Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ukrainian Embroidery - Merezhka and Obmana

Hello all,

Well, this is my 100th posting on this blog, I feel like I have only just started to cover all the material which is out there. I thank all of you for your support and your interest in this art form.
Today I will talk a bit about two particular forms of Ukrainian embroidery which are widespread especially in central Ukraine, Merezhka Poltavska and Obmana. 
Merezhka means 'little net', and is the general term for hemstitching. Hemstitching is of course very widespread, being used to make hems and to decorate the edges of linen items all over Europe and beyond. This is done by pulling a thread, or more than one, out of the cloth, and
then stitching along the remaining gap, pulling the vertical threads into bundles, securing the edge, and forming a simple openwork design element. This technique in Ukrainian is called Prutyk.

 By using the pulled thread as a guide, one can then roll the edge of the cloth and sew a straight and attractive hem using this same technique, but catching the rolled hem on the bottom instead of the body of the cloth. This is why the technique is called hemstitching in English.

This is often used in Ukrainian and other embroidery as part of a larger design, either as an accent or to break the cloth into different fields. Usually when this is done, two or three threads are removed, the ends are bound to secure them, and both the top and the bottom are secured with prutyk. In English this is called 'ladder hemstitch'.

There are many elaborations on this technique which i will not be addressing in this article. Sometimes a second thread or group of two or three threads is pulled parallel to the first, with two or three threads left undisturbed in between. Then both can be worked at the same time, as here. Ukrainians call this 'double prutyk'.

This is also used  as a design element as is. 

Now each of the squares made by this technique can be thought of as a pixel. If you have contrasting pixels, then you can build them up into a design. In Ukrainian embroidery this is achieved by what are called 'layerings', in which the white thread is wrapped around two or more adjacent posts to form a closed pixel which contrasts with the open ones. 

The simplest such design is called 'posts', in which one open pixel alternates with one closed pixel. This is also a common design element. It is most often framed with a row of prutyk on either side.

This presents us with great possibilities. A design can be built up by working successive rows of prutyk hemstitch, with some pixels left open and others closed by layerings. Here is an example from a woman's chemise in my personal collection. This is worked above the bottom hem.

This is worked row by row. When you have a number of closed pixels in a row, the layering is worked over all of them together, just like the single pixel, each wrapping of thread going around all of them, and being secured in the same way as a single pixel. another example.

This can be used by itself to build quite large designs. The design at the top of this article is from a rushnyk [ritual towel]. Here is an image of the whole piece.

While this technique is called 'Poltavksa Merezhka', it is not limited to the Poltava region. White on white and openwork techniques, including this one are found throughout central Ukraine, in Chernihiw, Cherkassy, Kharkiw, Kyjiw [Kiev] provinces, among others.  Here is another rushnyk from the Chernyhiw region.

 Besides Rushnyks and tablecloths, 

this technique is used on men's shirts, 

the inset and the sleeves, besides the hem, of women's chemises,

or modern women's blouses and men's shirts.

Ukrainians do not traditionally do reticello or make lace. However, this technique approaches those arts.

As you can see, generally the designs used are geometric or floral. But in fact any design that can be graphed in one color may be used. Any single color cross stitch design may be adapted for merezhka Poltavska. Here is one example of a design adapted from cross stitch.

This is the simplest way of graphing a merezhka design. Here are a couple more.

There is another embroidery technique called obmana. The word obmana means 'fakery' or 'deception'. This may possibly have started as a result of the idea that open work embroidery was not suitable for women 'of a certain age', or it may simply have resulted from a desire to achieve an effect similar to merezhka with much less work, or just possibly from a misunderstanding of a graph like this one. Obmana consists of working black cross stitch according to a graph like this one, leaving spaces in between each stitch. This gives the effect, from a distance, of merezhka work.

Here is a woman's chemise which is worked in obmana. This would be suitable for an older woman. A close examination reveals the actual technique, but from a distance it does resemble merezhka.

Obmana, like merezhka Poltavska is often combined with other stitches. You will notice in the second example that the same design is worked in both obmana and cross stitch.

Sometimes you will read that obmana is simply using cross stitch to make a negative area design, but this is not the case, obmana is only used to refer to those designs in which each stitch is separated, and recalls the openwork of merezhka.
I will close with a couple more rushnyky from Cherkassy. Is it Merezhka or is it Obmana?

Thank you very much for reading. I hope you have found this interesting and perhaps inspiring.

If you are looking for step-by-step instructions as to how to do Merezhka Poltavska, there is a book devoted to the subject by Yvette Stanton. She walks you through a series of projects which will help you master this technique.

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:
Tania Diakiw O'Neill, 'Ukrainian Embroidery Techniques', 1984, Mountaintop, PA, USA
Yvette Stanton, 'Ukrainian Drawn Thread Embroidery', 2007, Hornsby Westfield, NSW, Australia
Vira Zaichenko, 'Vyshywka Chernihiwshchyny' [Embroidery of Chernyhiw region], 2010, Chernyhiw
Ivan Honchar Museum, 'Ukrainian Folk Embroidery', a series of cards based on the collection. Kyjiw [Kiev]
Ann Kmit et al, 'Ukrainian Embroidery', 1978, New York,
E. Lytvynets', "Ukrajins'ke Narodne Mystetstvo, Vyshyvannia i Nanyzuvannia', 2004, Kyjiw [Kiev]
V. Tereshchenko et al, 'Handicrafts in the Ukraine', 1979, Kyjiw [Kiev]
Tetiana Kara-Vasylieva, 'Ukrajins'ka Vyshywka', 1993, Kyjiw [Kiev]

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Costume of West or Volyn' Polissia, Ukraine

Hello all.

Today I want to finish an analysis of the costume of West Polissia, Specifically the northern parts of Volyn' and Rivne Oblasts in Northwest Ukraine and neighboring parts of Bielorus, which also has a large Ukrainian population. In my previous posting, I talked about the prevalence of woven linen in the costume, and the ornament woven in or embroidered with zavolikannia. 
Here above is a drawing of a wedding couple from this region, The man is wearing a boutonniere, and the woman a special cap made of artificial flowers, colored feathers and ribbons.
The rest of the costume is typical of holidays. The linen skirt with woven white, unbleached and red designs is replaced on holidays and cooler weather by a wool skirt called litnyk. This is typically red with narrow vertical stripes of other colors woven in, often with a contrasting band on the hem.

The apron may be linen with embroidered ornament, as in the first image, or it may be wool, with horizontal stripes on the lower part, as in this image. There is a woven sash with fringe on the ends, again mostly red in color.

 The litnyk was also sometimes plaid, again usually with red being the predominant color.

For woman of a certain age, it was considered more appropriate to wear a darker color.

Later the skirt was sometimes made of bought cloth, in which case, there were ribbons sewn onto it near the hem. This type of skirt was sometimes pleated. Notice the woman in the center of this image. This type of skirt is also worn in central Polissia.

This exact costume is also found just over the border in Bielorussian Polissia [Palesie], most commonly somewhat further east. These women are from Homel' province.

You can also see some examples of the types of vest or bodice worn in this region. Often, of course, none is worn. One type is that which extends to the waist and stops. This type is also found in central Polissia. It is commonly made of bought cloth and is decorated with ribbons. It is made basically with straight sides.

 A variant of this type of vest is somewhat longer, still cut with straight sides, but coming down to the hip. Here is a photo of a woman from the village of Horodets', in Volodymets' county, now Rivne Oblast.

In the western part of this region, bodices with lappets were also worn, similar to those found in Poland. These are often called 'shnuriwky', although they did not always lace up in front.

 The original footwear of the region, when not going barefoot, cosisted of footcloths 'onuchi', and lychaky, that is, footwear woven of birch or linden bark. These were locally referred to as 'postoly', which name is usually applied to moccasin type footwear.

Of course, anyone who could afford it wore boots, and later, shoes, as you can see from the various images in this article. 
The original headwear in this region, as in most of the territory from Lithuania to Romania is  the long narrow linen scarf known as the namitka or peremitka.

Already by the beginning of the 20th cent. this was becoming rare, and only preserved in some places. In many areas of Volynian Polissia, it was replaced by a white kerchief with embroidered  corners.

These often had tassels on the corners. The embroidery was usually counted satin stitch, cross-stitch, or a combination of the two.

Amber, coral and glass bead necklaces were worn by those who could afford them. Also medallion necklaces, 'dukaty' were worn here as they were in other parts of Ukraine, although not as often, as Polissia is a relatively poor region.

The men's costume, as you can see from the above images, consisted of linen or wool pants, white, or gray, possibly with stripes, a sash, woven or braided, sometimes with pompoms on the end, and also a shirt. The shirt was worn over the pants and had the collar, cuffs, and front placket embroidered. The embroidery sometimes consisted of two bands on either side of a front opening, like this example from my personal collection. This shirt is embroidered in zavolikannia.

The embroidery was also often done on a seperate rectangular placket which was then sewn onto the front of the shirt. In this case, the opening was at the left edge of the placket. In contrast to the Russian kosovorotka, however, in Ukrainian shirts the embroidery is always centered. The older designs were done in red and black, like this one. Most commonly they were stylized floral motifs, simpler and more geometrized than other regions, with less fine detail and stronger design elements.

Later, other colors were added, as in this example, which is also from my private collection.

 Straw hats with wide brims were worn in summer, and wool or sheepskin hats in winter, like this example.

 Thank you for reading, I hope that this has been interesting and informative. 
It should inspire us to look at these products of a region which is physically poor in resources and yet so rich in home-made beauty.

Here is an interview with two Ukrainian men from Polissia who have put together a wonderful collection of Costumes and costume pieces from this region. They are obviously native to this area and speak Ukrainian beautifully. The interviewer sounds like she learned Ukrainian from a book, and her pronounciation leans heavily towards Russian. Many beautiful pieces in the collection.! 

Here is an article about the exhibit of this same collection in the Ivan Honchar Museum, one of the best such museums in Ukraine. 
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:
S. H. Kolosa, I. V. Hurhula, 'Ukrajins'ke Narodne Mystetsvo - Vbrannia', Kyjiw [Kiev], 1961
Tamara Nykolaieva, 'Ukrainian Costume: Hope for a Renaissance, Kyjiw {Kiev], 2005
M. S. Bilan, H. H. Stel'mashchuk, 'Ukrajinskyj Stryj' [Ukrainian Folk Attire], L'viw, 2000
Oksana Kosmina, 'Ukrajins'ke Narodne Vbrannia' [Ukrainian Folk Dress], Kyjiw, 2008
Vadym Myronov, 'Ukrajins'kyj Kostium', Kyjiw 1977
Oksana Kosmina, 'Traditional Ukrainian Clothing vol 2', Kyjiw [Kiev], 2011
V. Myronow, 'Ukrajinskyj Kostium', Kyjiw [Kiev[ 1977
Z. Vasina, 'Ukrajinske Narodne Vbrannia', Kyjiw [Kiev], 2009
M. Ramaniuk, 'Bielaruskaie Narodnaie Adzennie', Minsk, 1981
Hatal's'ka & Ivashkiw, 'Poetyka Volyn'skoho Vbrannia', Luts'k, 2005
K. Matejko, 'Ukrajinskyj Narodnyj Odiah' [Ukrainian Folk Clothing], Kyjiw [Kiev], 1977
Sakhuta and Hovor, 'Khudozhestviennyie Remesla i Promysla Belorussii', Minsk, 1988
O. Kul'chytska, 'Narodnyj Odiah zakhidnykh Oblastej URSR' Kyjiw [Kiev], 1959
T. Kara-Vasylieva, 'Ukrajins'ks Vyshywka' [Ukrainian Embroidery], Kyjiw [Kiev]1993