Saturday, June 29, 2013

Interlace Embroidery of Horoden'ka, Pokuttia, Ukraine

Hello all,
Horoden'ka is an extraordinary crossroads of embroidery styles, the influences of Podillia, Bukovyna and the Hutsul territories combine to form a rich local tapestry of embroidery styles. Today I will examine one local embroidery stitch which seems to be found nowhere else in Ukraine. Above you can see a photo of an ustawka, or shoulder inset embroidered in nyzynka, framed with herringbone stitch, attached at left to the body of the shirt with merezhyvo typical of Podillia, and then finished off on the bottom with a row of interlacing.
The local name for this design is 'merezhka khvostata'. Merezhka means net, and usually refers to hemstitching, although it can also refer to other types of hand work which resemble a net.
This type of interlacing embroidery is found nowhere else in Ukraine to my knowledge, but it IS found in Malta, Sind, and Armenia. The Armenians claim to have invented it, and there are historical data which show influences from Armenia to both Malta and Sind. It is well known that there were colonies of Armenians in Halychyna, to the point where they had their own Archbishop and Cathedral in L'viw. [The only city in the world ever to have had three concurrent Catholic Archbishops, Roman, that is to say Polish, Byzantine - Ukrainian, and Armenian]. So it seems clear that this technique was borrowed from the Armenians, although why here, and not elsewhere in Halychyna is not clear.
Armenians call this type of interlace embroidery Marash work, after its historical city of origin, or Heusvadz Gar.

In Horoden'ka, this type of embroidery is only used as an adjunct stitch on women's chemises, in a band just below the shoulder inset, taking the place of morshchynka in the second part of the sleeve design. Typically, there is no embroidery on the lower sleeve.The embroidery on the ustawka may be nyzynka, cross stitch, or in another  technique.

 In fact, only three designs are used, all of which are variants of a single motif. 'Cross', which may 'be seen in the second and third images above, 'tailed', which is the cross with one arm missing, which can be seen at the top of the article and just above, and 'slanted', in which two opposite arms of the cross are missing, and the motifs are stacked so as to give a diagonal design, as in the following two photographs. In all of these, each succeeding motif is executed in a different color.

Here are the three designs side by side.

This paucity of design is another indication that this is a borrowed technique. However, they undoubtedly enrich the chemises of Horoden'ka, and are used in a unique way.
For comparison, here is a piece of Armenian embroidery completely executed in Interlace stitch.

You can see that although the Ukrainians may have borrowed the technique, they reinterpreted and adapted it to their own tastes rather than just copying the Armenian embroidery.

This type of work is executed in two parts, first a lattice is laid down, and then the embroidery thread is twined around the lattice without ever piercing the ground fabric except at beginning and end. You can see the lattices laid out for the three motifs above. Here is a schematic of a completed cross.The cross is always executed in one color. Here the two parts have been colored differently so as to make it easier to understand the technique.

The Armenians and Maltese use the cross like this, in Horoden'ka, the cross is worked on the diagonal, as seen above. When  laying down the lattice, it is very important that the lattice threads cross above and below one another alternately. Here is a closeup of the lattice.

Here is a step by step diagram of how to embroider the cross. The Armenians mark the cross on the material first. Ukrainians do not do this, instead laying the lattice in a counted thread technique. I present the diagram on the diagonal, as done by Ukrainians.

This can be easily adapted to the other two designs.
It is this type of added detail which adds richness of texture to the traditional embroideries of Ukraine. Modern adaptations which turn everything into cross stitch loses a dimension, becoming flat.

I hope that you have found this interesting and inspiring. Obviously this technique can be used to decorate many things.
I will close with a couple more images of this embroidery.

I am indebted to Vasyl Jula for many of the large closeup images used in this article.

Many of the rest of the images are from the work of Iryna Svyontek, which I highly recommend.

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:
Iryna Svyontek, 'Pokuttia Embroideries of Precarpathian Region', L'viw, 2013
Alice Odian Kasparian, 'Armenian Needlelace and Embroidery',  McLean, VA, 1983
Mary Gostelow, 'The Complete International Book of Embroidery', New York, 1977


  1. Hi Roman, so sorry to take your time with a question, but what is that beautiful stitch with a thick thread that lies on one side of these embroidered panels (one can see it very clearly on picture 17)? Is this what you mean by herringbone? It's so beautiful that I felt I just had to ask you. I've been following your blog for over a year now and would like to take this opportunity to thank you very much for your very generous and so wonderfully informative work.

    1. Thank you Linda,
      No, that is what i meant when i said merezhyvo. I should not have used the term, as I have not covered that technique yet. It is a joining stitch, or insertion stitch, of which there are many in Ukraine. That is actually a seam. The thread pierces the edges of the two pieces of cloth, and interlaces in between to form a decorative joining. You are right, it is very attractive, and very widespread in this part of Ukraine. It is made with a thick thread to make a strong seam and for texture. One possibility is the 'Cretan Stitch', another possibility would be to make buttonhole stitches alternately on each edge see this web page
      If you have access to Tania Diakiw O'Neil's book, she has some good illustrations.
      Thank you again for reading.

  2. Many thank for your reply. Yes, I didn't think it resembled the herringbone...

    1. My friend Vasy Jula has been reading this and has informed me that in Horoden'ka this is not technically an insertion stitch, as it does not actually form the seam, but is done over the seam as an ornamental technique. It basically consists of taking buttonhole stitches alternately on the two sides, then doing a second, and possibly a third journey in between and weaving the threads over and under each other. The technique actually remains the same, many insertion stitches also work as surface stitches

  3. You mention that this may be a borrowed stitch/technique. Yes, it it. It is derived from Kutchwork - a technique prevalent for centuries in Rajasthan in Northwest India where it is worked along with shisha mirrors.

    1. Yes, it has indeed been practiced in Kutch for centuries.
      The Armenians, who are a very old nation, claim that they have been practicing it for longer, and that it was introduced into Kutch by Mariam Zamani Begum, an Armenian Princess who married the Mogul Emperor Akbar, who also invited a colony of Armenians to settle there starting in 1562. This type of embroidery had been practiced in Marash and other parts of Cilician Armenia before that time.
      Thus the Armenian claim to being the first to invent this type of embroidery is at least plausible, if perhaps impossible to prove definitively.
      Also there is no evidence of any cultural link between Kutch and Halychyna at all.
      Thank you for reading, I am glad for your input.

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