Bишиванка is a Ukrainian shirt with exquisite hand embroidery. It stands as a symbol of health, beauty and prosperity. The history of folk embroidery in Ukraine goes back centuries, with each garment representing an ancestral lineage. Based on archeological evidence, embroidery in Ukraine has existed as a form of art for centuries. In fact ancient historian, Herodotus, notes that Scythian apparel was decorated with heavy embroidery. Also discovered in Cherkasy were silver plaques dated VI century with men wearing embroidered Ukrainian folk costume dating back to XVII – XIX centuries. It is believed that in ancient times every shirt was embroidered to represent individual tribes. In tradition, for centuries вишиванки were passed on for generation within a family or a clan.
To a Ukrainian family, ancestral вишиванка is the most beloved and cherished heirloom. Within tradition, the embroidered symbols and designs were meant to protect from evil and sin. The concrete meaning of embroidered symbolism is lost, however its tradition of use is continued. Usually the garment is handmade out of linen or domestic hemp cloth and its simple shape makes a perfect canvas for the rich embroidery to stand out. Traditionally the embroidery patterns are divided into three distinct groups:
The ornamental motifs are often times chosen based on the technique of the embroidery the maker selects. In Ukraine, embroidery is a well developed artistic technique that features about one hundred embroidery stitches. Certain stitches are unique to ethnographic regions of Ukraine, meanwhile others can be also found in Belarusian and Russian embroideries. The beauty of our вишиванки is within the thorough embroidery technique and ornamentation has shaped our culture. Like a history book, it tells the story of our people and embodies the tradition that has been passed on for centuries from one clan to the next, and from one member to another.
Traditional image of вишиванка is often present in folklore songs about love and family life. According to tradition when preparing her dowry, a girl is supposed to hand embroider a вишиванка for her love:
Шовком шила, шовком шила,
Та для того козаченька,
Що вірно любила.
From new beginning to family tree, вишиванка is often used to represent the family. Today, вишиванка continues to play an important role within Ukrainian community. Although we no longer embroider our tribal symbols or depict our ancestral lineage, we do continue to honor the tradition. Our вишиванка is now not only worn to religious holidays, but our youth typically wear them to забави. It is worn with pride and makes a fashion statement. A garment as antique as вишиванка has withstood the test of time and continues to represent its people while adapting to the modern times.
By Marta Tryshak ( www.withLoveGabrielle.com ) for UC Family Magazine