Fiberworks

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The Russian American Company sent a craftsman by the name of Nikolay Cheremnoi to assist in felting and fiberworks at Fort Ross. The settlement had a herd of sheep that provided wool, and there was also an attempt to grow hemp plants in order to make sailcloth and rope. The sheep provided both coarse and fine wool; the fine wool was combed, spun, and woven or knit into clothing. The coarse wool was mostly used for making heavy blankets or felt mattresses. Other handmade woolen articles included hats, stockings, mittens, and horse harnesses. The cloth items made at the Fort were often traded to the Californios, sent back to Russia, or given to the Native Americans as payment for their work.

 

From The Khlebnikov Archive – Unpublished Journal (1800-1837) and Travel Notes (1820, 1822 and 1824), © 1990, University of Alaska Press. ISBN #0-912006-42-0

  • “There are approximately 600 sheep here which give about 20 puds of wool per year. The size of the herd can be increased as much as desired, but craftsmen will then be required to comb, spin, knit, and weave the wool. It would then be possible to make our own stockings, mittens, cloth, blankets, carpets, and felt. At first, coarse cloth would be sufficient, because that is an extremely important article here and could replace foreign friezes and blankets. Of course, there is no shortage of craftsmen who know how to make coarse cloth.” p.60
  • It is easy to cultivate flax and hemp, and with the help of simple Russian peasants, these plants can be used to make the following articles: canvas, hemp fiber, rope for rigging, sailcloth, and oil. Captain Hagemeister brought seeds here from Monterey, but they were not fresh and did not sprout.” p.60
  • “I spoke with Mr. Schmidt about making better use of the sheep skins, and he suggested attempting to weave blankets in the Spanish style. The promyshlennik Irushev knows how to prepare wool, and another man knows how to spin, and so a distaff will have to be made in Sitkha and sent here.” p.102

From Russian California, 1806-1860, A History in Documents. Volume I, edited by James R. Gibson and Alexei A. Istomin, © 2014, The Hakluyt Society, ISBN# 9781908145062

  • “Nonetheless, Khlebnikov gave a rather glowing assessment of the counter’s economic prospects with respect to the cultivation of both alimentary crops (grain, vegetables, fruit) and industrial crops (tobacco, flax, hemp, poppy), sheep breeding (for wool), shipbuilding, tanning, pitch and turpentine extraction, and the exportation of millstones, whetstones, and mother-of-pearl.” p.68
  • “Sheep were killed for mutton, which was used mostly for salary in kind, and sheared for wool (up to 1,800 pounds were clipped annually during the 1820s).” p.77
  • “Sheep’s wool, washed, resembles silk and costs 9 rubles per pud. On account of the small population of our territories, I cannot determine the demand for it, and I will leave it for the future, when in accordance with my plan people will one day constitute the first object of concern of the Company and all of the [native] Americans will derive benefit from sea otters, but with profit and welfare interwoven and not at the expense of humaneness. Meanwhile, I will take these 25 arrobas of wool so that the home for girls, which I am proposing, will benefit from the spinning of wool and the making from it of stockings and caps, whose softness will undoubtedly be beneficial to them. This and like experiments should, according to my plan, pay for the upkeep of the home and promote other forms of charity. I have the honour to attach10 here, Your Highness, a sample of the wool.” p.204
  • “Woollen blankets are very soft and sell in California for 10 and 12 reals each. I took 25 of them for the infirmary, and I am sure that it would be an absolute blessing for the men to sell them for 5 rubles each – when they pay 10 rubles for a worthless Tyumen’ cowhide carpet – because they would obtain an article that is very useful and durable, for these blankets are washable. Various woollen fabrics are made in California and are sold for 3 to 4 reals per vara. Although they are not very well made, it can be assumed that in the northern districts they would be used to line clothing.” p.206
  • “At present he intends to make his own cloth and to teach the Indian wives of the Aleuts to spin wool.” p.357
  • “It would be nice if you would send a small amount of wool, for the girl’s school on Kodiak stands in need of it for its work; the remaining wool and hides will be used as you see fit.” p.505

From Russian California, 1806-1860, A History in Documents. Volume II, edited by James R. Gibson and Alexei A. Istomin, © 2014, The Hakluyt Society, ISBN# 9781908145079

  • “Four female herders and their husbands, one horse doctor, one furrier, and a man who knows how to make felt from cattle hair are being sent to Ross on the sloop Baykal. The counter will not fail to employ these persons in their designated occupations, and I hope to see progress already next year in the dressing of leather and the making of felt, which could be very useful for various purposes at the port of New Archangel.” p.129
  • “Kindly use Nikolay Cheremnoi to work wool and make felts.” p.141
  • “Sheep’s wool. Californian sheep have coarse wool. From it the missionaries make blankets for the Indians, but we do not use it at all. Up to 50 puds of it are collected annually. Mr Shmidt began to make blankets after the example of the Californios, but there were not enough hands to spin the wool and there was no decent master to build looms” p.183
  • “Woollens. Many villagers in Russia are able to clean and spin wool, make thick cloth from it, knit stockings, etc. The blankets that are needed for the Indians – although they are similar to those made in California – would replace payment in other articles for farm work. Felts and hats are also useful and even essential articles. Felts will replace bed mattresses, for which bear and deer skins and feathers are now used. Gear for horse harness is also made from felts. Hats, besides being used in the colonies, can be sold profitably in California. For a Kolosh hat of [plaited] tree roots we get 1 piastre, and a wool hat will always sell for no less. Saddle blankets for riding horses and felts can also be sold at a profit. Up to 100 puds of wool can be obtained from a thousand sheep, and this amount will suffice for all articles.” p.189
  • “I sent there on the Baykal 4 female cattle herders, 1 farrier, 1 furrier, and a man who knows how to make felt from wool, all of whom are to be used in accordance with my orders for the possible improvement of all sectors of the local economy and the extraction of benefit for the Company.” p.191
  • “I enjoin the counter for the next shipment to New Archangel to order the rolling of up to 300 felts, but thicker than those sent on the brig Baykal and of such a size as to serve in place of beds, and try besides to fix them at 5 rubles apiece, for the felts of the last shipment were set at too high a price.” p.200
  • “I am also sending a pair of felts for you on the Urup; for them you owe 10 rubles, which I will not remit in order to avoid paperwork, leaving it to you yourself to do so, as you see fit.” p.208
  • “The felt master, who was sent to Ross by me, rolled up to 70 felts and saddle cloths. Regarding felts, the Board of Directors should be told that for a first attempt they were very good and could in due course be very suitable for the beds of the promyshlenniks or for sale to the Californios. I ordered that up to 300 of them be rolled by this autumn.” p.213
  • “Sheep rearing could be increased to 1,000 head, but in that case the sheep would have to be sorted in order to improve the wool, and – which has never been done before – those producing coarse wool would have to be separated from those that produce finer wool. From the coarse wool it is possible to make felts for workers’ beds and for saddle blankets for horseback riding and for rooms in winter; they are beginning to be made now. In addition, possibly a man could be found who knows how to make hats, which can be used to advantage in the colonies and sold in California. To process the soft wool experienced peasants are needed; they would be able to teach [others] how to clean and spin it and then weave the thick blankets and cloth that are essential attire for the Aleuts and Indians.” p.257
  • “Here the main school could be established, and eventually, together with the improvement of agriculture under experienced and sensible management, some useful manufactories (namely, of thick broadcloth, blankets, rope, and soap) would be revived, and an abundance of products – useful to the colonies and profitable in trade with our neighbours – would be derived.” p.271
  • “As far as possible, I would like to have a certain number of sheep wool felts, which the counter will try to send to me at the first opportunity. They are needed by me for protection against accidents with gunpowder.” p.348