In many cultures, it has been customary to present linen items that are necessary for the household as a dowry when a woman gets married: bedlinen, underwear and kitchen towels. In Lithuania, the dowry also traditionally included a decorative towel, made by the bride herself. It was displayed in a prominent place in the newlyweds’ kitchen.
Inspired by this tradition, Morta Jonynaite has made three sets of towels. One of these she dedicated to herself. It depicts underwear, glasses, scissors and a spool of thread – the essentials she would take with her to a potential future marriage. The second set of two towels is dedicated to a same-sex couple who are unable to officially register their cohabitation under the current Lithuanian law. The third, sewn together from nine smaller towels, each representing one month of pregnancy, is dedicated to a woman raising a disabled child.
When weaving textile, you cannot ignore the fact that this work takes a lot of time. Like a craft that requires a lot of patience, each relationship is also unique and requires commitment and care from both parties.
Jonynaite suggests that just as the carefully woven kitchen towels have now been replaced by anonymous mass production in homes, the understanding of family has also changed as society has developed. August Wilhelm Hupel, a Baltic German folklorist, wrote in the 18th century: “If you ask a Livonian peasant why he wants to get married, he will say that he needs a helper to support him, do his laundry and sew him clothes.” This quote, of course, reflects the gender roles of Hupel’s time, but thinking of the Estonian compound word for marriage, abielu, even in modern times, marriage could primarily be understood as a pragmatic and only then as an intimate union.