Spring AS XLIX (2015)
Volume XX, Issue 3 (#76)

From the Nachalnik

Greetings of Spring to you all! Springtime means rebirth, warming weather, Easter, and planning for summertime events. Sofya gives us an enticing account of the SIG gathering at Gulf Wars last month. Does anyone want to host a Pennsic gathering? I'm happy to pass along and amplify any calls for volunteers on behalf of a brave organizer, as well as answer questions on what is involved. Holding a gathering at Pennsic this year would be really special as it would mark twenty years since our very first one in A.S. XXX.

One of the fascinating things I have observed over these past two decades is the seismic shifts in how we communicate with each other. When the Group was started, only a fraction of our members had email addresses (mostly those of us who were college students or who splurged on AOL or CompuServe accounts). The primary method of contact was this newsletter, which while always available online (we had one of the earlier websites) was delivered by surface mail to all of the members. Then we introduced the mass-emailed newsletter announcements and discontinued the mail-outs (except for our shrinking minority of off-line members) until SPAM filters started blocking the announcements. There was (and still is) the Listserv on Yahoo!Groups. And now we have the Facebook page (whose membership far exceeds any media we have used before). What I think has made us a success is that the group's purpose of communicating ideas and information to like-minded members really has not changed during all these shifts.


Gulf Wars SIG Gathering

By Sofya la Rus

We met in the Lecture Tent on Artisan's Row on Wednesday afternoon this year at Gulf Wars.  It was a good-sized group:  four Novgorodians, a Balt from Scythe, a Polish hussar, a future Great Moravian, a couple of Norse and a Norman with Slavic tendencies.  A big book about Russian  pearl embroidery (brought by Sofya Chyudskaya Smolyanina) was much admired and then HE Master Edward Ean Anderson shared gorgeous images from the 1605 Stockholm Roll showing the wedding procession of Sigismund III and Constance of Austria into Krakow (taken when he was able to get a personal viewing of the manuscript!)  He explained his theories of the true origin of the Hussar wings and the key to the success of the Hussar long-lance tactics, which made a lot of sense.  Mistress Eirny of The Treasury shared the link to her weekly research newsletter.  New connections, new information, new inspiration - until next year!


Drachenwald Slavic Meet-Up on Skype

Kalina von Liubice is organizing virtual gatherings of SIG members in Drachenwald over Skype. If you are interested in joining in, you can reach out to her by email at liekendeelerdeern@yahoo.de , for details.


The Preparation for Embroidering Towels

By Vasyl Jula

Traditionally, to embroider a towel with a tree of life pattern, one would take a continuous length of linen fabric —it had to be uncut (not pieced together) because sewing two separate pieces together would mean a split or cut in the road— and lay it over an old embroidered towel that one wished to copy. It was rubbed with a lead spoon, which caused it to release a dark gray patina on the fabric (especially over the areas of high relief) and transferred that pattern.

The length of the fabric for the towel was equal to the height of a person. The towels from the Podillia region were the shortest (150–180 centimeters long), the ones from Kyiv, Cherkassy and some from the Poltava regions were 300–350 centimeters long, and some towels even reached a length of 450–550 centimeters!

When the linen, threads, and needles were ready, it was time to prepare oneself to embroider. According to descriptions and the testimony of older people, there were definite rules to be followed. You never began to embroider in the heat of the moment. At first you thought about it, calmed yourself, and prayed. Wedding towels, and probably many others, were always begun on Thursday (Perun's day) in order to have the highest protection. Towels and shirts for funerals were started on Saturday (the day of Saturn—the planet symbolizing destiny). They always began to embroider in the morning, at sunrise, but never in the evening. When sitting down to embroider near a window, they always faced the light or would sit sideways (but never backward). Furthermore, taking the needle and the embroidery thread in their hands, they read a prayer and made a wish, depending on what type of towel was being embroidered. These prayers and wishes were a part of the “program” that was embroidered and sewn into a towel. After an interruption, these prayers were always repeated before continuing the work.

When stopping the work for a while, the linen would be neatly folded because, if left rumpled, destiny will be affected. A needle was never inserted into the linen without the thread. If the thread had run out, it was necessary to replace the thread and only then insert the needle into the linen. The work was never left in places where people slept or sat down (it was better to lay it on the ground if there was no other place!). The neatly-folded work was wrapped in cloth, and never left uncovered.

In many localities, women embroidered in complete silence, secretly (so nobody would see their work). This was in contrast to the popular vechornytsi (evening get together), where girls gathered to embroider blouses, aprons, and scarves (but never the ritual towels). The towel is considered deeply symbolic and thus very intimate. Astrologers have a rule not to show a planetary map or a cosmogram to strangers, because a stranger's look introduces energy that is not desired and could influence the chain of events. A similar idea is introduced to the embroidering of towels -- and especially the wedding rushnyk on which the newlyweds stand. It requires complete secrecy. The work, if seen at all, can only be seen by the girl's relatives at home.

These marriage traditions predate Christianity's introduction. When the parents blessed the young couple as they stood on the wedding towel, there was no one else in the house. After the blessing the bride would roll up that towel and hide it away from outsiders. This towel was never washed after the ceremony so as not to wash off the “information” and was kept, rolled up as a tube, in the dowry chest. Only after the death of the married couple could their descendants show everyone the towel (while talking about their grandparents' mortal lives). The grandchildren used the patterns from such towels to sew their own Family Tree for their future wedding.

The energy of the Tree was understood to differ from towel to towel, because a different soul created it. But no one had the authority to make changes in the composition of the towel, its subject, or ornamental pattern—they all knew how important this was. Thanks to this tradition of strict unwritten regulations on and taboos against introducing changes, these designs have been passed down to the present day through thousands of years.

Each end of the towel was embroidered from the bottom up, which is the same principle used in woven towels. One did not skip around to sections on opposite ends to embroider different elements. If the bride was running out of time to embroider the towel by herself, then the mother, godmother, a sister, a grandmother, or persons closely related to her were allowed to help. But it was considered fitting for the bride alone to embroider certain elements (like a flower).

Older towels in museum collections have asymmetry in the design of the ends. Many times one does not notice this at first glance, but under more detailed examination the differences are obvious. This indicates that the ends of the towel were consciously designed differently. Why? With the help of a scope and pendulum, Yadviha Vasylewska (an artist and bio-energy expert) and I came to the conclusion that the ends of each towel, without exception, have different and opposite power potentials. In short, one end is a “plus,” and the other a “minus.” This is the same as any other organism or object in nature. For example, a human has the grounding “minus” in their lower extremities (their feet); at the same time the capacity of the head is “plus.” Even the left and right sides have the same opposing relationship. Man is considered the right (plus) side and woman the left (minus) side. We all remember from school physics about the dual polarity of the water elements or the polarities of the magnet. The discovery of the different polarities at each end of the towel sheds a light of understanding on the use of towels in ceremonies and even in daily life (for example, the common prohibition of two people wiping their hands at opposite ends of the towel, to prevent them from squabbling). We now understand why the young couple would stand on the towel for the blessing in such a way that the bride stands to the left of the groom. And, if so, the towel should be laid on the ground in such a way that the groom should stand on the “plus” side and the bride on the “minus” side. Standing on that towel, which symbolizes a pathway, they personify the union of two polarities, or two halves of a unit creating a whole, a harmony, and a completion.

How did the women determine which end had a negative charge and which a positive? Studies show, but they need to be verified, that the first end to be embroidered is the “plus” end and the second is the “minus.” One reason behind such thinking is that working at the first end, the embroiderer works with great desire and enthusiasm, and at the second end is an opposite energy. By the end, they are often even wanting to change the pattern.



Some items picked up on SIG-L (our Yahoo!Group), off of the Facebook SIG group, and from other correspondence:


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