Russian Embroidery Part 2…. Guest Blogger Penny Peters
This is the second post about Russian embroidery.
I believe that the motifs are connected with age-old customs and rites of Russian peasantry, much of it pagan in nature. Red was the color of life and power representing the sun, fertility and fire, and especially embodied by the highly coveted firebird whose feathers magically glow red, orange and yellow. The geometric designs were originally intended to be protective of the home or whoever wore the talisman. The motifs became standardized over time. The charm comes from the imagination of the embroiderers.
The nature of the stitching was originally driven by the nature of the available fabric—hand woven even-weave linen which served for clothing and household linens. The stitches used on the oldest embroideries were all counted thread techniques: pattern darning known in Russia as weaving stitch or Nabor. Outlines and filling patterns were done in double running. Other counted thread stitches such as satin stitch and cross stitch were used as filling stitches. Later “free stitches” such as chain stitch (aka plant stitch or mouse’s tail) and stem stitch were added to the mix of the very structured geometric patterns.
Birds such as cocks, hens and peacocks were favorite motifs. Mother Earth Goddess holding birds, tree of life, sun, flowers, people, horse and rider and the sun chariot motifs were all popular as was Sirin—half woman/half bird. All these still reside on the walls of Russian museums in St Petersburg and Moscow, albeit under glass, their magic emanating boldly! Penny