1840 Journal

Meet the artisans, discover their expertise, and share their passion.

Chronicles

A Short History of Textiles in Canada

16 Dec 2019

We’ve come full circle—while textile manufacturing has gone from being artisanal to industrial in just one hundred years, weaving, knitting, and spinning by hand are once again increasing in popularity.

 

The Meeting of Utility and Spirituality

Two different approaches to textiles met with the arrival of the first European settlers in Canada in the 17th century. For members of the First Nations, blankets played as much of a practical role in their lives as a symbolic and spiritual one. For Europeans, blankets primarily served a utilitarian purpose, and were secondarily thought of as decorative and commercial objects. The First Nations combined both animal and plant materials to produce their textiles—animal skins for covering their dwellings, bark, plant fibres, and fur for blankets and everyday objects—while the settlers favoured the use of wool.   

Despite the Hudson Bay Company's introduction of industrial woven blankets as trade items (blankets that were later modified and decorated), textiles continued to be made by hand until the mid-19th century. Then, the first cotton mills and knitting factories with mechanical knitting machines were established between 1826 and 1859. This was a major turning point for textile manufacturing in Canada, as it caused this once artisanal domain to become industrial. 

A Recovered Skill

Canadian families continued to knit everyday objects, weave catalogne rugs, and sew homemade quilts for many years, as proven by the Textile Museum of Canada's rich collection, but clothing and blankets were mostly industrially manufactured. 

The first synthetic textiles, such as rayon, nylon, and polyester, appeared at the turn of the 20th century. In the face of this industrialization, many Canadian creators decided to return to artisanal manufacturing, combining ancestral techniques with modern methods in order to add to our cultural and textile heritage while encouraging ethical consumption.

Three Textile Creators to Discover

Gibou

Sarah Beaudoin founded Gibou because she loved to knit. What started with a homemade tuque became a company founded on the values of local production and appreciating fine fabrics. Her chunky-knit throws are made from unspun merino wool yarn, which makes them as fluffy as a cloud. Their contemporary design juxtaposed with this natural fibre is the perfect marriage of modernity and tradition.  

Shop the Gibou collection

Foutu Tissu

“Creating patterns is a bit of a base, as much in making furniture as it is in making clothing,” explains Foutu Tissu’s Emanuelle Dion, a textile designer and bachelor of plastic arts who was attracted to fabrics as the medium for her creations. Dion designs her own patterns before printing them to cover cushions and small pieces of furniture. She usually transposes her designs onto velvet. At first, she did this using silk-screen printing, but today, she uses digital printing since “there’s something in the pattern that’s so handmade and profoundly artistic.”

Why velvet? “I love velvet! It’s the fabric that’s the best for printing, in terms of its finesse and the quality of the lines, but also because the colours are bright and it’s soft and resistant.” Foutu Tissu fell in love with velvet long before it made its major comeback!

Shop the Foutu Tissu collection

Rox Textile Art

Inheriting a rich tradition that dates back to the 18th century, Naila Janzen from Rox Textile Art puts a creative spin on the ancestral art of quilting. Each of the colourful and geometric creations that she produces using natural fabrics can take from 30 to 40 hours to complete. In her skilled hands, simple cushions become works of art!

Shop the Rox Textile Art collection

Like blankets and home accessories, rugs decorate our rooms while also reminding us of where we come from. Make sure to read our article about the rug's artistic evolution!

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