You may think of dancing music and delicious food when you hear the word Cajun, but there is much more to this French-American cultural recipe. The spinning and weaving of natural brown cotton is what meshes the ingredients together. And it’s an amazing story of labor and love.
The Historical Journey
Southwestern Louisiana is home to a large population of French speaking residents with a strong French Acadian cultural background. In the 1600s French Catholic colonists left France and settled mostly in the eastern Maritime Provinces of Canada. The Cajuns in Louisiana are descendants of these Acadian exiles expelled in the 1760s by the British at the end of the French and Indian War.
After finding a home in the bayous of Louisiana they created a culture of lively music, spicy food and close family ties, along with a strong weaving tradition with French roots stretching back 250 years. Spinning, weaving and growing brown cotton were an integral part of daily family life in rural Louisiana through the end of the 19th century. The Acadians began to use commercial fabrics in the 20th century but never stopped creating beautiful brown cotton blankets.
Acadian Brown Cotton
Gossypium hirsutum is a New World cotton variety that has a hairless seed coat that is easier to gin by hand. Careful selection, saving and replanting of Acadian Brown Cotton was part of life in Acadiana. Generations of Acadians in Louisiana continued a vigorous selection regimen for over 200 years, which insured the survival of this variety of brown cotton. The cotton was cleaned then bowed to fluff it up, carded and finally spun into the lovely brown cotton we see here.
A Spinning and Weaving Aesthetic
Handspun cotton thread, both white and brown was regularly woven into bedding and clothing on large two harness floor looms constructed from cypress wood, abundant in Southwest Louisiana. Looms, spinning wheels and the striped designs of the fabric all come from the original French tradition that the Acadians brought with them. The weaving of blankets as dowry for Cajun brides required 10-20 blankets plus many additional woven items. Sometimes indigo-dyed cotton and torn rags were incorporated into the patterns and designs. The last known dowry was woven in the 1950s.
Join in the fun and learn more…
The Acadians ask you to “be a Cajun for just a few minutes” and see if you can imagine the journey of the women who wove their history in brown cotton. The DVD, Coton jaune-Acadian Brown Cotton-A Cajun Love Story, was produced by Sharon Gordon Donnan and Suzanne Chaillot Breaux. It will whisk you away to another time when mothers created piles of beautiful blankets and household goods for their daughters – each blanket carrying the name l’amour de maman, a mother’s love.
Support the Future of Acadian Cotton
People of Louisiana are joining others around the world in supporting sustainable cotton projects in their own backyard, building amazing support within their local communities. At a World Café meeting in Lafayette, LA this past February, representatives from ULL, LSU, state government, farmers, textile scientists, designers, museum curators, environmentalists and many others brainstormed a future for Acadian Brown Cotton. Institutions and nurseries are preserving heirloom seeds; gardeners and farmers are planting crops in backyard gardens. Enthusiasts are gathering to celebrate Field to Fashion events and learn more about preserving this precious resource and how to process, spin and weave brown cotton – all grown in Louisiana. And the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans will open an exhibit featuring Coton jaune – Acadian Brown Cotton- A Cajun Love Story next November.