embroidery: 2 posts

The Art of Ukrainian Bead Necklaces

Yesterday, Ukrainians celebrated Vyshyvanka Day, the day of the national embroidered shirt. This traditional garment has so much significance as an embodiment of quintessentially Ukrainian art and sense of beauty that its celebration is a day that many anticipate with pleasure. This week Ukraine’s eastern region of Kharkiv was heavily shelled by Russia, but whenever it was safe, people still came out into the streets wearing vyshyvanka. Certainly, vyshyvanka can be worn anytime and I have many pieces that range from exquisitely embroidered blouses to simple white shirts with subtle decoration.

A popular companion to vyshyvanka is a necklace. Ukrainian traditional jewelry is quite elaborate and there are many types of necklaces made of different materials–stones, coral, amber, ribbons, wood, glass. Some of my favorite traditional necklaces are of the beaded style. Gerdan is a wider, longer necklace that looks like a pendant. Kryza is even larger and it  falls like a collar around the neck (that’s the style you can see in the title photo.) Silyanka is a narrow, choker-style necklace.

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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.

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