Kodukootud kangaid väärindades. Robert Natuse auruwärwimise wabrik Viljandis aastatel 1883-1941 / Increasing the value of homespun fabrics. Robert Natus’s dye house in Viljandi between 1883 and 1941

  • Liisi Joala


Many good sources for the history of textile printing can be found among the international scholarly literature. The authors who have compiled them have made use of woodblocks, richly printed fabrics and fabric samples, notes taken by dye craftsmen, and other sources. Unfortunately, such material is rarely to be found in Estonian museums. More complete research into the technologies used in Estonian dye houses in the 19th and 20th centuries is therefore an ongoing process of discovery. This article draws on the remaining woodblocks of Natus’s dye house in Viljandi as well as on the information written by the craftsmen who specialised in dyeing and printing processes. Texts and advertisements published in the press and in the dye house’s calendars proved to be especially valuable sources. The article gives an overview of the services provided at Natus’s dye house by explaining which fabrics were typical and which fabric and printing dyes were used. The study is placed within a broader historical context: an overview is also given of the development of a field of activity and of the competitors of the dye house.
During the first half of the 19th century, handicraft was one of the main areas of activity and chief modes of production in Estonia. By the latter part of the century, textile companies were being established in larger towns and massproduced fabrics emerged as a competitor to homespun fabrics. Craftsmen could refine and increase the value of handmade textiles at dye houses. The emergence of such establishments played a key role in the development of handicraft, since it provided the craftsmen with an opportunity to offer higher quality fabrics than mass-produced ones.
In the nineteenth century, dye houses operated in numerous Estonian boroughs, towns, and even villages. In fact, several dye craftsmen lived in Viljandi. The most prominent dye house located in Viljandi is likely to be
Natus’s dye house, which was active between 1883 and 1941. Robert Natus from Brandenburg purchased the plant from the heirs of August Valenius. In addition to the processing and dyeing of fabrics, he also offered woodblock printing as an additional service, which helped him stand out from the competition. No fabrics originating from Natus’ dye house have survived, and only 31 woodblocks that are preserved at the Viljandi  Museum. Since few printed fabrics in Estonia have survived, the remaining woodblocks in museums are almost the sole evidence of the technologies used in textile printing at that time. Synthetic fabric dyes were mentioned in the advertisements of Natus’s dye house. Both the dyes and machines were imported from Germany. Continuous technological development and upgrades to the machinery were needed to keep up with the competition. Thus, for the sake of survival, all sorts of services were provided and the clients received extremely flexible treatment. The quality of the products was held in high regard, since tough competition already existed in the fabric dyeing business in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The network of co-operation partners was relevant too. In his heyday, Natus had 46 reception points throughout Estonia. But over the course of time, small dye houses could not keep up with large factories; eventually, many became washhouses.


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