Vyshyvanka is national Ukrainian clothing which has lately become popular not only inside the country but also abroad. One can more often see Hollywood celebrities wearing this outfit not only in the streets but also to social events.
According to Herodotus the Skythians used to brighten their outfit with different symbols. Silver plaques with men figures found in Сherkassy region have appeared identical to the embroidery on a national Ukrainian outfit of XVIII-XIX centuries.
Initially vyshyvankas were not so much used as clothes but protected their owners from evil. That’s why shirt sleeves, collars and laps were decorated with a pattern so that it touched the body. A certain embroidery was meant for each ritual. Newborns were presented with an embroidered shirt to defend them from evil spirits.
Linen is the most popular, expensive and widely used material for making vyshyvanka.
Ukrainian forefathers used animal veins, flax, hemp, cotton and silk fiber. Nowadays there is a variety of linen materials which differ by way of production, features, appearance and price. Handmade linen is dirty white with well-seen fibers of different shades. It is mostly made in western Ukraine by hand. There is also factory-made linen which looks and feels different as synthetic fibers are added. This makes it look cheaper but easier to wash and iron.
Techniques and regional features
For different regions of Ukraine certain plaited stitches are typical. Here are the most widely used ones:
- Poltava is well-known for its specific and the most complicated technique. Shirts here are mainly embroidered in white, seldom in red and black. Shirtfronts are decorated with patterns made in satin-stitch.
- It is typical for Kharkiv region as well as for Central Ukraine to use polychromatic ornament created by cross- or semi-cross stitch. Because rough thread is used patterns seem embossed.
- Volynski region boasts its unique embroidery. Patterns are made in red simple but neat geometric shapes. Floral motives are widely used in decorating Ukrainian traditional costumes.
- Podol shirts are extremely colorful made in different stitches. Spider-stitch is typical for dickeys on sleeves and wedges. Ornaments on Podol vyshyvankas are mostly black with some specks of red, blue, yellow or green.
- Lviv folk uses wide range of embroidery. Ornaments in southern parts are geometric with white background which makes it clear and light.
- In Zakarpattia they use different manners of zig-zag. Range of colors is quite wide, red goes with black, white and color ornaments are used.
- Rich embroidery techniques are characteristic of Vinnytsa They include thread of beads, cross-stitch, crewel-work, single-sided stitch, planking, cutting-out etc.
- It is common for Ternopil region to make patterns with cotton threads in thickened stitches. Such embroideries cover the whole sleeve in vertical and splayed lines.
Ornaments, symbols and meaning
All existing ornaments could be divided in three groups:
- Grapes bunches symbolize happiness of family life.
- Poppy has protected people from all kinds of evil since ancient times, that is why this tender flower could often be seen on shirts.
- Madonna lily is the mystery of life creation, the symbol of innocence, charm and purity.
- Oak and viburnum are the symbols which could often be seen on men and women vyshyvankas. These patterns combine fairy and eternal beauty or extreme power.
- Circle is the sign of Sun and stands for harmony.
- Wavy lines mean water and springs.
- Rhombus ornament with dots in the center is associated with fertility and field.
- Stars stand for certain harmony and order.
- Peahens, swans, doves and roosters symbolize newly-weds or a new family. They represent fidelity and love.
- Butterflies embody guardian angels.
- Horses stand for aspiration.
- Bears are hunting patrons. They symbolize life, wisdom, strength and sovereignty.
- Swallows bring good news about coming weddings and family growth.
The most widespread color for making vyshyvanka is white. Even the poorest Ukrainians have always had a festive shirt, might be patched but always white. Unbleached linen shirts were also common, such outfits were greyish or cream.
Black-colored shirt has always been considered the symbol of grief and sorrow. Such shirts were worn only by old men in some regions.
There were also blue ones meant for either middle-aged ladies or young girls who were not going to get married in the near future.
A red embroidered shirt has always symbolized love, passion beauty and rich life.
Ukrainian outfit may come in one, two or multi colors.
Traditional women embroidered blouse
Women embroidered blouse is long as a dress and is rich in colors and ornaments. Traditionally patterns for women embroidery are all kinds of waves, diagonal lines, flowers, cogs and squares. A cross reminding letter X stands for fertility and is a Moon sign. Blouses are normally decorated on sleeves, skirt, collar and sinus. A proper women embroidery is satin-stitched on linen or hemp.
Traditional men embroidered shirt
Ukrainian men shirt had a cut in the front which differed it from the other ones. It was decorated by embroidery as well as cuffs. A shirt was made of natural materials such as linen or hemp. It was often used as overcoat and men put it on top of a zhupan.
A popular men pattern is rhombus with a dot inside. It symbolized men strength and fertility. Such sign in different variations can be seen on all men shirts. Boys always had oak as a pattern not to lose men power but to make it stronger every day. It was very important not to have knots on the inner side, they were considered as obstacles in future life.
Young people are into a new trend of wearing vyshyvankas instead of sweatshirts, tank-tops and blouses. There is no need to make it on your own, one can easily buy it. However the tradition of embroidering is reviving. Master-hands combine different ornaments and patterns. Floral stitching is popular. The style of shirts has also changed. While in old times most popular colors were red, black and white now the range is much wider.
The national clothing has become so popular that since 2006 Ukrainians started celebrating vyshyvanka day on the third Thursday of May.
One could never see such a variety of the outfit as on this day.
Ukrainian national ethnos keeps inspiring foreign designers who create new models of traditional patterns. Hemstitch, embroidery and fashionable accessories add luxury and look unique on fashion divas. Vyshyvanka by Vita Kin has encouraged American fashion magazine Vogue to put it in trend after the famous designer started using traditional patterns in creating her outfits.