Monday, August 22, 2011

Some inspiration for the embroidery

Most of what we have preserved of old Russian embroidery is ecclesiastical, and this piece is no exception, but it uses old motifs.  This follows the Russian pagan cosmology with the tree of life, the birds in the heavens and the stags on earth.  This piece also demonstrates one of the major hallmarks of all Russian embroidery: axial symmetry.  The piece combines the upperclass hallmarks of gold and pearls with the older peasant symbology.  For that reason its one of my favorites.  Conveniently for me it is also dated 1544.  Most of the other extant pieces with the tree of life motif are either earlier (12th century) or later (19th.)  That's not to say that the motif didn't continue all the way through, its just preserved pieces are few and far between so its nice to have something in the middle to point to.  I plan to use the Tree of Life, the birds, and the sirin (bird woman hybrid that is a symbol of happiness) as my major decorative motifs in combination with the krin/heart design.

The krin dates clear back into the Scythian felts.  I babbled about it a bit here  The picture I have there is actually from 12th century embroidered Russian pieces.  If you'd like to see some more examples of the heart and the tree of life and some birds, one of my favorite articles is here  with an English translation here.    Again, it is a continuing motif with some older examples and lots of post period examples.  My middle piece is slightly post SCA period, dating to 1667.

I've seen some other examples in period and better showing the heart than this one (which replaces it with bezants/plaques,) but I can't lay my hands on them this morning. I'm not finding a couple of my books on Russian embroidery.  FRUSTRATING!  Both of these come from Early Russian Embroidery in the Zagorsk Museum Collection by T. Manushina, Moscow 1983.

I think I'm going to do some sketching for designs for the muff today and see what I come up with.


  1. so is that all embroidery of some sort or is there some applique involved?
    The red one down here kinda looks like the bigger pieces are appliqued down. Yes?

    Says the Roman who wants to do some Rus at some point..

  2. It's metal plaques that are sewn on. Late Rus embroidery involves a lot of metal bezants and large gemstones in settings. Sort of a form of beadwork but not exactly. The first piece is couched goldwork that it them outlined in pearls, that is then outlined in more gold. Since I've got time constraints I very well might end up doing some applique. I most certainly will be making some of my own little metal plaques so i can get the shapes I want.

  3. They are beautiful examples and your researching is phenomenal. If you found the example once, I bet you can find it again! You're persistent like that. :-D

  4. The tree of life interests me. I'd like to hear more about that!