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The Suiti traditional attire

Belts

Types of Alsunga patterned belts

Belt fabrics in the Alsunga area

The Kurzeme ethnographic material pertaining to the 19th-20th century includes wide (2.5 – 7.5 cm) patterned woven belts, known in the so called Alsunga area, in the four civil parishes within the former region of Aizpute: Alsunga, Basi, Gudenieki and Jūrkalne. 19. M. Siliņš provides a more detailed list of the territorial division in “Latvju Raksti” publication ([Siliņš [1924-1931] 3-4), showing that it basically matches with the modern civil parishes of Alsunga, Gudenieki and Jūrkalne. Hereafter, within the aforesaid book, the term “Alsunga area” is used in the culture-historical sense, not administrative.
Until the early 20th century, in the territory, populated by the Kurzeme Catholic community of Suits (LKV 1927-1940, 21, 41112) there were produced and used various belt fabrics – belts, prievītes and so on. Prievītes, narrow (1-2 cm) patterned belts were known and quite widely distributed also in other Kurzeme areas, particularly in the regions of Liepāja, Kuldīga and Talsi. Even though we do not have sufficient evidence about existence of a wider version of patterned belts in various parts of Kurzeme, besides Alsunga, they supposedly did exist somewhere else, just disappeared earlier.

In Alsunga, every woven belt and prievīte (irrespective of their width or application) was called prievīte (prieve, prievīts). The scale of usage or size is sometimes referred to by denominations platais prievīts and šaurais prievīts (the wide and the narrow one, respectively) etc. In some cases designations, such as kažokjosta (striped), dižā josta (great belt) or simply belt were used.

A peculiar name of užmantas has been mentioned in the description of the female clothing of Alšvanga, by G. Fišers:
“I lived in Alšvanga some time ago. From this period, I have saved the following things: [..]
Užmantas. Užmantas were used: 1) for suspenders in Alšvanga. I have not seen them anymore, since the 30’s. I do not recall the pattern name; 2) as a gift from bride for her in-laws and brothers-in law, using it to tie pairs of gloves and socks. As for the pattern, I do not know its name.
Prievīte. Prievīte is wider than užmanta. Males buckled their trousers with it, while females tied it around their waist and, when going to church, inserted the so called headdress behind it. [..] (evidence by a 97-year old former female resident of Alšvanga, written down in Ventspils, probably in the 19030’s) (LNVM ZA file 1702, doc. 2397).

The evidence we have about the patterned belts in the area of Alsunga shows, there were belts of various kinds. The primary visual difference, first to notice, was the background colour of the central pattern band. Some belts has white, others yellow background. In written evidence, there are no data found that would provide information on the causes of such variety of belts etc. By carrying out detailed study and comparison of the belts produced and used in the Alsunga area, the patterned belts were divided into four different groups.

In general image of each belt, what matters most is the colour combination, pattern composition and the set of pattern feature types. These characteristics are usually considered the major differences within the local types. Even though the patterned belts made in the Alsunga area have several features in common, they form separate groups due to their distinctive features. Because each of them differ from others by at least three characteristics (feature sets), these groups of belts should be considered four separate types of Alsunga belts.

Four types of Alsunga patterned belts

While no brief terms are yet coined for these types of Alsunga patterned belts, they each are referred to by their number and a descriptive explanation (judging by the features of the central band):

Type I: belts with yellow woollen warps and a uniform pattern
Type II:belts with yellow woollen warps and a varied pattern
Type III: belts with white flaxen warps and a varied pattern
Type IV: belts with white flaxen warps and a uniform pattern

These types can be classified by uniting them into two larger groups:
types I and IV – belts of a multiband uniform pattern, and types II and III – belts of a multiband varied pattern. Or, they could be grouped by the background colour of central pattern band – the approximate “yellow” (type I and II) and “white” (type III and IV) ones.

Material

The patterned belts of the Alsunga area are typically woven from woollen yarn and cotton (sometimes linen) threads. In some belts both linen and cotton threads are used with the woollen yarn. In such cases they are oriented in separate ways each time, meaning, when warps are made from linen threads, then wefts are made from cotton and vice versa.

The central band in belts of types I and II is made solely from woollen yarn. For these belts, pattern and basic warps, as well as wefts are made from twice thrown woollen yarn of equal roughness. The pattern and basic warps are different only by their colour, not the roughness of material. Unlike in modern weaving products, the yellow basic warps are never linen or cotton.
The side bands are made from woollen yarn only or from woollen yarn combined with linen (or cotton) threads.

Weaving techniques

Every patterned belt of the Alsunga area is rakstainā audene according to its basic weaving technique. In the Alsunga belts, the technique of patterned (rakstainā) audene is combined with the bands of flower-patterned (ziedainā) or cross-lined (šķērssvītrainā) audene. The group of patterned audene have these bands included, because the widest – central – band of the belt is made by using this technique. It creates the general image of the belt. The thin narrow edges are usually formed as flower-patterned audenes. In fewer cases they are made as cross-lined audenes.
The central and side bands are separated by line groups in warp direction (lengthwise).

Colour combinations, colorants

The patterned belts in the Alsunga area were mostly woven from yarn in four colours – red, yellow, blue and green. For a white base, threads of cotton or linen were used, in some cases, white woollen yarn was used for the side bands.

Finish

The composition of any type of the Alsunga belts is infinite. It means, a pattern can begin with a fragmentary feature of pattern, without a separating section. There are few exceptions, and even in those only a small separating section is found on one end – from just few lines up to 1 cm in width. For the Alsunga belts, there are no free warp fringes left. Thus, there is no way to tell, where the belt begins and where it ends, and, whether the weaver had planned the warps for one or more belts.
Information source: “RAKSTAINĀS JOSTAS: KOPĪGAIS KULTŪRSLĀNIS” by Anete Karlsone. Latvijas Nacionālais kultūras centrs, 2014.

Belt-wearing tradition

In the Suiti area, the belt over skirts is typically tied not in knot, but tying it twice around the waist and threading the upper end through under and folding it over the tie. Thus, the skirts are held close, without forming a knot, which would come into way, when putting on vamzis jacket (the ends of finish are raised by the knot that does not look good).

If the belt is tied in knot, it is called cūkmezgls (knot of a pig). Even more, a virtuous maiden should have her belt tied, so that both ends hanging are of the same length.