Crafts as Cure

In Ukraine, there is an old tradition of embroidering a rushnyk, a hand towel, during dark periods of one’s life. It matters less what’s embroidered than the process of doing so. Once the rushnyk is done, it’s tied to a tree branch and allowed to decay. This way, people say, one’s worries and dark thoughts become scattered.

I don’t know if my great-grandmother Asya followed this tradition consciously–at any rate, she was far too practical to hang perfectly good fabric in the garden, but she wove her own cloth and embroidered. Even the most ubiquitous items in the house like newspaper holders and bread bags were embellished. Her most beautiful embroideries, however, weren’t meant to be seen. They were her undergarments.

In my recent video, I would like to share one of her favorite camisoles. It’s embroidered in the white-on-white style and has intricate cut-out work motifs.

Asya dressed simply, but her lingerie, red lipstick and a small bottle of perfume were important to her. As someone who has lived through a revolution, two wars and more occupations than should be one’s lot, Asya knew dark days. Yet, even during the most difficult periods of her life, she cherished these beautiful objects. She embroidered, planted her garden and sought beauty in all of its forms.

I think of Asya often these days, and I find much support and strength in my recollections of her. Touching her embroideries–how many hours she put into them!–I feel her closer. And I too am inspired to seek beauty and create.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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25 Comments

  • Jennifer: Hi, Victoria–

    I have a friend who is having a rough time lately, partially due to the situation with the world right now, partially just life.

    Although my friend isn’t Ukrainian, she does have a Czech/Russian background. I sent her one of your blog posts recently on the beautiful smells of your grandparents’ country home. I hoped that some of it would comfort her and maybe remind her of her own grandparents. I think there may be some common threads between the two countries when it comes to baking and home crafts like embroidery.

    I think it gave her day a little sunshine. Thank you. May 8, 2020 at 7:10am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, Jennifer! I hope that your friend will also like this article and my story. 🙂 May 8, 2020 at 9:07am Reply

  • Tara C: What a great post! Love your necklace and I’m amazed by your enormous piles of books! My grandmother did liquid embroidery with paint as opposed to stitching, I still have many of her pieces. She was German.

    The comment about underwear in the USSR being used to scare small children was funny. 🙂 I like the idea of doing a craft project to pour your anxieties into and then hang it outside to blow away in the wind. May 8, 2020 at 9:56am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, my friend in Ukraine made these necklaces. She’s recreating traditional designs and adding her own twists.

      I’d love to see your grandmother’s embroideries. 🙂 May 10, 2020 at 5:10am Reply

  • Marsha: Love these stories about your family. Your great-grandmother was certainly an extraordinary person! May 8, 2020 at 10:11am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you. She was an incredible person in so many ways. May 10, 2020 at 5:11am Reply

  • Klaas: Thank you Victoria! I love the idea of leeving a piece of embroiderie on a branch to decay.

    It is a bit like the beautiful mandala-mosaics, being left to be scattered by the winds.

    I’m sure it is very theraputic. May 8, 2020 at 10:38am Reply

    • Victoria: So true! I didn’t think of it until your comment, but the idea is the same, including having no regrets that your careful work will be scatters by the winds. May 10, 2020 at 5:12am Reply

      • Klaas: That is the beauty of it! May 10, 2020 at 5:23am Reply

        • Victoria: Yes, and the process itself is important, contrary to so many other pursuits which are about the result. May 10, 2020 at 5:28am Reply

          • Klaas: Indeed… May 10, 2020 at 5:07pm Reply

  • AndreaR: Lovely!!! The lingerie is exquisite.I love folk traditions and the tradition of embroidering a rushnyk and then letting it disintegrate is magical.
    Beautiful corali:-) May 8, 2020 at 12:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you! It’s some type of stone, but the color is like the corals. May 10, 2020 at 5:13am Reply

  • Eliza: They are beautiful! I am especially impressed by the lacy lingerie.

    Thanks for sharing a bit of beauty in this time. I was starting to feel depressed by all the bad news and the lockdown. May 8, 2020 at 1:25pm Reply

    • Aurora: You’ve spoiled us with beautiful Asya’s embroideries, I love the subtlety of white on white. Madame de Maintenon dressed simply but wore luxurious pettycoats and I’m sure wonderful underclothes must give one amazing confidence. May 8, 2020 at 2:30pm Reply

      • Victoria: She put so many hours into crafting this lingerie! And yes, she was definitely a confident woman. May 10, 2020 at 5:16am Reply

    • Victoria: I love how delicate this camisole is.

      Many hugs to you! Please try to find support in anything that makes you feel better. Please take care of yourself. May 10, 2020 at 5:14am Reply

  • Matty1649: Beautiful embroidery. Thank you for sharing glimpses in to your life and family. May 8, 2020 at 2:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for reading and watching! May 10, 2020 at 5:15am Reply

  • WARA: Your amazing grandmother Asya must be so honored to see how much you love her and appreciate her!!! We believe our ancestors are always by our side and protect and guide us. Thank you so much for sharing the beautiful work of your family. The hope that you and them bring to us is so much needed now! May 9, 2020 at 4:00pm Reply

    • Victoria: I believe this too. When I feel particularly down these days, I open our family album and recall stories about my grandparents. May 10, 2020 at 5:18am Reply

  • Sharon: I am finding myself drawn to making or mending things during these strange and trying times we are living through. Beauty is so uplifting. I love how women throughout history have used necessary domestic skills to turn ordinary objects into art. Thank you for sharing these, Victoria. May 9, 2020 at 4:38pm Reply

    • Victoria: I agree, it’s uplifting and important. Sometimes people say that art is optional, but it’s quite the opposite, art is necessary. Just considering Asya’s life and all that she had to survive is enough to make one’s hair stand on end. Yet, she was one of the most creative people in our family, always embroidering, painting, planting roses, developing new tulip varieties. I think that these kind of projects helped her and reinforced her. May 10, 2020 at 5:22am Reply

  • Silvermoon: Thank you, Victoria, for sharing stories about your great grandmother Asya. Also love to see her beautiful embroidery. I love white on white embroidery, lace and cut work. Aesthetically and emotionally pleasing

    The comment about Soviet era underwear made me laugh (in a delightful way). 😄 May 10, 2020 at 11:46am Reply

  • Karen A: Beautiful! Thank you for an uplifting post. May 11, 2020 at 7:11am Reply

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