Two Ukrainian rushnyky



I bought these two rushnyky (towels) in 2005, in the street market which lines both sides of the Andriyivskyy Descent in Kyiv. Other attractions of the street are the flamboyant Baroque cathedral of St Andrei, designed by Rastrelli (who was also the architect of the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg and the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo) and the house of the writer Mikhail Bulgakov.

The embroidered textile shows the kind of relatively naturalistic design characteristic of Ukrainian towels, as opposed to the very stylized, often almost abstract, forms found on Russian towels. And Ukrainian towels usually have embroidery worked along the whole length, while in Russia the decoration is characteristically only at each end.

The woman who sold this to me said that the seven little birds parading along the border are significant. Ducks were often embroidered or woven on towels created to celebrate a wedding. They symbolize the life-giving element of water – and the fact that there are seven here is like an invocation for fertility and family life, as the words for ‘seven’ and ‘family’ in Russian, and Ukrainian, are so similar. [сім / сім'я in Ukrainian; семь / семья in Russian]. The initials are presumbly those of the couple and the date, 1951, also appears on the towel.

The colouring and design of the woven textile, with its distinctive double-headed eagle, indicate that it is of Krolevets manufacture. Weaving was undertaken in the town of Krolevets as a cottage industry from the 16th century. A state-run factory was set up in the 1920s and is apparently still in operation.




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