Monday, January 2, 2012

White, Black and Red Embroidery of Chernyhiw Province and East Polissia, Ukraine

Hello all,
Today I want to talk about a type of embroidery typical of North Central Ukraine, in
Eastern Polissia, basically the northern parts of Chernyhiw and Kyjiw provinces. This is embroidery done in the color scheme black, red and white. White on white embroidery is very common in various parts of Ukraine, and red and black embroidery is even more widespread, but the combination of the three colors seems to be restricted to this area.

The image above shows the shoulder inset and upper sleeve of a woman's chemise from the village of Zhowtnevne, about 20 miles east of Chernyhiw.
The techniques used are basically counted satin stitch, 'brick' stitch, outline stitch, cross stitch and other widespread techniques, it is just the color scheme which is unique.

In many original shirts the linen or hemp that the cloth is made of is not fully bleached, and the white embroidery contrasts against it. This effect is reminiscent of frost. This shirt is from Chernyhiw district.


In modern shirts often pure white cloth is used and contrast with the white embroidery is lost. The drawback of this is that from a distance, the embroidery can look like just a few disjointed dots; one has to be up close to appreciate the entire composition. Here is a man's shirt done in this style. This is a modern cut shirt  made in Chernyhiw city.

 Here is another modern day man's shirt, made as a 'coupon', in which the embroidery is finished, but the shirt is not sewn together. That is done by the buyer.

A few more examples of this kind of work. This chemise is from the village of Krysky, about 12 miles north of the town of Korop in northeastern Chernyhiw Province.

This is a sleeve and shoulder piece from a chemise from the village of Verba [Willow],  not far from Krysky, Chernyhiw Province

Sometimes, as here, there is no black in the design, which is made up only of red and white. This is a chemise from the village of Zhuklia, somewhat northwest of the above two villages, still in Northeast  Chernyhiw Province.

This is a sleeve and shoulder piece from a chemise from the area of Horodnya in Northwestern Chernyhiw province.

Here is part of a tablecloth from the village of Masany, Chernyhiw Province. This illustrates another characteristic of the embroidery of this region. The design is based on outlines worked in white.

At other times, the structure of the composition is completed in red and black, and the white is used for accents in the design. This chemise is from the village of Shyshkiwka, Koryukiw county, in far north central Chernyhiw province.

This is a chemise from the village of Pohoril'tsi,  a little east of Shyshkiwka, in Northern Chernyhiw Province. You will notice the design is similar to the previous one.

This chemise is from the village of Domotkanove, in Northeast Chernyhiw Province.

This chemise is from the village of  Lyzuniwka, in Northeast Chernyhiw Province.

Here is a graph of a similar design. The white part is indicated by gray lines showing counted satin stitch.

Sometimes the design itself is completely in white, with a border or neighboring joining stitch, or hemstiching done in red or red and black. Here is a shoulder piece and upper sleeve from a chemise from the village of Irzhavets, in Southeast Chernyhiw Province.

Here are two more examples from Chernyhiw Province.

Here is a rushnyk from Chernyhiw Province done in this technique. The composition reflects the different use of space required by the rushnyk.

The art of embroidery is still very much alive in Ukraine. Here is a contemporary chemise embroidered in Chernyhiw style.

Here are a few examples of old shirts from various collections.

Here is a drawing of a Museum piece which points out a dilemma facing those who reproduce or reconstruct old textiles. Colors fade, so do you reproduce the pieces as they are now, or do you reproduce the original colors? This artist is using a light brown to represent originally black threads which have faded to gray. Black often fades quite quickly, depending on the dyes used.

Here is a photograph of a portion of the original Museum piece.


Here is a girl from southern Chernyhiw Province showing the general effect of this technique.

This technique is also sometimes combined with cutwork. Cutwork is generally thought to be most typical of Poltava Province, but in fact is widespread in Central and Eastern Ukraine, as well as, of course, many other places including Greece, Transylvania and Hardanger in Norway. These are obviously remnants of a formerly more widespread technique. Here are some examples done by Maria Kutsenko of Australia. She does nice work, but she only indicates these designs as being from Polissia without any more detailed information of Origin. Again, the background cloth is very white and provides no contrast with the white embroidery.

Thank you for reading, and i hope that you might use some of these design ideas in your own creative efforts.

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.

Source Material:
Vira Zaichenko, 'Vysywka Chernyhiwshchyny' [Embroidery of the Chernyhiw Region], Rodovid Publishers, Kyjiw [Kiev], 2010
Maria Kalyniak, 'Ukrajinska Vyshywka, Suchasne Traktuvannia', L'viw, 2004
Maria Kutsenko, 'Ukrainian Embroideries', Melbourne, 1977

S. H. Kolosa, I. V. Hurhula, 'Ukrajins'ke Narodne Mystetsvo - Vbrannia', Kyjiw [Kiev], 1961
Tetiana Kara-Vasylieva, 'Ukrajins'ke Vyshywka' [Ukrainian Embroidery], Kyjiw, [Kiev], 1993
E. O. Hasiuk and M. H. Stepan, 'Khudozhnie Vyshyvannia' [Artistic Embroidery], Kyjiw [Kiev[, 1986
I. Khotinka et al, 'Ukrajins'ke Narodne Dekoratywne Mystetstvo' [Ukrainian Folk Decorative Art], Kyjiw [Kiev], 1956


  1. Thank you for your most informative and useful blog, especially for the materials of the Udmurts.

    1. I am glad you like it.
      I should return to the Udmurts.
      There is much material yet to cover.

  2. Thank you for such informative blog! I am ukrainian and especially grateful for those reviews of ukrainian embroidery. Though i have access to many sources, but some images and samples are new for me. I look forward to read other articles. And have one request. Please, write about Rivne region and Polissya. Thank you! Yuliya Goncharova.

    1. Thank you Juliu,
      I am very impressed by your work.
      I will be writing about The rest of Polissia soon.
      Working my way slowly westward. There is a lot of material.
      I am glad you enjoy the writing.

  3. Many thanks for the book! She is very valuable to us. It would be desirable to see and other materials, especially photos. Once again thanks! We will wait...

  4. Hi! this is an amazing blog! Can I ask if there is any particular folk dress for the region of odessa?
    Highly interested

    1. Hello Veroniko,
      There has not been much written about Odessa and southern Ukraine untill recently. I shall have to put together what i can find and do an article on it. But in general, the costume of southern Ukraine is very similar to that of Seredne Podniprovia.
      However the north part of Odessa Oblast is actually part of South Podillia, and has a very colorful and rich embroidery tradition. The coastal area is ethnically diverse, having communities of Greeks, Bulgarians, Lipovans, Gagauz, Tatars and others, each of which has their own costume tradition.
      Thank you for reading, i will continue to publish new information.

    2. Thank you so much! I'm looking forward to see pictures of Odessa's folk dresses!

  5. The last three photos show embroidery from Western Polissya, namely Rivne region.