Today i am going to do a very general overview of ethnic Russian Embroidery. There have been many publications and exhibitions showing embroidery from the Russian Empire, or the Soviet Union, or from Russia, which include much that is not Russian. I have seen Uzbek, or Chuvash, or Armenian or Nanai, or Ukrainian embroidery blithely listed as 'Russian' by those who couldn't be bothered to investigate properly. The Russian Empire, and later the Soviet Union, of course included many non-Russian nations, and even today the Russian Federation contains millions of people who belong to various indigenous peoples. Ukrainians are very familiar with this, and it seems we are constantly having to tell people, NO, we are not Russian. One case in point, a german music company Laser Light, has put out an album using one of my grandfather's paintings for the cover. The painting showed a Strilets', one of the elite troops which fought under Austria, and later for Ukrainian independance around WWI, playing a guitar to a girl. The album they put it on was named 'Russian Folk Songs of the Urals'! That would be like putting a painting of Don Quixote on the cover of an album called 'French Paladin Songs of the Alps'.
Another example, here is a very good book of Ukrainian cross stitch designs.
Here is a photograph from the book showing some of the finished designs on projects that are included. The designs are very familiar to anyone who has done Ukrainian embroidery.
The telling point is, i have read several books on Russian Embroidery, and they do not claim these types of designs.
Having gotten that out of my system, I will devote the rest of this posting to embroideries of the Russian People. Russia, like Poland does not have a ubiquitous culture of embroidery, but does have several well developed and expressive local embroidery styles. Today i will give a small taste of several of them.
I will not be including Church or Court embroidery styles, that is rather out of my sphere.
First, the gold embroidery done on headresses and outer clothing in northern and central Russia. Here is a detail of a woman's jacket.
Another style of embroidery is that which the Russians refer to as 'painting', essentially designs built of backstitch or Holbein stitch, most typically entirely in red. This is an example of a local development of a technique which is extremely widespread over Europe and Asia. This is found in Central Russia, but is most typical of the Northwest, and is also found among the Veps and Karelians. Here is a design which Russian historians call 'the Sun Chariot'.
By the way, I am covering the folk arr of the Russian homeland, which lies north of Ukraine and Belarus, and west of the Volga, The Russians have of course spread far to the east since the time of the decline of the Golden Horde, but the bulk of the development of the folk culture took place in the Russian Heartland.
Here is an example of Russian cross-stitch embroidery from the northeast province of Vologda. This photo is in black and white, but the embroidery is all in red.
There were many pieces like this made in the north, done on premade netting, as in western Europe.
This was possibly the inspiration for four different local styles of embroidery in Russia. The first one starts by outlining the design in blanket or chain stitch. Then the backgroun is worked, two threads left and two threads drawn, as in hemstitching, except that this was done in both directions. these threads were then wrapped singly by thread, holding them in place to form a sort of netting. the inside of the motifs were then worked with 'blackwork' stitches, only in white. Here is an exuberant example from Arkhangelsk.
In the background is a closeup of one of the motifs on the pillow. Here is an even closer view of another piece, showing details of the work. This style of embroidery in Russian is called 'perevity'.
And that is it for today's posting. This is not an exhaustive survey of Russian embroidery, but I hope it is a good overview of many of the styles developed by the Russian people. I hope this inspires you. I will do a more in depth coverage of at least some of these styles in the future.
Here are a couple of good links on this subject.
This site concentrates on verifiable peasant costumes and some of the embroidery techniques which i have covered today, including the mystical meanings of some of the traditional motifs. Make of that what you will, but it is a good resource.
And here you can buy Russian shirts for men and women and other items.
Thank you for reading, go and be creative, and tell others about this art form.
M. N. Gumilevskaya, 'Kaluzhskaia Narodnaia Vyshyvka', [Kaluga Folk Embroidery], Moscow, 1959
S. Y. Gumilevskaya, 'Vyshyvka Khudozhnik M. N. Gumilevskaya' [Embroidery of the Artist M. N. Gumilevskaya], Moscow, 2005
Barbara & Julia Mueller, 'Kreuzstichmuster aus dem Alten Russland', [Cross Stitch Designs from Old Russia], Rosenheim, 1995
The Museum of Folk Art, Moscow, 'Russian Embroidery: Traditional Motifs', Moscow, 1990
Yefimova & Belegorskaya, 'Russian Embroidery and Lace', Moscow, 1982
I. Boguslavskaya, 'Russkaya Narodnaia Vyshivka' [Russian Folk Embroidery], Moscow, 1972
L. Kalmykova, 'Narodnaia Vyshivka Tverskoy Zemli' [Folk Embroidery of Tver' Land], Leningrad, 1981