Embroidery (in Ukrainian – vyshyvanka) is one of the main symbols of Ukraine. Why did it happen, and what do vyshyvankas mean for Ukrainians?
- It’s Old History
Research says that the Scythians (7th BC – 3rd BC), an ancient nomadic people who lived in the territory of modern Ukraine, wore embroidered clothes: long sleeve tunics, long trousers, and belts. The Scythians used different patterns as talismans; that is why they adorned with embroidery clothes and weapons, ritual items (connected to their pagan beliefs and mythological thinking), helmets, and shields.
Then the tradition to embroider clothes travelled further in time. In the 11th century in Kyivan Rus, there was a school where girls learned how to embroider shirts with silver and gold. During the 15th to 19th centuries, foreign travellers mentioned the beauty and originality of the embroideries from the land we now call Ukraine. For decades, women from every part of society have embroidered shirts for the whole family.
Only in the second half of the 20th century, mass production started, and now everyone can buy a vyshyvanka, either hand made or made by machine.
The word (a noun) “vyshyvanka” (вишива́нка) comes from the verb “vyshyvaty” (вишива́ти – to embroider, шити – to sew).
Our ancestors drew their destiny using symbols of the Sun, Earth, Universe and Family, reproducing them on fabrics, creating mysterious ancestral characters as amulets, as a family code. Some ornaments protected you from misfortune and evil spirits; others give you good luck, strong health, prosperity, and a good harvest.
3. The Meaning of Patterns
There are plant, floral, geometric, and zoomorphic ornamentations. In every region of Ukraine, traditionally, we can see different symbols and patterns on embroideries.
Plant and floral ornamentations are typical for the central, southern and eastern parts of Ukraine.
Guelder rose – is a symbol of Ukraine, beauty, and love. They usually adorn the wedding dresses and shirts, young people clothes.
Oak leaves are a holy tree in ancient Slavic beliefs, a symbol of strength and masculinity; men usually had this pattern on their shirts.
Rose – a symbol of spiritual love (любо́в) and romantic love (коха́ння). Typical for women’s vyshyvanka.
Poppy flowers – a symbol that carries the memories from the family’s past, represents Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Geometric ornamentation is typical for many regions but traditionally more in western Ukraine. Usage of geometric patterns connected to the natural landscapes and people’s world views.
The tree of life depicts roots – the past, the trunk – the present, and the crown – the future. This ornament symbolizes the family tree, where each branch, each leaf or flower, mean someone from the family.
Triangles – represents the Holy Trinity and is the most intense Christian defence. In pre-Christian times symbolized the three elements – water, fire and air, the three levels of being.
An eight-pointed star or mallow consists of masculine and feminine symbols. The joining of these two entities naturally gives life.
Sigmas are symbols of waters that give life to everything on the Earth. Shirts embroidered with these symbols should protect human from negative influences.
Swarga is an archaic symbol of sun worship that represented the hearth, home, and family fortune.
The embroidery of animals and birds are ritual symbols. For example, just birds symbolize guards; doves represent the sky, peace, and romantic love; swallow – spring, new life, new couples; storks are supposed to protect newborns and toddlers.
Different kinds of embroideries existed almost in all places. Still, Ukraine is a country where vyshyvanka became a national symbol, which had a long transformation and very organically entered the modern fashion.
Now you know why vyshyvankas are so significant for Ukrainians. Do you have your vyshyvanka? Share your photo in it in the comments. If not, do you want to have one?