Updated: Jun 21
Ukrainians and embroidery are inseparable concepts. But when, for the first time in history, people began decorating clothes with embroidered ornaments, and what were these patterns?
The Scythians, Sarmatians, and Cimmerians decorated their clothes with flax and animal skins with embroidered geometric ornaments consisting of meanders and waves. Archaeologists also found figures of people in clothes with embroidery elements on gold ornaments and figurines.
The oldest Ukrainian motifs were geometric patterns, such as the spirals of Trypillia culture. Wavy lines, rhombuses, zigzags, meanders, circles, and dots - were the first fragments of Ukrainian ornaments. As for the techniques, the oldest Ukrainian methods are such as "puncture," "bond seam," "double-stitched seam," "silk seam," "decorative seams," and "lapped seam." These techniques were used to decorate the priests' robes in Kyivan Rus' times. It was the time of the first embroidery schools founded by Yaroslav the Wise's sister, Anna.
Since the 18th century, beads and bugle (elongated beads) have been gaining popularity among embroiderers. According to the history of Ukrainian embroidery, small glass beads were popular in western Ukraine. Even now, in Bukovyna, Zakarpattia, Lviv, and Frankivsk regions, the favorites among the locals are embroidered beads and necklaces.
A turning point in the history of Ukrainian embroidery was the 19th century, and craftswomen started to receive orders for embroideries. Now Ukrainians didn't have to sew and decorate shirts and dresses but could order clothes for any occasion. Ivan Franko played a significant role in popularizing embroidery as an element of everyday clothing among the intelligentsia. He was the first to successfully combine a classic embroidered shirt with a formal style of jackets.
In this article, we would like to share some of the oldest symbols that Ukrainians have been embroidering on their shirts:
Circle The circle is known as the most ancient and simple geometric ornament. As a symbol of the sun, it comes from a pagan religion, which means divine, life-giving energy. The circle is also the continuity of life and eternity. A circle with a dot inside is the center of the universe. In Ukrainian symbolism, it is also a symbol of the sun. A circle like a sun with rays coming out gives strength and energy. At the same time, the rays turned inwards take away energy and symbolize emptiness.
This figure is one of the central ornaments of many cultures. It symbolizes perfection, harmony, and order. The crossed square, often embroidered on men's shirts, means "earth field." The square in the Ukrainian tradition is one of the symbols of the earth. The square is a sign of a certain number four, which Ukrainians understood as a symbol of the elements. These are the four points of the globe: the sides of the world, season, life cycles, and parts of the day.
Tree of life
It is also called the Tree of Life. You can find this symbol in the art of those peoples whose universe model contains three components: the underworld, the earthly world, and the heavenly kingdom. The tree depicts a picture where the roots is the past, the trunk is the present, and the crown is the future. In Ukrainian embroidery, this symbol can be recognized not only in a branched tree (which is both symmetrical and asymmetrical) but also in a spikelet, sheaf, branch, or even a vine. At the same time, it establishes the truth of the unity of the three worlds, the family's image, and the continuation of life. There are more complex compositions where the tree motif replaces the female image. A woman with raised arms is the Great Mother, embodiment of life itself.
The diamond is an archaic sign usually associated with man's fertility and the earth. The masculine and feminine are the basis for deciphering the symbol's meaning, consisting of two triangles. The diamond with a dot in the middle symbolizes the sown field, which was extremely important for our ancestors because it meant prosperity and well-being. A diamond with hooks (tendrils) is very common in Ukrainian embroidery. This sign is called "frog," and it symbolizes fertility. In ancient beliefs, this animal was associated with the heavenly moisture that gives life.
In ancient beliefs, the triangle symbolizes a narrow gate that leads to eternal life. A symbol of the unity of the three worlds: earthly or visible, underground or invisible, heavenly or spiritual. These are the three elements - water, fire, and air. We know a lot about the three levels of existence, the three-dimensionality of the world, the Holy Trinity in the later Christian religion, and the meaning of the number 3, which reflects the triangle. The triangle symbol has long been associated with the element of Fire. Some researchers consider the triad sign to be a modern triangle variation. This symbol often adorns the embroidered towels (rushnyk) of the Naddniprianshchyna and Slobozhanshchyna.
In Orangerie, we often try to combine Ukrainian symbols and embroidery with modern trends and natural fabrics from different parts of the world. We want to preserve our ancestors' history and tell our relatives' stories through the motifs depicted in our dresses and blouses.
We also would like to support Ukraine in this difficult time and bring more Ukrainian products to people worldwide!