Woven and printed patterns

Woven patterns are the earliest form of decoration on textiles, and may pre date embroidery by many centuries. Certain motifs found on Romanian textiles may have Dacian, Slavic, Proto Bulgarian or even earlier origins. These patterns are made while the fabric is being woven in the loom. The simplest decoration of this kind is stripes made by using thicker or different colour threads for some of the rows of weft threads, or by using one register of a different colour in the warp, and a block of similar colour in the weft which gives a checked or square pattern. Woven Patterns were made by counting threads or if larger by using a special weaving board. This method gives patterns where the front is slightly different from the back.

More complex decoration was made using two weaving techniques: alesătură (selection by hand) and nevedituri (drawing). The main difference being that the former is done by hand while the latter was made by the movement of the heddles and bobbins.

alesatură neveditura
made by hand or speteaza made by moving heddles on loom
using weft threads made using arrangement of warp threads and heddles
isolated motifs usually stand out in relief flat regular pattern over whole surface of fabric

Alesătură – selection by hand

Alesătură is one of the most common methods of woven decoration found throughout Romania, This method of decoration is used both on woven belts and wider textiles made on horizontal and vertical looms, which are used for carpets (chilims), rugs, household textiles and costume pieces. There are various different types of alesatură depending on the region, time and type of fabric. The two main types being alesătură in relief or weaving over the threads which gives a slightly embossed pattern and alesătură peste fire (weaving through the threads) when the motifs lie flat.

Alesătură – in relief (weaving over the threads)

Alesătură – in relief (Serbian klečanje. northeast Bulgaria Brané) were made by separating the warp threads by hand and passing the weft threads over several warp yarns with the aid of the shuttle, selecting groups of threads. The resulting pattern was isolated motifs, usually in a different colour, which stand out from the background in slight relief.
The warp threads that were separated by hand could be fixed in the desired position by a small piece of board speteaza (flat scândurică) inserted in the gap in the warp. The working thread was drawn by hand from right to left and then back. Each motive was made up of a fixed number of units. motifs made this way could stretch from one edge of the fabric to the other horizontally. This method is found in south Muntenia, Vlașca, Dobrogea and in northeast Bulgaria, Nikopol and Silistra. Fabric with this form of decoration was used for fote, cătrințe, vâlnice, and sometimes mărame.
The older method of making alesătură in relief is made by introducing one or more thicker threads into the warp, with the help of a board which gives equal rows of bobbled relief on the front, a second type is made by using some thick threads in relief. This appeared in Bihor, Maramures and north Moldavia and spread to all the country
This method of producing motifs by separating the threads by hand has evolved to separating the threads with a knitting needle, or with a board, or the most advanced method – programming cards with a large number of threads.

Alesătură peste fire – weaving through the threads

This second type of alesătură differs in that the coloured warp threads are separated by hand (alese) and the weft thread is passed by hand through the warp threads, (without using the shuttle), shedding every two or more warp threads from one edge of the fabric to the other, or only in certain parts of the fabric thus obtaining rows of wavy lines or eyelets (ochiuri), along with continuous coloured stripes. This method is used for costume pieces in many ethnographic zones, The fabric can be made with 2 or 3 heddles and the motifs can be coloured on a white background, white on a compact coloured background, or coloured on coloured background.
Gold and silver metal threads were used to make delicate alesătură in Banat. These were woven upside-down due to the numerous knots that needed tying. The final effect was viewed via a mirror placed under the warp. This fabric was used to make cătrințe, oprege, and conci (cap). This technique is called kussané technique in Bulgaria. The weft thread was broken off in a row which differed in colour to the consecutive row so it formed a definite element in a given pattern. These ornaments are smooth and blend with fabric. It was also used for decorating fabric used for double apron costumes found in northeast Bulgarian and parts of Oltenia. The ornaments are called kussove (bits), kusslentsa (little bits), or kussanki worked.

Nevedit, or neveditura (pl. nevedituri or năvăditură) – drawing

The second system of decoration is called neveditura (drawing) (Serbian čunčanje). The oldest form of neveditura was made by wrapping the weft threads around a stick which made a pattern of diagonal lines (în coaste) used for belts and some skirts. In this case the pattern is made only by the warp threads, with the weft threads providing support whilst being invisible.
Neveditura differs from alesatură as it was made completely automatically by pushing treadles on the loom which moved the heddles up and down. Between 3 and 32 heddles were used. This was a very ancient method of weaving found all over the world. The warp threads and heddles were organised prior to commencing weaving. The patterns were made as the shuttle carrying the coloured weft thread ran through the warp when the loom treadles (potnogii) were pressed by the operator. The heddles were moved in such a way as to make the decorative motifs automatically without hand intervention. Unlike the hand alesatură, these patterns arise from the arrangement of the warp, not weft, threads. The resulting pattern is a set of motifs repeated on the entire surface of the fabric (not isolated like alesatură). The simplest nevedituri was made using 4 heddles with the resulting patterns forming ‘eyes’ (ochiuri or ozoare), or fir trees (brazi) on aba used for cioareci, brâie, fuste, or veste, and striped everyday aprons. Textiles made using neveditura are found in Muntenia, Oltenia, Dobrogea and Transylvania, north Moldavia.

Neveditură made with 3 heddles is called în scripți and made a striped motive called vrâste p-un picior. This pattern was made by moving the third heddle with the leg.

Weaving with small boards – scândura (Bulgarian: kori)

This form of weaving using small boards with four holes is known to have existed since prehistoric times. It is used to make belts, waistbands and other decorative braids. Slightly twisted yarn is used for the warp for strength. This yarn warp was wound on pegs or a warping mill, four warps for each tablet. All 4 warps were one colour for lengthways stripes, and different coloured for patterns. The weft was wound onto a bobbin. The warp ends were tied to a stationery object or to a backstrap fixed round the waist. Some sashes were woven by turning the tablets causing the warp behind the tablets to twist. Weaving by this method made geometrical patterns such as stripes, waves, diamonds, zigzags and spruce branches. Once weaving was completed the unwoven warp ends were tied together to make tassels finished off with pom-poms or plaited into braids or fringes.

Weaving on a loom – război de țesut

Cloth was woven on two basic types of wooden framed hand looms. Vertical looms were used for weaving larger objects such as carpets in specialised workshops, horizontal looms for smaller weavings such as fabric for clothes. Horizontal looms superseded vertical warp weighted looms in Europe from around 13th century. These looms filled a room in a typical Romanian peasant cottage. They were made of a framework of solid timber. In the earlier houses the looms were positioned so the weaver sat with his legs in a pit under the loom, to ensure the moisture was kept at the required level.
Yarn to be used as weft threads (băteală) was wound onto wooden shuttles (suveici), and yarn to be used as warp (urzeală) was reeled on either big wooden pegs driven into the wooden wall of the house (vârteniță) or onto a large wooden frame revolving on an axle fixed between a ceiling axle fixed between a ceiling beam and the floor (urzoi). These warp threads stretched the whole length of the loom. The loom had a beam at back and front which was fixed to side props, the warp was wrapped round the back beam, and stretched between the 2 beams first passing through a crossbeam to open the warp, then the warp threads were arranged alternately through 2 or 4 sets of frames of vertical wires, called heddles (ițe). Each of these wires had an eye through which a warp thread could be passed. The threads were then securely tied to the front beam. This beam was also used to roll up the woven material. The heddles were controlled by foot treadles leaving the hands free to throw the shuttle from side to side and beat up the weft.
Cloth for shirts and certain aprons was woven using two heddles as this gave an open weave which was suitable for decoration with embroidery or patterns woven in loom. Fabric woven using 4 heddles had a closer weave and was used for coats, trousers and belts. This was either woven înscortat with weft covering all of the warp, or woven pânzește with warp showing.

Printed textiles

Patterns were printed onto plain coloured cotton fabric by hand using several techniques.
The ‘offset technique’ was used for printing geometric patterns onto textiles using woodcuts. This technique was originally brought to Romania by the Germans around the mid 18th century and was centred in Transylvania and Banat. By 19th and early 20th century Romanians also carried out this craft. Patterns were made of wood with the required motive cut out. By the end of 18th century the finer points of these were made using pieces of metal. The patterns were placed on the fabric, which was then immersed in the coloured dye, made to special recipes. Indigo brought from India was used to dye blue cloth. Once the dye had taken the cloth was rinsed leaving the white patterns visible. The cloth was then crimped using potato starch, dried again and steam ironed, with the whole process taking around 50 hours.
Stencils were alternatively made from card and acetate with the pattern cut out. These were paced on the fabric then the dye was brushed or sprayed over the card. Once the dye was dry the card was removed leaving the design visible on the fabric.
Screen printing was later used to produce patterns using more than one colour. The fabric was stretched tightly over a wooden frame and the design was marked and the area which was not to be covered with the first colour was protected with a paint resisting substance. The dye was applied and allowed to dry, then the process was repeated covering other parts of the designed and applying a different colour dye. These patterned textiles were used for headscarves all over Romania and for skirts in Mărginimea Sibiului.


Published on 18th February 2018, last modified on 25th February 2018