The Russian Cotton Printing Industry – Part 2: Factory Production and Peasant Dress


In an earlier post I wrote about the Russian textile industry becoming established in the cities of Ivanovo and Vladimir, to the east of Moscow, as well as in Moscow itself and in St Petersburg.

In the 19th century Ivanovo became the largest centre in Russia for the industrial production of printed cotton textiles. Between 1871 and 1932 the city was known as Ivanovo-Voznesensk – the name given on the postcard above – having been created by merging the old flax-processing village Ivanovo with the industrial town of Voznesensky Posad.

By the end of the 19th century, most of the region’s linen printers had converted to cotton printing, aided by the falling cost of cotton cloth imported from Britain, where the developments of the Industrial Revolution had led to a huge increase in the rate of cloth production. The Russian industry developed by starting with the end of the production process – i.e. with printing on imported cloth established first, then weaving of cloth, followed by spinning of thread, and finally, in the late 1800s, large-scale cotton cultivation on Russian territory.

By the early 20th century, Ivanovo was competing with the Polish city of Łódź (also within the Russian Empire at that time) for the title of the primary textile production centre of Europe. Rapid growth led to Ivanovo’s nickname, ‘the Russian Manchester’.

Numerous chemists, engravers and designers came from western Europe, and particularly from the famous textile-printing centre of Mulhouse in Alsace, to work in Russia and impart their knowledge to the burgeoning industry. The ability to import the latest machinery from Britain after 1842, when it lifted its export ban, had a tremendous effect on Russian production.  Heavy machinery parts were shipped to the region by waterway and assembled in the factories. Many engineers and managers were appointed from Britain to oversee the setting up and operation of this machinery.  (For more about this, see my blog post: British Workers in the Russian Textile Industry before 1917.)


Museum of Printed Cotton, Ivanovo. Note the copper rollers


Ivanovo textile workers


Workers in the Emil Tsindel factory, Moscow

There was great demand from the rural population for printed cottons, which were cheaper than other types of patterned textile where the decoration was achieved by means of weaving or embroidery. The fabric was referred to as ‘French sitets‘ (chintz), and bought in markets or fairs, or from itinerant sellers of ‘red’ goods (i.e. ‘beautiful’ goods). A key element of the peasant dress of central and southern Russia, the brightest kerchiefs (platki) were worn by young girls or newly married women, who often added further decoration for festive wear in the form of silk ribbons along the edges, woollen tassels at the corners, silk or bead fringes. Some of the most attractive and prized platki were produced at the Baranov factory at Karabanovo, in Vladimir province. I’ll write about that factory in a future post. I became interested in the Baranov textiles when I saw an exhibition in 1989 at the Moscow Museum of Decorative, Applied and Folk Art featuring their historical and contemporary use.


Peasant dress, Orel region. Beginning of 20th century. Sleeves and apron bands in printed cotton


Filipp Malyavin: Verka. 1913. Oil on canvas. State Russian Museum, St Petersburg. Portrait of a peasant girl in a dress and kerchief of printed cotton

These prints are also found in the ethnic dress and household textiles of the eastern reaches of the Russian Empire, particularly Uzbekistan and other areas of central Asia. Linings of central Asian kaftan-like overgarments, worn by both men and women, were made from Russian printed cottons, with their striking floral or paisley designs. Some prints were designed specially for this market, incorporating Arabic lettering and featuring more green than for other customers. Great quantities were also sold to Mongolia, Afghanistan, Persia and China.


Woman’s ‘kaltacha’ lined with Russian printed cotton. Uzbekistan. End of 19th century


Patchwork hanging (‘caroq’) including Russian printed cottons. Uzbekistan, late 19th/early 20th century




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