Artisan Handcrafted Traditions From Ukraine
Ukraine's revolution in 2014 that toppled Russian-backed former President Victor Yanukovich has resurrected Ukrainians' national pride and an appreciation for the country's rich history that has essentially been wiped from its people's memories since the country was split between Poland and the Russian Empire in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Ukraine's capital city, Kyiv, was once the capital of Kievan Rus, an empire that lay the founding blocks of the Slavic people in Eastern Europe and fell when the Mongols invaded in the 13th century. During these long gone times, Ukraine developed a rich cultural heritage where the people hand stitched beautiful clothing for their everyday wear, wore flower wreaths in their hair as a symbol of youth, and passed time by elaborately decorating eggs and intricately carving wood into household items and decorating them with flower and geometrical shapes. All these traditions are now once again resurfacing as Ukrainians gain back their cultural identity and the world is taking notice.
Below I explore some of the more distinguished heritage craftsmanship originating in the Ukraine.
Artisan goods preserve culture and traditions
Ukrainian Embroidery, aka Vyshyvanka
Vyshyvanka, Ukraine's beautiful traditional embroidery has its roots in pegan times and symbolizes protection and rituals. There are over 200 different Ukrainian stitching techniques and patterns, which each family having its own unique symbols and colors. These days the tradition is going through a renaissance.
After over one hundred years of being nearly forgotten, Ukrainian fashion designer Vita Kin brought her homeland's heritage to the runway during Paris Fashion Week in 2015. She was later featured in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar and her creations have been adored by fashion icons like Anna Dello Russo. Each vyshyvanka dress takes an average of a painstaking three weeks to make and back in the day, women would sew embroidered shirts for their husbands, dresses for themselves, celemonial cloth called "rushnyk", etc. all through the cold winter while singing folk songs along with their family. With that said, that favorite bohemian dress you have hanging in your closet may actually be inspired by the now infamous Ukrainian Vyshyvanka.
Traditionally worn daily throughout the country by both men and women until the arrival of communism, each vyshyvanka was handmade by loom to create the white heavy-weight linen and embroidered geometric or floral design patterns in red or blue natural dye along the neck, on the sleeves, and on the hem. The sleeves are typically bell-shaped, the dress draped to the calfs, and the neck tied with tasseled ends. Every region and even family has its own intricate design.
According to Ukrainian folklore, the vyshyvanka protects its wearer from evil spirits. This superstition stems from way before Christianity became the state religion in the year 988 AD.
The Flower Crown, a.k.a. Vinok
Since ancient times, it was tradition for both girls and boys to wear flowers in their hair. From a young age, Ukrainian girls decorate their hair with fresh flower crowns, called "vinok" in Ukrainian, when the weather is warm and with ribbons or other cloth when fresh flowers are not in sight.
When a Ukrainian girl gets married, her friends and family weave her the most beautiful and elaborate wreath - all the day before her wedding. The wedding day is the last day a Ukrainian girl is allowed to wear flowers in her hair.
"Koraly", AKA Coral Jewelry
Jewelry made of coral is the most typical type of jewelry traditionally worn by Ukrainian women. The wealthier the woman, the more strands and the thicker each coral. The color of coral range from the palest peachy hues to the deepest reds. The shape can be sculpted into all different shapes but rounded, or cylinder shapes were most popular. Koraly weren't just used for their beauty but they were believed to ward its wearer against evil.
life or eternity
stars or Mary's tears for Jesus
defense and protection
man, woman, and child; or, birth, life and death; or Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
immortality or pure love
strength, renewal or eternal life
Surely you've come across them - Easter eggs decorated with pretty flowers and geometrical shapes in all sorts of vibrant colors. Those are Ukrainian Easter eggs called "pysanki".
Pysanki comes from the Ukrainian word for writing and they are very special to Ukrainians. The shapes adoring each pysanka are stemmed in Ukraine's rich folk-art symbology. The symbols have been linked to writings dating back to 3000 B.C. and held special meanings for Ukrainian ancestors. The symbols bestow wishes of love, life, happiness, protection and success.
The designs adorning each pysanka are drawn onto the eggs with beeswax. To make the design and color, wax is applied using a a stylus tool called a "kistka" and dipping the egg in dyes of progressively darker shades. When you have your darkest shade set, you remove the wax to reveal your creation. It's quite exciting!