Friday, January 7, 2011

Sleeve Embroidery, Podillia, Moldavia, Moldova

Hello all. I have been working a lot and have limited time, but i wanted to put a short post in. I talked in my first post about the three-part embroidery on the sleeves of traditional chemises from Podillia, Bukovyna, Moldova and Wallachia. I have here three examples. Often charted or painted examples do not bother to explain the arrangement on the sleeve of the three motifs.
This first one is Ukrainian,
from the Khmel'nytsky oblast [administrative region]. Which is part of Eastern Podillia, the section which was under the Muscovite rather than the Austrian Empire. The upper portion of the embroidery is done in flat stitch, also called counted satin stitch, in white thread on off white linen. Between the motifs are diagonal lines of outline/holbein stitch also in white, over 4 threads, most likely. The outlines are composed of braid or long legged cross stitch, with a wave design in between also of outline or Holbein Stitch. There are large cross stitches in red and black seperating the areas of flat stitch. The second design, which occurs at the level where the sleeve is no longer stiched to the body of the shirt, but to the piece of cloth which forms the inside portion of the sleeve, is usually somewhat longer. In this case, with black and white flat and outline stitches with accents in red and yellow, echoing the upper design. [for the cut of the chemise, see my first blog enty, Podillian Pillow Embroidery]
The vertical stripes, which continue down to the wristband, are composed of a black outline stitch design.
Ukrainian shirts of this type often have 3 completely different designs, whereas Romanian shirts often have the top and bottom designs based on the same motifs.
This design is published in the book 'Ukrainske Narodne Dekoratywne Mystetsvo' 'Ukrainian Decorative Folk Art' subtitle 'Dekoratywne Tkanyny' or 'Decorative textiles' Head Editor V. Zabolotny, Kiev, 1956.
There is an old tradition of artists painting designs like this, i assume because the available photographs were black and white, and of very poor quaility up untill quite recently. The Artist who painted this image was V. Kasian. Many older books, and even some recent ones, are full of Artist's images like this. It is an art form in and of itself.

This second image is of the sleeve embroidery of a chemise from the Brichany district of independant Moldova. All three designs are almost completely executed in cross-stitch, reflecting the simplification of design which occured in the 20th cent. This again was painted by a textile artist, the individual stitches being depicted as tiny pyramids. The round objects are flat metal sequins, quite common in this type of embroidery, at least in some regions. They would normally be without the cup that sequins in America usually have. The oulines in the upper part are depicted as elongated cross stitches, which i assume would be the braid or long-legged cross stitches as shown in the first image. At the bottom is a narrow design to be used on the wristban, collar and the front opening of the chemise, the stripes would also continue the length of the sleeve, as in the upper design. This image is taken from the book 'Moldavian National Costume' by V. Zelenchuk, Kishinev, 1985. In Romanian, the upper part of the desing is called altita, 'upper part', the middle design is called incretul [insert?], and the bottom stripes are called riurile.

This third design is not an actual painting of the embroidery, but just a charting of the stitches. The upper and lower designs are based on the same motif, in black and red cross stitch and holbein stitch. Notice that there are two different desigs which alternate for the lower sleeve stripes. These stipes do not continue around the sleeve, but are only executd on the outer portion. Again there is a border design shown at the bottom for wristbands, collars and front opening. The central design, you will notice is not shown by stitch. This may be done in cross stitch, but more traditionally would be executed in flat stitch, adding variety to the finish of the stitching. Again this is the somewhat simpler design typical of a later period. The boutique blouses sold today executed on cotton gauze might well feature this design. This design is from the town of Pipirig in the district of Neamt, in Romanian Moldavia.
The chart is from the book 'Broderii Traditionale si Artizanale Moldovenesti' by Ibrian and Dunare, Bucarest, 1984.
Happy stitching, i hope this inspires some of you.

Feel free to contact me with requests for research. I hope to eventually cover all of Europe and the Former Russian Empire/Soviet Union. I also gratefully accept tips on source materials which i may not have. I also accept commissions to research/design, sew, and/or embroider costumes or other items for groups or individuals. I also choreograph and teach folk dance.
Roman K.


  1. Hello, Roman! thank you for sharing all these with us. I wrote you a private message to the address above - because i had too much to say; I wanted to share with you what i've found and displayed on my blog - and also asked for help.
    kind regards!

  2. again, after reading this post properly:
    A correct and authentic Romanian blouse(iie) would have the composition of the sleeves this way, from up to down:
    umar ("shoulder") - one line of motifs
    altita - repetition of several line of motifs, exactly the same as the umar. there is some space between these 2 elements and they are bordered, on both sides, by specific lines, that go even higher than the umar.
    then: "incret" - which has the role of a modern elastic band, as the rest of the sleeve is wider than the altita + umar. a correct "incret" will always have yellow / orange / beige tones. and the motifs used are stricly related to fertulity symbols: 'diamonds', 'mutton's horns' etc
    "raurile" (rivers) almost always display vegetal motifs, in various forms, but all carry the same symbol: "the lost path" - the same idea of a labirinth. this represents the journey through life; at the end of this path you discover yourself.
    the motifs used on "altita + umar" are almost always solar motifs, related to cult of sun, stars, etc. they used to be specific for each village, some sort of ID of the women.
    after the 1st WW, some of these ancient rules of making a blouse got lost. I've read in old studies, about how the authors were complaining that tradition is suffering - even since 1856 - 1890 or so.
    The blouses i have from my great-grand-mother, from 1905, they respect these rules.
    More recent publications display, in their pages, both "correct" blouses but also new ones. After 1st WW, in some blouses, even the "incret" is missing and women used the same motifs for both altita and rauri - because the power of these motifs was lost, people stopped believing in signs.


    this is a drawing i made for what can be considered a 'perfect' romanian blouse - as proportions / composition
    it's not exactly a standard, but a medium after comparing and measuring loads of blouses. every woman made her blouse to look good on her :) of course :)

    1. Thank you very much for your insight, Ioana,
      We are glad for your information.

  4. I've just discovered your wonderful site and am enjoying looking through your illustrations and reading your explanations. Thank you for your generosity in sharing your research.

  5. vyry nice!