Behind the Traditional Cloth

By Phoenix the Elder – I ran across some Kursk Embroidery from Russia and these particular designs are called “Months”. Kursk is South of Moscow in Russia near the Ukraine border.  There is a not a definite oral tradition explanation for these but they seem to represent growth of cycles. In nature, there is no seed that grow without the moon, it starts the generation processes when in the soil. Eventually with the sun and moon, growth, maturity and harvesting processes begin.

Having lived by the moon cycles and taught it to women for thirty years, the flower and circle represents the whole Lunar Cycle in the embroidery because a plant or flower sprouts and depends on the moon to germinate. In human symbolism that would mean a baby needs to be loved and cared for to grow. Each petal of the embroidered flower can represent each of the lunar month of the yearly season:

Seeds (new moon), ripen and grow (full moon), as well as harvest (dark moon) and the winter stage (note that the outside the flower, 1/4th of the area is naked with no vines or flowers is bare). People were much more connected with the nature of the cycles of the moon and the sun, which were more oral traditions, and not just with the sun (agricultural symbols).



Embroidery from the Ryazan Province that existed in Kursk Russia 4

Embroidery from the Ryazan Province that existed in Kursk Russia 1

In ancient times, we lived in two seasons (not the four ie medicine wheel): 1. Fire season (spring and summer) and 2. Season of the Night (autumn and winter). I think that artists have an innate sensibility of connection with ancient natural processes from long ago through the symbolism they work with, especially devout and sacred artists.

From the Department of Traditional Culture, Kursk, Russia…

“MONTHS” Russian traditional Embroidery is rich in its Diversity
In different regions, she had her own face, and the look of a specialist can easily distinguish ornaments typical of the Ryazan Province from those that existed in Kursk. However, the richest in diversity was, of course, northern embroidery.

In Kargopol, especially in Oshevensky volost, the motive called “months” was very much loved. This pattern is an open circle divided into sectors, on the outer faces of which are attached a lot of loops, spirals, crosses and other elements.

Embroidery from the Ryazan Province that existed in Kursk Russia 7

Embroidery from the Ryazan Province that existed in Kursk Russia 3

Unfortunately, not a single reliable evidence of the purpose of this complex pattern has been preserved. According to the recollections of local old women, this circle was supposedly a calendar and hung on the walls. But no one could explain how to read this “calendar”, what its elements mean and even what life cycle (annual, hourly, church, daily, prayer) it shows.

In the mid-1970s, this pattern fell into the eyes of a young graduate of a technical school, Gennady Durasov. He tried to share and explain “months”, Gennady went over various options and settled on the annual agricultural cycle considering that various signs are references to national signs of the annual agricultural calendar. He gave signs to almost every curl, such as “Ilya finishes summer, rye burns”, “End of October – snow falls in winter and covers winter crops” or “Winter crops six months as they came up.”

It is easy to assume that in the early days, some craftswoman decided to create an embroidered version of a calendar, and the neighbors saw a beautiful decorative element in the new pattern begin to come forth, and began to copy it, gradually modifying it more and more.

Embroidery from the Ryazan Province that existed in Kursk Russia 8


Mother earth feeds us, for she and the moon grows the seeds of the plants that make our linen and flax. Then the sun nourishes them and so too the spirit of the fog and the water and the wind. These are the sacred acts of nature and one that traditional clothing of the Slavic people honor in their ancient traditions. Modern Slavic, Balkan, Baltic and even Nordic women try to follow these ancient practices of honoring their work in a very spiritual way.

In Slavic, Baltic and Balkan traditional clothing since before the 12th century, it was a common practice to precede several ritual stages associated with making textiles and cloth. Also the production of the materials for sewing traditional clothes were important.

Every step was sacred, from sowing, to growing and processing materials. In more modern times, when a woman sat down to sew, to weave, she felt a feelings of reverence for the thread born under her hands which had a sacred and magical meaning of its birthing into something beautiful. I myself do rituals with many traditional pieces of art that I make with cloth and fabric and also my folk dolls as an artist.

The ritualizing of cloth, embroidery, weaving is not new, but in Slavic traditions it always continued as it served the continual ink between a person and the natural world around her. Traditional clothing itself is and has always been a talisman, the life-giving forces that the earth gives and we receive.

Russian Aprons.jpg

This is so that later in the weaving of the fabric from the plant, it holds the power of life, and is sewn into the clothes and decorated with embroidery.. This was not just a simple art, but very protective and very complex in its nature.

Another necessary accessory of the costume was the apron also an important Talisman. The holiest and most vulnerable places in a woman is the womb related to a woman’s health or her fertility and creativity (soul) and of her future children. In order to prevent illness, damage and other misfortunes, aprons were sewn long, and charms were sewn on the them.

The areas most needing protection besides the womb, were the breasts (vests) and each shoulder because when people touch your shoulders (strangers or newly acquainted people), their shadow soul can end up being harmful to you in your dreams at night, and this is true today.

Additionally, protected ornamental patterns and designs used as talisman and as charms were placed on the upper arms and the origin of why these are placed come from times when there were no electricity and things that roamed could be seen much easier. People forget in modern times that we were much more sensitive to such lore and mythology of spirits and roaming souls.

I remember a friend was warned when going to Russia not to let someone touch you on your upper arms, of either side, that some people posses powers and then can come into your dreams and haunt your soul.

There are many oral traditions lost about such things in life and one that shamans can tell you are true. The intricate clothing is not only for style and beauty but also for protection of a woman’s body. 

Romanian school girls in traditional folk dress, 1943

Almost all symbols in Slavic textiles are either Birds, Flowers or the Goddess and special geometric symbols. Symbolism is a huge tradition in tapestry, embroidery, clothing around the world, but there is no where else where flowers and ancient bird prehistory symbolism is found.

The bird motif, is a symbol which means the soul today and in ancient times that came from the shamanic cultures. The freedom of the soul is consistently used in decorating and embellishments which are talisman clothing found in Ukraine, Russia, to Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic and other Slavic countries.

ukraine ideas.jpg
Ukraine traditional dress.
Russian women.jpg
Village elders near Arkhangelsk, Russia

Here is a nice series of Ukraine traditional dress





One Comment Add yours

  1. Wendy Harbath says:

    Lovely blog about this. So fascinating, the traditions, the folklore, the symbolism woven into everything, every day items. Loved the video also of the layer of dressing. More please!


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