous and prairie lands of Acadiana. The restored Acadian Village, Vermilionville, in Lafayette, Louisiana will be hosting the premiere of Coton jaune – Acadian Brown Cotton on May 13, 2015. The event is sponsored by Cinema on the Bayou Film Society and commemorates the 250th anniversary of the arrival of the Acadians in Louisiana. We can’t wait!
For further information please visit http://acadianbrowncotton.wix.com/acadian-brown-cotton