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Making and Heritage

An abbreviated history of Cajun crafts

After learning about Louisiana Brown Cotton, I was interested in learning more about the traditional ways Louisiana Brown Cotton was used. What I discovered was a rich cultural history of a craft dominated by women.

From the Louisiana Digital Media Archive

The thought of a white fluff ball being turned into something like Art Gallery Fabric's TERRAKOTTA is mind blowing to me. But, the jump from field to fabric stash wasn't one that happened quickly, either. Acadian Brown Cotton was harvested on a small scale in rural Cajun country and women weaved the harvested cotton into strands in order to make textiles--rugs, blankets, linens, and towels.

From Acadian Brown Cotton

In this video of Gladys Clark detailing the history of Cajun textiles, she explains the art of Cajun textile making. Though now considered a folk art, Clark and other Cajun women's goal was not only to make art or something beautiful, though they did both: the goal was born out of necessity. The textiles made were used within the home or sold at the market to make a profit. In a time where I consider my making a hobby, I can only imagine how critical I'd be of myself when making something that my family needs!

The process of weaving is extensive and amazing, but what fascinates me the most is the process of coloring fabric. Clark explains how she uses a mixture of both brown and white cotton in order to get the desired colors. In a day where we order the colors we want, Clark managed to create something stunning using the color given from nature. The blue accents, too, are natural: Clark uses indigo that she grows herself to get that beautiful blue color.

From the Louisiana Digital Media Archive

Though, it is important to note that "the brown was for their own use, the white would go to market." Louisiana Brown Cotton was more widely available to the Cajuns. White cotton, on the other hand, was more valued because of its color on its own and its ability to be dyed other colors. One can imagine that Clark's statement was a testament to the necessity of the textiles at home over its beauty, as well as the profit made off of white cotton.

Events such as the Craftin Cajuns Indoor Craft Show and Marketplace and Acadian Brown Cotton work to keep Cajun crafting traditions alive, Cajun textile making--along with many other folk arts--are dying. Though our work as makers might not be part of our culture or heritage, there is an art to making that without our work now, might die away too. With that in mind, we--the makers of America--have the power to make history, too.

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