Fall AS XLX (2015)
Volume XXI, Issue 1 (#78)

From the Nachalnik

Just a brief message this time with an equally brief newsletter: Vasyl presents another installment in his series explaining the nuances of Ukrainian embroidery. I've added a collection of recent highlights from our Facebook group which, if you are not already familiar with, is a very active source for a wide variety of resources.

I am, of course, still very interested in seeing more material in the Newsletter, as Facebook is really not a sufficient long-term resource (lacking a reliable archive for people who want to find older posts). Slovo therefore still has its uses and its place, but it needs your help. You don't have to be a professional scholar to write for us. You don't even have to have a finished work. We're always interested in work in progress, because we're all basically in progress ourselves. Don't be shy!


The Semantics of Colors

By Vasyl Jula

From ancient times until the beginning of the twentieth century, embroidered towels were an integral part of the rituals and customs of Ukrainian daily life. Each region of Ukraine has preserved its own unique spectrum of colors. These various color palettes have been preserved to the present day thanks to tradition. Color is a useful basis for defining and dividing up the types of towels. And thus, in some museums in Ukraine, like the one in the city of Poltava, towels are catalogued by the color of their embroidery.

But before we continue on this matter, consider how the palette of the rainbow, which consists of seven basic colors, is generated as a result of the dispersion of white light. This range lies between black and white (which are both a mixture of all the colors). Black and white are the blueprint of ideas or matrices, with which the Supreme Sculptor built this world. That is why embroidery with white and black threads on white linen, throughout all of Ukraine, is considered the most ancient. The information energy that is stored in white and black ornamental patterns pertains to the highest level of life. Very often these two colors, individually or together, symbolize life and death. They are used in towels during funeral and burial rituals, in memorial towels, and in towels used during Lent. White light is the symbol of God the Father, and gold light —the Virgin Mary. In the Podillia region, white and yellow (the color of wheat) threads are very popular and the more expensive designs have white and gold threads. This color combination (like the daisy flower) symbolizes the sacred combination of paternal and maternal energies.

White is the color of power because it is comprised of all the other colors. White embroidery is not intended to evoke sensitive, emotional impressions, but rather to motivate logical thinking, meditation, and to meet spiritual needs. It is absorbed by the higher spiritual centers of man. A white color radiates force and energy. So in a white dwelling, a person wearing white clothing recuperates quickly. If you go to any popular public place, it is a good idea to wear white clothes, because such clothing contains a protective nature.

Black, as the opposite of white, absorbs energy and information. Elders, as the guardians of wisdom, wore black-colored embroideries and likewise preserved information. In the Podillia region we find an active use of black in daily use and in the embroidery of shirts. It is very interesting that in many regions, wedding shirts were embroidered in black patterns with a nyz stitch. Black is also a color of the earth, of riches, and of solemnity. No wonder it was so widely used in ceremonial costumes and in costly clothing! Black is also called kontakterski (the contact color). Sensitive, clairvoyant people can receive higher information by using only black ink. That is why patterns in a black color can also be called kontakterski . Black does not deserve the description as only being the color of death!

A combination of black and white is used more in woven towels than in embroidered ones. It is possible that the polychrome embroidered towels, as the multicolored pysanky , which were widely used in prayers for the dead and burial rites, vanished with the loss of tradition, or were replaced by other towels.

The most common color used for embroidering towels is red. Red is altogether different. Embroidery in red is typical of the Poltava, Kyiv, Chernihiv, Polissia, and Slobozhanshchyna regions. Red, as the richest and most attractive color, is common throughout the world. Its use in clothing, especially for children's clothing and in rituals like weddings is near universal. Red, like white, is a strong, active color. The way it radiates energy made it popular in wedding towels (which are also known for having the best decorations). The fact that red towels were embroidered in great numbers in Central Nadniprianshchyna and Slobozhanshchyna for wedding ceremonies (and also used widely in daily life after the wedding) explains why they are so numerous in museum collections. The high quality of wedding embroidery can be attributed to the fact that there is usually more time for wedding preparations that for a funeral. A wedding is considered a culmination point in life, and thus the ceremony that generally continued for a week had to be properly prepared. Feng shui , the increasingly popular ancient Chinese art of arranging objects in a house gives the color red an honorable place. Red lanterns and red tassels with harebells are hung in houses to attract life-giving energy. Among Ukrainians this role was played by the rushnyky (ritual towels). They created a unique atmosphere that permeated the whole residence, protecting it from disharmony.

The embroidery of towels in combinations of red and blue and of red and black threads is common. Such two-color combinations have been typical since ancient times. A red-blue gamma symbolizes a union of an active, hot, masculine red color with a woman's passive, cold, dark blue. In towels from the Naddniprianshchyna and Slobozhanshchyna regions, dark blue and red is used considerably less.

There are also towels embroidered exclusively in a blue ( pisnyj ) color. These were hung during Lent next to the white ones, or blue and white threads were combined together on a towel. Pisnyj colors are also the combinations of blue and black. Blue dye was obtained from indigo plants from the tropics brought to Ukraine by merchants.

In Pravoberezhna Ukraine, especially in the Podillia region, the colors red and blue were combined in ornamental patterns in perfect equilibrium. When we refer to a rhythm of motifs or geometrical stripes in an ornamental pattern, then the red alternates with the blue. Even the ends of the towel come out balanced. For example, if they embroider nine motifs on one end of the towel, then that end will have five red ones and four blue, and the other end of the towel will have the same motifs, only in the opposite order.

Embroidery with red and black threads on white is invariably associated with the classic standards of Ukrainian embroidery. These colors are also called trypillian . This is a harmony of two strong colors of divine graphics—white and black with the no-less-pulsating red that confirms life. Red and black do not only represent love and sorrow as in the words of a Ukrainian poet. As in the combination of red and blue, it is a combination of active and passive. It is not surprising that these colors stand in a palette together—red with the black. However, with time, in many red and blue ornamental patterns, blue was replaced with black.

The use of yellow in the embroidery of towels is different. No towels were ever completely embroidered in yellow, but yellow was used as a component for its symbolism and for aesthetics since yellow combines clearly with other colors. Yellow and blue are an ancient combination of colors that became for Ukrainians a symbol of independence (the Ukrainian flag is blue and yellow). But besides superficial symbolism about blue sky and yellow wheat, what also deserves attention, in my opinion, is an old occult interpretation of yellow as celestial fire—the Sun or the heavenly kingdom and blue as the waters in the world below.

The combination of red, black, and yellow is widespread on towels mainly from Pravoberezhna Ukraine in the Cherkassy, Kyiv, and Podillia regions. Yellow symbolizes Divine Wisdom—a quality that is acquired by humans as a result of many embodiments on earth. Wisdom is the harmonious alloy of Knowledge, Will and Love. Yellow is also used to replace gold thread in embroidery. The wide use of gold thread at one time was rare because of its high cost and very complicated manufacturing process.

Besides the base colors we mentioned above which comprise the majority of embroidery in Ukraine, there are variants dyed in extracts from various vegetable raw materials. From light-yellow ochre to umber tones, a gray color band from gray-blue (dyed in “martens”) to dark-gray and black, and the different shades of green and green-brown, nuances exist. Polychrome embroidered towels from olden times were typical of Pravoberezhna Ukraine (in particular the Podillia region). The coloring and ornamental patterns of Podillia have many similarities throughout the world—the American Indians, the Indonesians and some others. In those lands, wool threads were used for embroidery because they are easier to dye and keep a better coloring than the threads from vegetable fibers.

Starting with the XIX century, when chemical dyes were discovered, the range of colors that are found in towel embroidery increases. However, while the use of such dyes created brighter colors, it also caused a decline in the spiritual quality of the work and even in its aesthetics. Fortunately, there has been a gradual reintroduction of natural dyes that are environmentally friendly, aesthetically charming, and, in terms of their inherent energy, incomparable to chemical dyes.



Some items picked up off of the Facebook SIG group:

•  Patricia called out our attention to the fact that the Fall 2015 issue (#169) of Compleat Anachronist is devoted to Pysanky.

•  Anya Stickney wrote that she's updated her album devoted to clothing TRM Morgan and Elizabeth of Atenveldt in Rus garb, “I posted a while ago that I was making 11 th century Rus garb for Their Majesties of Atenveldt, Morgan and Elizabeth. I finally have pictures! This was a group project of twenty five people led and researched by me. But I certainly didn't do this myself. The inspiration pics and notes are in the following album: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=oa.10152610885391782&type=1

•  Festival of Maidens on January 30, 2016 in Wurm Wald (Urbana IL) is hosting the Royal University of the Midrealm, with a focus on persona development. Kateline Eliot announced, “One of the tracks will be devoted to Rus/Slavic personas in honor of the incoming King and Queen, Nikolai and Serena. If you are interested in teaching a class or hosting a seminar related to Rus/Slavic culture, clothing, armor, living, etc. please contact me at Kateline Eliot or kateline.eliot@outlook.com . I look forward to seeing the depth and breadth of knowledge presented.” For details on the event itself, go to https://www.facebook.com/events/1604769776473327/ or the Kingdom calendar at http://www.midrealm.org/calendar/

•  Mike Bycko called our attention to a reenactment park located in Ukraine, “Not sure if this has been posted before, but apparently near Kyiv they've built a historical park, reconstructing ancient Kyiv as it stood in the 8th century. Looks like the Kyivan Rus version of Colonial Williamsburg.” Check out the details at http://parkkyivrus.com/en/


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