Friday, May 1, 2020

Central Ukrainian Rushnyk Embroidery

Hello all, 

Today I would like to talk about a unique type of Ukrainian embroidery, generally known as rushnyk embroidery. I must emphasize that this is NOT the only embroidery used on rushnyks, but this type of embroidery is almost exclusively done on rushnyks  The word rushnyk is often translated as 'towel', but this is misleading. Towels may indeed be sometimes called rushnyky, but a true rushnyk is a ritual cloth. They are one loom width, usually linen, and vary in length, but generally are at least 3 yards long. They are found among all the Slavic peoples, from the Russians to the Sorbians, and also among people who live among the Slavs, like the Veps and the Romanians. They are used in many traditional rituals, particularly births, baptisms, weddings and funerals. We drape them over ikons to honor them. They are always ornamented, often with woven designs, but more commonly with embroidery. Many different kinds of embroidery are used on rushnyky, but today I will focus on this one technique only.

This style of embroidery is used in central Ukraine, from Cherkasy to Kharkiw and Slobozhanshchyna. It consists of free form outlines, usually of flowers, executed in stem stitch. The various leaves, petals, etc, are then filled in with various counted thread stitches. These are more or less dense, and thus each filling stitch gives a different shading, some darker and some lighter. Here is a close up example. 

 The work is overwhelmingly done in red, but in some areas small amounts of blue, black, and/or yellow may be added as accents. 

This style of embroidery is unique. Ukraine's neighboring countries have no similar embroideries. There are only two types of embroidery that are even remotely similar. 

1. Elizabethan Blackwork.
This style of embroidery was very popular in England among the aristocracy in the Elizabethan era. 

 This style of embroidery was widely used on linen clothing, being composed of free form floral embroidery with counted thread filling stitches. It was always done in black. The filling stitches were various types of Holbein or outline stitch designs. It faded in popularity after the fall of the House of Tudor, ca 1610. 

2 North Russian openwork. 

These are two bed valences from Arkhangelsk. The background is executed in two directional drawn thread work. the outlines in stem stitch, and the fields in counted satin stitch in various designs. As you can see this was usually worked all in white. These designs were folk adaptations of the Baroque silk and gold embroidery used by the Aristocracy in St. Petersburg. 

I think that these three embroidery styles are unrelated. Each seems to have been invented as a way to adapt crewel or satin stitch embroidery to linen, in the process replacing the different colors with monochromatic stitches in a counted thread technique so as to give varying textures and shading instead of colors
The Ukrainian tradition, in the opinion of Kara-Vasylieva, most likely grew out of the Cossack Baroque embroidery of the Ukrainian Leaders and townspeople. Here are some examples, done in silk and gold thread. This type of embroidery was also used on Church textiles.

Even these were sometimes done only in red.

 This seems to be the origin of the folk tradition. The English and Arkhangelsk embroiderers solved the same problem in similar ways, but the details of the work are very different. 

This type of embroidery is never done on clothing, only on rushnyks, and sometimes on things like altar cloths. Under Communist rule, this style of embroidery was also adapted to propaganda banners, in an attempt to transfer the awe and respect inherent in this work to the Communist Party, and thus dress their evil ideas with respectability.

 The composition of these rushnyky generally consist of a narrow border, on all four sides, and then a floral grouping at either end. Ukrainian sensibility demands that there be an obvious origin for the floral group. The vines are never twining over the entire field, as you see in English embroidery. Sometimes the point of origin is recognizable as a pot, other times a small hill, rarely a bare stem. Often a single bloom takes the place of the point of origin. The rest of the flowers and leaves are connected to this point of origin, and form a symmetrical branching. Birds and small independent groups of flowers may be scattered about this major design, and in the center of the cloth. This motif is often called 'The Tree of Life', and many ascribe deep roots and symbolism to it. It is undeniable that this motif is very widespread in Ukrainian Folk Art on things like pysanky, folk painting and pottery.

 As you can see at a cursory glance, the number of filling stitches is very high, one of my sources claims that over 200 have been identified. The most basic is a running stitch, done over the entire field, leaving it covered with dashes. Sometimes these stitches are grouped into shapes such as triangles or diamonds, etc. Others are counted satin stitch in squares, triangles, etc. Some are darning stitch designs, others use solid bars with various shapes in between. Most of these images can be expanded so as to see the individual stitches better. You can also consult the book 'Ukrainian Embroidery Techniques' by Tania Diakiw O'Neil, pp 145 - 150, where she publishes many of these stitches from both front and back.

 Some of these old examples were obviously done freehand, today embroiderers work out their designs on paper and then transfer them, being careful to make them symmetrical. 
I will close with some more examples. The possibilities are endless. 

 Thank you for reading, I hope that you have found this to be interesting and informative. 
You might do well to attempt this kind of work yourself, even on something as small as a handkerchief. Bring some of the beauty of Central Ukraine into your home. 

Roman K


Source Material:
Tetiana Kara-Vasilieva, 'Ukrajins'ka Vyshywka', Kyjiw, 1993
Vira Zajchenko, 'Vyshywka Kozats'koji Starshyny XVII-XVIII st.' Rodovid, 2015
Kmit and Luciow, 'Ukrainian Embroidery', New York, 1978
Tania Diakiw O'Neill, 'Ukrainian Embroidery techniques', Mountaintop, PA, 1984
Taras Lozyns'kyj et al, 'Rushnyky Naddripnians'koji Ukrajiny', L'viw, 2017
V Bilozub et al, 'Ukrainian Folk Art - Weaving and Embroidery', Kyjiw, 1960
E Belokur et al, 'Derzhawnyj Musej Ukrajins'koho Narodnoho Dekoratywnoho Mystetsva URSR - Al'bom', Kyjiw, 1983
L Towstucha et al, 'Handicrafts in the Ukraine', Kyjiw, 1979
V Zabolotnyj et al, 'Ukraijins'ke Narodne Dekoratywne Mystetsvo - Dekoratywni Tkanyny', Kyjiw, 1956
L Yefimova et al, 'Russian Embroidery and Lace', London, 1987
I Boguslavskaya, 'Russkaya Narodnaya Vyshyvka', Moscow, 1972

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Overview of the Folk Costumes of Piemonte, Italy, part 4. Novara and Verbano-Cusio-Ossola

Hello all, 

This will be my last installment of the overview of the Paese of Piemonte. In this article I will cover the provinces of Novara and Verbano-Cusio-Ossola. The people of these provinces speak Lombard rather than Piemontese. Novara was originally part of Lombardy, but was conquered by the Duchy of Savoy in 1706 and has been considered part of Piedmont ever since. These two provinces lie in the east of Piedmont.

This province used to be part of Novara Province, but was separated in 1992 . These three were seperate regions that were combined. Verbano is the region on the west shore of Lago Maggiore, Cusio is the area around Lago d'Orta, and Ossola is the mountain valleys which stretch to the north. 


Valle Strona 
This valley lies in the south of this province, from Campello Monti at its head to its mouth on the shores of Lake Orta. Campello was a Walser colony. They consider their closest neighbors to be the Walser community at Rimella, which lies just over the mountain pass to the south, underscoring the fact that they connected more by mountain passes than by valleys. The costume of the upper valley, worn at least as far down as Forno has some definite similarity to that of Rimella, including puncetto in the chemise and sometimes on the aprons. The amount and type of embroidery on the aprons varies widely.

 Campello Monti


A video about a boutique in Forno teaching women how to make the traditional costume.

Lower Valle Strona

The costume of Fornero and the lower valley is simpler, and has no similarity to that of Rimella.


The twin cities of Upper and Lower Quarna lie west of the Lake. The image at the head of the article is from Quarna Sopra. 

Ossola is a mountain valley that extends northwest from Lago Maggiore. There are several side canyons, each of which has a distinct costume. This valley forms a northern extension of Italy, and is bordered on three sides by Switzerland; Canton Valais to the west, and Canton Ticino to the east.

Toce Valley and Ornavasso

 The main valley of Ossola is that of the Toce River. The town of Ornavasso is located in the lower parts of the valley.

Anzasca Valley

This valley lies in the southwest of Ossola, the eastern part lies north of Val Strona, and the western part lies north of Valsesia, The community at the head of the valley is Macugnaga, another Walser settlement. It lies to the north of Monte Rosa, as Alagna lies south of it. 

An everyday outfit from the upper part of this valley

The Sunday, or half dress outfit.

The festive outfit. This is the most commonly seen, as the more regular attire has been replaced by modern clothing. 


 The following images are from around Bannio, about halfway down the valley.

Antrona Valley

This is the next valley north, and lies parallel to Anzasca. See the map of the province at the head of the article. 
In the upper valley, the old costume had a long apron that hung from over the bust, and a long vest, similar to some of the other valleys in the area, as far away as Ticino. 

The newer costume has the apron at the waist, of different materials, depending on the occasion, and a short jacket with ornament on the front edges. 

This images are from Viganella, in the lower part of the valley.


Bognanco Valley

This is a small valley that lies north of Antrona.


The town of Domodossola lies in the main valley about even with the mouth of Bognanco valley. 

The part of town called Vagna has a tradition of Celebrating the Child Jesus in summer, for the benefit of the many men who travel seasonally for work and are not home in December.

Video of Christmas in Summer festival of Domodossola 

Divedro Valley

This valley lies in a northwest orientation from the central valley. It has retained the older style costume reminiscent of the ones found in Verzaska  and Maggia valleys in Ticino.

Formazza Valley

This valley lies in the very northernmost part of this Province, and is surrounded on three sides by Switzerland. The population at the head of this valley is Walser.  Here are the costumes for Formazza.

Calderini has a plate showing an old style costume from Foppiano. I have found no other record of this costume, and assume that it is no longer worn. 

Between Premio and Domodossola, the name Antigorio is used for the lower valley.


This town lies in the central valley, close to the mouth of Vigezza Valley.


Vigezza Valley

This valley heads to the east from the main valley, reaches a divide, and continues into Ticino in Switzerland, two different rivers flow out of either end of the valley. This is also known as Valle dei Pittori, as many painters in the past settled here, and the costume of this valley features in many of their works. The costumes of the valley show a great variation, depending on social class and occasion. This variety is perhaps better remembered here than in the other valleys because of the existing paintings. 


The town of Santa Maria Maggiore in this valley hosts the world convention of Chimney Sweeps every year.


Verbano includes the land around Lago Maggiore which belongs to this Province.

Cannobina Valley

This is a small valley which flows into Lago Maggiore at the town of Cannobio. 


 Video about Crealla and Val Cannobino

 Intrasca Valley

This is a small valley which lies further south, close to where the Ossola valley meets Lago Maggiore. This costume is especially conserved in the towns of Miazzina and Cossogno.

Lago Maggiore

On the shores of Lago Maggiore in the towns, we find much the same costume as is used in the towns of Locarno and Lugano. This is typical town costume, and the headdress is la raggiera, the collection of hairpins and spoons which I talked about in my article on Brianza and Mendrisiotto. 
This shows that this area is indeed culturally connected to Lombardy.

Cannero Riviera



Province of Novara

This province lies to the south, and contains part of Lago Maggiore. It borders Lombardy on the east. 


This is the region between the two lakes which lie on the border with Verbano-Cusio-Ossola. Here is the local group from the town of Sovazza.

For most of the rest of Novara, I have found little, except these images from the wedding of Prince Umberto in 1930. These are simply labelled Novara. 


This town lies in eastern Novara, near to the border with Lombardy. The costume worn in this town is a version of the typical Lombard costume with the raggiera headdress. I have written a more in depth article of that costume here.

Calderini provides a plate of this costume

 These images are from the local folklore group 'I Manghini e le Manghine'.

Galliate dance group web page with videos of dances

And that conludes my overview of the costumes of the Region of Piemonte. I did not expect to find so much material, I admit. 

Thank you for reading, I hope that you have found this to be interesting and informative. 

Roman K.


Source Material:
Much of this I found online, but here are a couple books as well. 
Emma Calderini, Il Costume Popolare in Italia, Milan, 1953
Gino Massano, 'Grazie e Splendori dei Costumi Italiani', Rome, 1930
Flavia Fiori et al, 'L'abito, Il Lavoro, La Donna', Comignago, 2009
Enrica Morini, 'Il Costume Walser di Macugnaga', Domodossola, 2018