Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Traditions of Cultivation of Flax and Linen Weaving in Lithuania

Flax Flowers

Flax Flowers (photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson)

The second article in this series describes some of the Lithuanian traditions and customs related to the plant of flax and the fabric of linen. Flax and linen have been here for hundreds of years and make a significant part of Lithuanian heritage.

The Traditions of Cultivation of Flax and Linen Weaving in Lithuania – by Giedrius Kriauciunas

Linen is a fabric used for all kinds of purposes, mostly clothing and decoration, that is appreciated for its durability, naturalness and freshness. Linen is manufactured from the fibres of the flax plant which is grown throughout the whole world – from Canada to Ethiopia. Flax has been cultivated since the times of ancient Egypt and ancient Ethiopia, while the latest findings of dyed flax fibres date to 30000 BC.

In Lithuania, a small country in Northern Europe with a very rich history, linen has a special place in the nation‘s traditions, arts and crafts. Flax has been grown here since the times of the Baltic tribes that were living in the modern country‘s territory from around 2000 BC. In the Medieval times, when the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was one of the largest countries in Europe, linen was probably the only fabric used for clothing by the peasants and the warriors (except for the armour, of course). Even in the early 20th century, when the availability of other fabrics was much greater, flax and linen had a major part in Lithuania‘s exports. The significance of linen in Lithuania has diminished ever since, yet there are still some folk artists in the country who weave linen and keep the traditions alive.

The importance of linen to a Lithuanian can be clearly seen in the folk songs – one of the greatest and most significant parts of the Lithuanian heritage. Up to the mid-20th century, people had sung songs on every occasion, including the seeding and cutting of flax and weaving of linen. Linen also appears in other folk songs, such as the ones about war or marriage, and is used as a symbol of prosperity and well-being.

Apart from the folk songs, Lithuanians even have an annual celebration, commemorating the importance of flax and linen. “Flax is one of the oldest cultures cultivated in Lithuania, and it is unjustly forgotten. Even our ancestors knew about the miraculous healing qualities of linen. Linen had a very important part in the formation of the Lithuanian attitude of mind.” – says Zenonas Macernis, one of the organisers of the Festival of Flax, celebrated every year in the village of Budraiciai. In this festival, artisans and craftsmen who work with linen come from all parts of Lithuania to share their experience and sell their hand-made clothes, toys, tablecloths, towels and other kinds of items. No traditional festival in Lithuania is celebrated without songs and dances, so a lot of folk ensembles come here as well.

In every part of Lithuania, the traditions of seeding and cutting the linen were different. The greatest similarity of traditions from different regions is that the cutting of flax was usually a work done by women. Unsurprisingly, a lot of songs were sung during the process, and some of these songs even survived until our days. Some of the more interesting traditions come from Zemaitija, the North-Western region of Lithuania. For example, when the cutting of flax was over, the cutters always waited for a rabbit to come out of the field. Sometimes, the more shifty cutters managed to catch the rabbit, thus earning the family a delicious dinner. There have been a lot of beliefs of how and when to seed the flax to get the best results. For example, in the village of Dadotkai, flax was seeded in the end of May, but only when the junipers are dusty, when the Moon is in its gibbous shape and when the wind blows from the South. Quite a lot of conditions, isn’t it?

When the flax is prepared to be made into linen, once again it’s up to the Lithuanian women to do all the work. From the ancient times, the man of the house had to be able to tend to the horses and other animals and supervise the cultivation of crops, while the woman had to have cooking, weaving and spinning skills. There was a spinning wheel in every house, and in the evenings the linen was made into clothes, towels and other everyday items. At that time, linen was the most prominent fabric used for clothes by everyone living in the countryside. It was completely natural and made locally – people wore clothes made from linen grown in their own fields.

Nowadays, linen clothes associate with people having holidays in the French Riviera and not with a simple farmer living in the countryside. This transition happened some time in the 20th century, when the supply of other cheaper fabrics increased significantly and the cultivation of flax became much less profitable than before. Fortunately, there are still some people who cultivate flax and produce hand-made linen items, but their number has decreased dramatically over the years. “We are very lucky that the traditions of making completely natural, hand-made linen clothes and other items are still alive. There are a lot of factories that manufacture linen clothes, but the main thing that they are lacking is quality. If an artisan knows his job well and if the traditions are passed from one generation to the other, no mass-produced linen clothes have the same quality, freshness and feeling of naturality as when the items are hand-made.“ – says Jurate Stanisauskiene, owner of the only children-oriented Lithuanian linen webshop LinenKids.com.

In general, the traditions of cultivating flax and making linen clothes were close to extinction in Lithuania, but nowadays there are more and more people who remember their heritage and decide to keep the traditions alive. The demand of natural hand-made linen clothes is growing, so fortunately this trade still has a future. Saving this craft is very important to Lithuanian heritage, as together with the linen making itself, it also carries a lot of other traditions, such as songs, dances, festivals and the Lithuanian attitude of mind.

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Lithuania and You

As you may already kFlag of Lithuanianow, LinenKids is a Lithuanian online store – all the craftsmen and crafstwomen who create our clothes, toys and decorations are local and they all care about the Lithuanian traditions and folklore. If you would like to know more about the LinenKids country of origin, please read this short article which reviews the things that Lithuania is known for throughout the world.

Lithuania and You – by Giedrius Kriauciunas

Ever heard of Lithuania? Something about its great beers, even greater basketball or weird traditions? Its amber, linen or the Hill of Crosses? If the answer is no, this article will give you a short brief on the country and what you may get from it, even if you decide not to visit. It’s a good chance you already have something from Lithuania at home… without even knowing it!

Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe with a little more than 3 million inhabitants. Most of them are ethnic Lithuanians – a nation which has experienced a lot of highs and lows during its history. Currently Lithuania is a member of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and is experiencing probably the most stable and prosperous period in its history.

Geographically, Lithuania is situated on the east shore of the Baltic Sea, with Latvia to the north, Poland and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad to the southwest and Belarus to the southeast. The country’s land consists mainly of lowlands with a lot of lakes, rivers and forests. These features together with a mild climate made Lithuania’s soil perfect for agriculture, which was the main sector of the country’s economy until the mid-20th century.

Lithuanians as a people emerged in around 2000 BC, when the Baltic tribes formed in the area of the modern-day country. The first reference to the name of Lithuania (Litua) came in 1009 AD in the annals of the monastery of Quedlinburg. In 1253, the tribes that were living in the Lithuanian territory were united under the rule of Mindaugas, who became the first and only Lithuanian king. Paganism was prominent in the Lithuanian lands up until the 14th century, when the country was christened, the last one to do so in Europe. At that point in history Lithuania was also the largest country in Europe, stretching from the Baltic Sea down to the Black Sea. Unfortunately, there have been a lot of dark moments in the history of Lithuania as well. The country was occupied by various countries, mostly the Russian Empire and the USSR, during most of the 19th and the 20th centuries, with a short period of independence in 1918-1940. Lithuania finally regained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990 and is a completely sovereign country ever since.

The prominence of agriculture, the periods of Paganism and Christianity and the rich history with a lot of ups and downs – all these aspects have left a very deep mark in Lithuanian heritage. So, now that we know what kind of a country Lithuania is, let’s review what ties to the country you might have yourself.

First of all, think about your friends, neighbours, acquaintances – any people you know – if you can’t pronounce their names without breaking your tongue, there’s a good chance some of them are Lithuanians. There are more than 1.5 million ethnic Lithuanians living outside the country, most of them in the English speaking countries like the USA, the UK and Ireland.

Basketball might not be as interesting as football, but it still is one of the world’s top sports, and Lithuania has made some significant contributions to the sport. If you like basketball, names like Sabonis, Marciulionis, Ilgauskas or Kleiza should ring a bell, and guess what – they’re all Lithuanians! Basketball is known as the country’s second religion and pretty much every child’s dream is to become a basketball player. This pays off, as Lithuania became European basketball champions in 1937, 1939 and 2003. The most recent achievements of Lithuanian basketball are the bronze medals in the 2010 World championships and the privilege to organise the 2011 European basketball championship in Lithuania.

Do you like beer? If basketball is Lithuania’s second religion, beer might as well be the third. All kinds of beers are made in Lithuania with some beer brewing traditions coming from the middle ages. Whether you like your beer light or dark, small or strong, Lithuanian beer brewers have a lot to offer. Probably the most famous Lithuanian beer is the Svyturys Extra, a dortmunder that is available in a lot of countries throughout the world.

If you don’t know any Lithuanians and don’t like basketball or beer, look around your home. If you have some amber jewellery, it could be found on Lithuanian shores – around 80% of the world’s amber is found near the Baltic Sea. Lithuanian craftsmen and jewellers are well known for producing all kinds of decorations from amber and it had a significant part in the country’s exports since the times of the Roman Empire. If you wear linen clothes, use linen towels or decorate your home with linen tablecloths, they also might be genuine Lithuanian ones. “For a very long time, linen was a fabric used for clothing and decoration mostly by peasants – the poorest and the most numerous class in Lithuanian society. Ironically, in our days not everyone can afford linen clothes, but they are still appreciated for their durability, quality and naturalness. It’s a good thing that Lithuanian linen weaving traditions are still very much alive and kicking.” – says Jurate Stanisauskiene, owner of the only children-oriented Lithuanian linen e-store LinenKids.com.

In conclusion, Lithuania is a very small country, but it has a very long and interesting history. Becoming more modern every day, the country still cherishes its traditions – both the ones that came from a thousand years ago and the ones that formed much more recently. You should consider visiting Lithuania, but if you don’t have time to do so or just don’t want to, feel free to visit all kinds of Lithuanian online shops on the internet. This way you can get a tiny part of Lithuania and its history and traditions yourself – I bet you’ll love it!