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How fibre arts have developed in New Brunswick and around the world


ca. 11,000 years ago   First sheep and goats domesticated

ca. 1500 BC -- scissors invented, while Leonardo da Vinci popularly credited with expanding on the idea

ca. 1000 AD - Earliest example of knitting equipment known in North America. Norse settled in northern Newfoundland at L'Anse aux Meadows, where a spindle whorl, a small needle-hone and a bone needle have since been found.

14th century - Loom from medieval Dorset camp in Greenland abandoned, rediscovered in 1993 (Canadian Geographic magazine, April 2009) / The earliest definite examples of knitting date from Europe and Egypt in the 14th century, although some claim that the technology dates back into centuries BC.

1490 - Leonardo da vinci invented a spinning wheel.

1492 - October - Christopher Columbus discovers America.

1527 - Aug 16 The first knitting trade guild, the Guild of St. Fiacra, was started in Paris, establishing the occupation as male-dominated for centuries to come. Knitting became a household occupation with the growing popularity of knitted stockings and by the end of the 1600s, one to two million pairs of stockings were exported from Britain to other parts of Europe.

late 16th cent - Earliest example of knitting in Canada. A fragment of a knitted cap found at the Basque whaling site at Red Bay, Labrador.

1600s - Rare examples of Micmac and Maliseet weaving from this era exist in the New Brunswick Museum. Using tree limbs, they constructed vertical looms. Tying the warp threads to the limb, the weft was woven in with their fingers. A small fragment recovered from Portland Point, on which Saint John's Fort Latour stood, is thought to have been part of a bag from grass or nettle fibres. This piece showed the warm fibres bound in alternating pairs, giving a diamond effect.

1604 - Samuel de Champlain arrives in North America, spending the winter on St. Croix Island.

1632 - Fort La Tour in present day Saint John, built by French fur trader Charles de St. Étienne de la Tour, was the area's first European settlement. Several samples of material of European manufacture found at the site are now part of the New Brunswick Museum collection.

1639 - Ursuline nuns, who educate girls, come to North America. Known for their teaching needlework, especially their embroidery.

1702 - first silk mill built in Scotland by Thomas Cotchett and George Sorocold

1726 - The oldest quilt in North America is made. This Canadian patchwork handwork is on display at the McCord Museum of Canadian History in Montreal. The date 1726 is embroidered on it and it is pieced from silk (including brocade and damask), velvet, linen and cotton. It has been suggested "The McCord Quilt" was made in England in the 18th century and may have come to Canada during the 19th century.

1730s - Workers arrive in Yorkshire to work in textile mills and other industries, bringing with them their small dogs. These canines, much larger than today's version, became known as Yorkshire Terriers and were used to chase mice and rats in the factories

1733 - John Kay speeds up the weaving process by inventing the fly-shuttle.

1751 - Britain exported 46,000 British pounds worth of cotton fabric

1755 - Acadian expulsion.

1764 - Expulsed Acadians allowed to return to NS. ; James Hargreaves invents the spinning jenny, increasing production capabilities by a factor of eight

1765 - The first known agricultural fair in Canada held at Windsor, N.S.

1769 - Richard Awkright and John Kayes invent water frame for creating threads for weaving warps

1779 - Samuel Crompton combines Awkright / Hargreaves ideas to invent the muslin machine aka spinning mule

1780s - Some of the earliest records of sheep in New Brunswick in the Fredericton area (then known as St. Anne's). The sheep were destroyed in 1785 by order of Brigadier Robert Monckton.

1783 - 7000 Loyalists land in Saint John.

1784 - Province of New Brunswick created.

1785 - City of Saint John is incorporated. / The University of New Brunswick was founded in Fredericton. / Dr. Edmund Cartwright invents first power loom.

1789 - The Grand Theatre, the first theatre in Canada, opens in Halifax.

1790 - The first workable sewing machine is patented by British inventor Thomas Saint.

1794 - Eli Whitney of Hamden, Conn., invents the cotton gin for seperating cotton seeds from the fibres. The original machine is on display with the New Haven Historical Society.

1796 - Peter Wayde of Sussex, a weaver, was charging 1 British pound to make a suit of clothes and 5 shillings for a waistcoat (from The Story of Sussex and Vicinity by Grace Aiton, page 41)

1797 - 13 sheep sent from Britain to New Zealand, launching the world's largest wool producing country

1800 - Britain exported 5.4 million British pounds of cotton cloth

1801 - Jacquard loom, recognized as the first computer, perfected in France

1811 - Napoleon's grandson, the King of Rome, had a toy carriage drawn by sheep to ride in.

1819 - New Brunswick industrialist Alexander "Boss" Gibson born. He died in 1913, aged 94 years. Known for founding the town of Marysville on the Nashwaak River (population 2,500), and naming it after his wife. His business empire included a prosperous cotton textile mill.

1819 - June 1  Advertisement: "Mr. and Mrs. (Joseph Regan) Leggett respectfully inform their friends and the public in general that they have opened the Academy and Boarding School at the College in Sussex Vale for Drawing, Painting, on paper or silk, Composition, Poetry, Mathematics, the English, French and Latin languages grammatically. All kinds of plain and ornamental needlework, Tambouring, embroidering with silk or gold, embroidery of flowers, figures or pictures, Filago work, etc. The strictest attention will be paid to the morals and manners of the pupils." (From The Story of Sussex and Vicinity by Grace Aiton, page 105)

ca 1840 - The Workwoman's Guide, an early instruction book popular in Canada, and known largely for its early knitting patterns for babies, was printed.

1841 - March  The Sussex and Studholm Agricultural Society, the oldest agricultural society in the world, is formed in Sussex Vale. It was incorporated in 1861.

1841 - Charles Fenerty succeeds in making paper from pulp wood at Upper Sackville, N.S.

1843 - July 10 - In Saint John, John E. Turnbull patents a manual clothes washer with mounted wringer rolls. Activated by a gearing system, the washer is operated manually for 10 minutes, to clean each load of laundry.

1844 - Leprosy first seen in eastern New Brunswick.

1850 - April 26  New Brunswick Agricultural Society formed.

1851 - New Brunswick had 81 fibre-based mills, while Nova Scotia had 52. Most of these would be geared towards the carding and spinning of wool.

1851 - Amelia Bloomer created a worldwide uproar with her invention of local pants for women. Pants get their name from "Pantaloon", a character in the Renaissance Italian theatre who wore long culottes.

1851 - Issac M. Singer (1811-75) patents the first rigid-arm sewing machine. He went on to develop the world's largest sewing machine manufacturing business by 1860.

1853 - St. Joseph's University, later to be the University of Moncton, is established at Memramcook. This included a collection of antiques which included a variety of textile manufacturing tools. What became the Acadian Museum moved with the university in 1965, taking up shop in the Library and Art Gallery building.

1856 - William Henry Perkin discovered the first synthetic dye stuff, a mauve, while researching a cure for malaria.

1857 - Canada's oldest woolen mill, Briggs and Little, was founded at York Mills, on the Magaguadavic River. Briggs & Little has been the name since 1916, when Matthew Briggs partnered with the Little family. Previous to that it was called Little's Woolen Mill, and previous to that York Woolen Mills. The mill was first started in 1857 by George Lister who was one of the original grant holders in the Harvey area.

1858 - Cabinet maker R. B. Davis of Woodstock was producing spinning wheels for 12 shillings sixpence and up.

1860 - The oldest known hooked rug in Canada was made in 1860 by Abigail Smith of New Maryland, near Fredericton. The design features a casual arrangement of a dove, eagle, vase of flowers, a house and a cow beside a tree. The inscription reads: "Worked by Abigail Smith at New Maryland, 1860." The rug was worked entirely in wool except for a small portion of coarsely knitted wool fabric in small parts of the background. It is now part of the New Brunswick Museum collection.

1860 - Charles Raymond establishes his sewing machine business in Montreal. He moves it to Guelph, Ont., in 1862. Mr. Raymond holds several patents for sewing machine technology, like this one.

1861 - William Parks of Ireland builds the first cotton mill in the Maritimes in Saint John. This three-storey structure made of brick churned out a grey cotton fabric from 24 looms at its Wall Street location. (The old Wall St is approximately where Hwy Exit 123 to Paradise Row is today. It was closed in the mid 1970s when the throughway was opened. Prior to that, it connected Rockland Road and Garden St via an iron bridge over the train tracks. The lower portion of Rockland Road from Burpee Ave to Winter St. used to be part of Wall St.)

The first weavers were from Britain and New England, using yarn from England created from American-grown cotton. The American Civil War, and the ensuing naval blockade of the South, prompted him to install carding and machinery, and hiring Saint John ships to slip through the blockades to procure the raw material. William and his son, John, later built a second plant, named the New Brunswick Cotton Mill. This became one of the largest employers in Saint John, with approx. 500 people helping operate nearly 30,000 spindles. John, encouraged my Prime Minister Macdonald's National Policy, expanded the business. He also erected a third mill at Courtney Bay, which remained in business until 1994. The company was reorganized and renamed the Cornwall and York Cotton Mills in 1903, before eventually being bought by Canadian Cottons Ltd.

1861 - Britain exported 46.8 million British pounds worth of cotton fabric

1863 - 13 patchwork bed quilts were part of a NS exhibition

1867 - July 1  Canadian confederation officially declared.

1871 - The Dominion Census of 1871 noted of the 25,882 Charlotte County residents, 103 declared themselves professional weavers. They produced 22,692 yards of cloth. Weaving for household use in the same area amounted to 47,128 yards of cloth among 1,109 ordinary households, or nearly 29 per cent of the total 4,725 homes at the time. The same census notes New Brunswick weavers produced 74,000 yards of linen, a figure that had dropped to 25,000 yards by 1891.

1873 - May  Tailor Jacob Davis and dry goods salesman Levi Strauss obtained the patent for blue jeans with metal rivets. The company recognizes this as the official birthday of blue jeans.

1877 - June 20  The Great Fire of Saint John razes one square kilometre of the Port City's business district, following a three-week dry spell. The 1,500 commercial and industrial buildings lost included 36 tailors, 55 shoemakers, 29 clothing stores and 22 dry goods establishments. The blaze caused an estimated $27 million damage in 1877 dollars, of which only $6.5 million was recovered from insurance.

1878 - The first paper box company in Canada starts production in Saint John.

1880 - The Westmorland Agricultural and Emigrant Society prize list, Sackville, NB, included categories for patchwork quilts, silk and others. (Canadian Heritage Quilting)

1880s - New Brunswick is one of the last provinces in which women are producing homespun textiles and selling them to merchants for resale to the lumbering industry. The 1881 census showed the decline in the lumbering industry at this time caused a 36 per cent reduction in the same of textiles to woodsmen and their colleagues from 10 years previous.

1881 - Humphrey fabric mill started in Moncton, producing what became known as "Humphrey cloth"

1882 - Stanfield's underwear founded in Truro, NS

St. Croix Cotton Manufacturing Company, St. Stephen, starts operating; runs until 1957 (By 1950, there were about 1,000 workers at the mill, most of them women. There were also 1,200 looms in use.)

1883 - Alexander "Boss" Gibson builds a cotton mill in Marysville, a town on the Nashwaak River he founded and named after his wife. The business thrived under Sir John A. MacDonald's National Tariff Protection Policy until it was sold to Montreal financiers in 1908. After changing hands several times, it closed its doors in 1975. Marysville amalgamated with Fredericton in 1973. The five-storey mill has since been renovated and is now office space known as Marysville Place, 20 McGloin Street.

1886 - Zwicker's Gallery, Canada's oldest art gallery, opens in the Halifax north end.

1888 - Victoria School of Art and Design (now NSCAD) in Halifax was incorporated.

1890 - Canadian inventor Annie Dixon patents the "Skirt Protector", patent no. 34162.

1890s - Strong growth of New York clothing industry

1897 - Feb 11  The first Women's Institute was formed in Stoney Creek, Ont.

1907 -- Scott Paper Towels introduced to help stop the spread of the common cold in Philadelphia classrooms.

1910 - Girl Guide movement officially started in St. Catherine's, Ontario. The first New Brunswick company "Scouts" was started around the same time in Hampton, and was one of the first in North America.

1911 - June 12   The first Women's Institute meeting in New Brunswick is held in  Andover at the suggestion of Mrs. James E. Porter, aka "Mother of the Women's Institutes in New Brunswick". She was the wife of the Victoria County MLA. Forty ladies attended that first meeting in Beveridge's Hall. By the end of the summer, 16 branches with 275 members had been created. (From Fifty Years of Women's Institutes in New Brunswick by Marianne Grey Otty)

1913 - February  The first provincial Women's Institute Convention was held at the old YMCA room in downtown Fredericton. (From Fifty Years of Women's Institutes in New Brunswick by Marianne Grey Otty)

1913 - The Women's Institute appears in Nova Scotia, with 14 branches formed within the year. / The modern brassiere was patented by its inventor, a New York socialite named Mary Phelps Jacob in 1913. 'Brassiere' derived from the old French word for 'upper arm'. / Russia is producing 80 per cent of the world's flax.

1913 - Grace Helen Mowat sends her first three hooked rugs to a Montreal craft store, effectively launching her iconic New Brunswick fibre arts business, Cottage Craft Woolens. Made to her design, they sold quickly.

1914 - Three years after the first Women's Institute was formed in New Brunswick, there were 61 branches with 1,900 members. (From Fifty Years of Women's Institutes in New Brunswick by Marianne Grey Otty)

1915 - Dr. Helen Grace Mowat forms Charlotte County Cottage Craft Limited in St. Andrews, the oldest group of weavers in New Brunswick. She encouraged women in the surrounding county to develop local yarns to weave and knit into finished products, all with New Brunswick scenes and events as their theme. This idea worked so well, she was paying her workers more than $12,000 by 1921. Dr. Mowat operated the business until after the Second World War when she passed it to the son of a college friend, William Ross.

1916 - In the first five years of the Women's Institute movement in New Brunswick, members created 26,182 articles for World War One soldiers. This number included 8,552 pairs of socks, of which 854 pairs originated in Petitcodiac in just one year! (From Fifty Years of Women's Institutes in New Brunswick by Marianne Grey Otty)

1919 - New Brunswick women win the right to vote in provincial elections. / Wealthy textile merchant Augustus D. Juilliard leaves the largest bequest to the arts at the time, with its trustees using the funds to create the Juilliard Graduate School in New York, allowing top musicians to complete their educations.

1920s - Manmade materials become more prevalent, with natural fibres such as wool, linen and cotton having been the norm until then.

1921 - A pair of corsets was selling at Jones' store, Collina (near Sussex) for $1.25. (source: p. 39 of "A Light in the Valley" - a history of Collina)

1924 -- Kleenex tissues are born, with the original purpose to remove makeup.

A Japanese carpenter named Rashomon Sakichi Toyoda invented a revolutionary machine-driven textile loom that was so sensitive, it automatically stopped if a single thread broke. This invention allowed a single employee to oversee several machines at once, greatly increasing productivity.
A few years later, Toyoda sold the device's patent to a British company for a tidy sum. The entrepreneur set his sights on creating Japan's first car company, using the same automated system that had shaped his textile business. With some funding by a Japanese government, the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works company was launched in 1933.

1929 - The New Brunswick Museum, Canada's oldest continuing museum, is officially declared the provincial museum.

1934 - Eaton's in Moncton were selling wool suits for $10.

1935 - (photo of woman spinning outdoors, NS Archives)

1937 - DuPont patented nylon, the world's first synthetic fibre, coming out with ladies' stockings at the New York World's Fair. There was a near hysteria from customers as women rushed to snatch up five million pairs that day.

1937-39 - The New Brunswick Department of Education joins a Dominion-Provincial Youth Training Project to train rural young people in traditional handicrafts. The courses lasted one month, and were offered in 62 communities. More than 2,000 girls participated, of whom 600 specialized in weaving.

1938 -  New Brunswick College of Craft and Design in Fredericton founded by the New Brunswick government. / Nylon, researched and developed by Dupont over the previous decade, makes its public debut.

1939 - Oct 14  Fashion designer Ralph Lauren born

1941 - Mount Allison University in Sackville offers the first Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Canada.

1943 - The Royal Canadian Air Force have their tartan, designed and woven by Loomcrofters of Gagetown, registered by Lyon, King of Arms, in Edinburgh, Scotland. This was the first design to be accepted there from outside the British Isles.

1946 - Grace Helen Mowat sells Cottage Craft to brothers Bill and Kent Ross

1950 - New Brunswick School of Arts and Crafts set up at Fundy National Park under the direction of Dr. Ivan H. Crowell.

1951 - Loomcrofters weaves New Brunswick's gift to Queen Elizabeth II for Her Majesty's visit to Canada.

1958 - The Royal New Brunswick Regiment commissioned a "new design which would have significance for the people of New Brunswick" for presentation to Lord Beaverbrook in the form of a motor rug. Patricia Jenkins of Gagetown incorporated colours like the green of the New Brunswick forests, the Canadian red, and beaver brown into a tartan. The fully registered design was adopted January 29, 1959 by the New Brunswick Government as the official New Brunswick Tartan and it was recorded in Edinburgh, Scotland, by Lyon, King of Arms on June 3, 1959.

1961 - Fifty years after the first Women's Institute was formed in New Brunswick, there were approximately 300 branches with more than 6,000 members. (From Fifty Years of Women's Institutes in New Brunswick by Marianne Grey Otty) / Loomcrofters designs and registers the City of Fredericton tartan. / Mary Tyler Moore became the first woman to wear pants on television.

1962 - Loomcrofters designs and registers the Lion's Tartan.

1963 - Loomcrofters designs and registers the official tartan for the Highland of Haliburton, Ont.

1964 - February  Grace Helen Mowat dies at Beech Hill in her 90th year

1966 - Scott Paper starts manufacturing disposable paper dresses as a publicity venture. More than 60 other manufacturers start doing the same in the next year. Dresses cost $1 and evening gowns $4, but the material's nature brought its own concerns. Prone to disintegrate in water, and sometimes to catch on fire, it was also not very comfortable. Scott Paper had sold approximately 500,000 dresses by the time the fad ended in 1968.

1969 - Theatre New Brunswick was founded by Artistic Director Walter Learning with a mandate to bring professional theatre to the people of New Brunswick. The costuming department is a wealth of information, as well. 

1979 - The beloved Canadian story, The Hockey Sweater, by Roch Carrier is first published. Mr. Carrier lived in northern New Brunswick for four years when he was young.

1982 - Kent Ross of Cottage Craft in St. Andrews dies at 62 years

1985 - Mrs. Gertrude Duffie and Dr. Ivan H. Crowell created a series of 27 tapestries depicting Fredericton's history in keeping with the citys 200th birthday. These works are based on Dr. W. Austin Squires book, Fredericton: The Last 200 years. The tapestries are now on permanent display in the city hall council chamber. The capital's city hall is the oldest such building in the Maritimes still in use. 

1993 - Spun Norse yarn and loom found at medieval Dorset camp in Greenland (Canadian Museum of Civilization / Canadian Geographic magazine, April 2009)

1990s to 2009 - Archaelogist Pat Sutherland of the Canadian Museum of Civilization has identified more than 100 pieces of spun yarn from four major Dorset camps - Nanook, Nunguvik, Avayalik and Willows Island. Several strands were made from the fur of Arctic hare.

1995 - Weaver Nel Oubesman of Fredericton is the first textile artist to win a Strathbutler Award.

1997 - Year of Needle Arts / Briggs and Little Woolen Mill resumes production after rebuilding after fire

1998 - March 17 - Cultivation of Industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa) is legalized in New Brunswick.

2001 - October - Dr. Ivan H. Crowell presents his 100th tapestry to his alma mater, the University of New Brunswick. The UNB collection includes a bicentennial series of UNB buildings, a student residence series, a heraldic series and a series of figures from childrens literature. Aged 99 years at the time, he has more than 1,000 tapestries to his credit.

2002 - October  Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip visit Canada as part of Golden Jubilee.

2003 - May  Esteemed fibre artist Dr. Ivan "Bill" Crowell dies.

2003 - John Corey of Havelock contributes extensive historic quilt collection to the New Brunswick Museum. This substantial addition enhances the facility's extensive collection of domestic textiles, making it one of the best collections of such items in Canada.

2003 - String Fever Textile Gallery established in Fredericton.

2004 - March 20   Needlework New Brunswick web site launched.

2004 - April 27  Fredericton textiles artist Janice Wright Cheney wins $10,000 Strathbutler Award. This is the second time fibre arts have been highlighted in the award's 14-year history, with weaver Nel Oubesman of Fredericton winning it in 1995. The Strathbutler Award is New Brunswick's premier art award.

2004 - Sept. 2  Sheila Hugh Mackay dies suddenly at age 58. The long time advocate of the NB and Canadian arts scene died in Aruba, in the Caribbean, where she had recently purchased a home. Among her many contributions to the province's art scene, one of her best known gestures was the launch of the Strathbutler Award in 1991. She also created the Sheila Hugh Mackay Foundation, which gave out $20,000 to craftspersons across Canada every six months.

2005 - July 27  London-Wul Farms at Lakeburn is officially declared New Brunswick's third member in the EconoMuseum network. This network promotes traditional handcrafts as a sustainable business.

2005 - Fall  Nineteen-year-old Jordan Anderson, a third generation sheep farmer, swept the prizes at the 2005 Kent Fair Sheep Show. This is the first time in the show's 49-year history that such a thing happened. Among the titles Jordan collected in is record year are grand champion ewe and ram, best breeder's flock, best market lamb and premier breeder and exhibitor. Jordan is the grandson of Tom Anderson of Newtown, near Sussex, the founder of the Canadian Sheep Breeders Association.

2006 - Legacy Lane Fibre Mill opens in Markhamville, near Sussex.

2007  Craft Year in Canada

2007 - Oct 26  Fibre artist and community builder Charlotte Glencross of Fredericton dies of cancer. Her many accomplishments include the launching of the Charlotte Street Arts Centre in Fredericton.

2007 - Dec 29  Enid Inch of the Loomcrofters, Gagetown, dies at 87 years old. The legendary weaver was with the NB icon fibre arts business for 67 years. During this time she helped design the Royal Canadian Air Force, the New Brunswick and the Fredericton tartans.

2008 - May  For the first time two fibre artists were shortlisted for the prestigious Strathbutler Award. NBCCD instructor and weaver Linda Brine and Baie Verte tapestry maker Anna Torma joined photographer Jim Wilson as finalists for the $15,000 prize. Torma emerged victorious, as well as earning second place in the prestigious Dia-logue textile competition in Europe.

2008 - Oct 29 - Nov 2   Atlantic Fashion Week launched in Halifax

2009 - International Year of Natural Fibres

2009 - March  Fifth anniversary of Needlework New Brunswick

Goose Lane Editions publishes "Grace Helen Mowat and the making of Cottage Craft" by Diana Rees with Ronald Rees

2010 - February    Milltown cotton mill building that had been converted into apartments burns and is leveled

2014 - March   Needlework New Brunswick marks 10 years serving the province's fibre arts community

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