Beltweaving in Oregon, USA

Pick-up Belt Design Strategies

Handwoven belts play an important visual role in the Russian Old Believer women's folk costume as it is worn in Woodburn, Oregon. Belts are woven in several different techniques which in turn have different pattern inventories. Here we will look at belts woven in pick-up technique, both simple and "hidden weft" (potainoi). Although the two techniques produce different-looking fabrics, they both use warp pick-up to create the pattern, and have a shared design inventory.

Out of over 70 pick-up belts, documented in Woodburn between 1983 and 1988, no two were exactly the same. Aside from changing the colors and edge striping, the weavers show certain strategies for elaborating and combining motifs from a set stock. These motifs were not only executed in both simple and potainoi weaving, they could also be seen translated into smockingon the neck and embroidery on the upper sleeves of the old style Sinciani women's blouses.

The old style belts were characterized by a harmonious balance between positive and negative space. Later on, in Woodburn, weavers innovated a style of simple pick-up weaving which they explain as being like cardweaving in that it separates design motifs with a plain ground. This innovation is usually applied to belts made for sale to other members of the community. Potainoi weaving was practically defunct by 1988 in Woodburn. In fact, a Harbinka well-known for her weaving skill commented that potainoi weaving was so complicated, it is just as well that very few people practice it any more.

DESIGN STRATEGY 1. Simple motif doubled in width

Simple design woven with 13 design threads elaborated into a doubled thickness in 15 design threads.

DESIGN STRATEGY 2. Simple motif, expanded
Here, the simplest "S" design is elaborated by adding "fingers" inside and outside, and changing the separator design.

DESIGN STRATEGY 3. Diagonal motifs expanded to triangular motifs
Diagonal designs can be repeated along the whole belt, or used to separate triangular motifs.

DESIGN STRATEGY 4. Triangular motifs, new separation style

Here is an example of a triangular motif separated by an expanse of plain ground formed by not picking up designs elements at all. This makes the belt weave up more quickly, but violates the traditional aesthetic of equally balanced positive and negative space.

DESIGN STRATEGY 5. Diamond Motifs

Both belts use the same design as the central diamond, but differ in their use of separator motifs.