Thursday, May 19 Vyshyvanka Day 2022 in Ukraine. The embroidered shirt isn’t just Ukraine’s hallmark and its national relic, it’s a symbol of beauty and good health, happy destiny, and family memory. It’s an amulet and prayer without words. Ukrainian embroidered shirt or Vyshyvanka, along with Ukrainian pysanka, is one of the most eminent symbols of Ukrainian culture. And it’s beautiful, prestigious and modern! Every year, on the third Thursday in May, thousands of people around the world wear Ukrainian shirts to celebrate World Vyshyvanka Day. There’s no national clothing that would fit into the present as well as the Ukrainian embroidered shirt.
The holiday’s goal is to popularize ethnic embroidered clothing and honor Ukrainian traditions. It is easy to join the celebration of Vyshyvanka Day. You just need to come to work or your place of study in a Ukrainian embroidered shirt.
We began celebrating Vyshyvanka Day in 2006.
The idea to dedicate one of the days of the year to the Ukrainian national clothing came from a student of the Yurii Fedkovych National University of Chernivtsi Lesia Voroniuk. The girl noticed that from time to time, not only she but also other students come to classes in embroidered shirts. But it never happened that everyone would come wearing them at once. One day, she offered everyone to come to the university in embroidered shirts. Several dozen students took part in the event. But for the second or third year, teachers, students from other cities, public servants, employees of enterprises and institutions, and even taxi drivers began to join them.
The Ukrainian diaspora around the world has become a driving force in promoting the holiday abroad.
But, besides the diaspora, these clothes captured the hearts of the locals, who gladly began to wear them and support Ukrainians. Today, this holiday has gained international scale and Ukrainian traditional clothing is worn by people in more than 70 countries. Vyshyvanka Day is the largest Ukrainian event in Canada, where the Ukrainian diaspora numbers more than 1 million Ukrainians. This year, due to the pandemic, it will be held in Zoom. Prize draws, contests, and flash mobs, as well as greetings from representatives of Ukrainian communities from all provinces, are waiting for the celebration participants. The active participation of Canadian Parliament members during this holiday is also significant. It is recorded that in 2017, 2019, and 2020, MPs came to the session in Ukrainian embroidered shirts, showing respect for both their roots and their country’s citizens, among whom a significant number are ethnic Ukrainians.
Working on one embroidered shirt can take from two weeks to three years, depending on the embroiderer’s skill and the techniques used.
A woman could embroider a complex, multi-flowered shirt for herself all winter. But some women had a lot of lands and worked and earned on it, and some poorer girls embroidered to order. It was very embarrassing to admit that someone else had embroidered your shirt. Orders were kept secret. Although everyone knew that there were craftswomen who embroider for others.
In 1909, a treasure was excavated in the village of Martynivka, the Cherkasy region
Among the things found, dating from the VI century, there are statuettes of ancient inhabitants: men dressed in long wide shirts with patterned embroidery at chest level, who seem to dance the hopak. Some see images of ancient Slavs in these figures, i.e. Roksolany, Yazyhy, and Aorsy, who wore embroidered shirts, shaved their heads with omelets, and wore mustaches. There’s no evidence for a statement, but you can’t forbid legends to emerge. And the oldest example of embroidery, found in Ukraine (Mykolaiv region), dates back to the first millennium AD, a piece of purple embroidered with gold, it’s a fragment of the Sarmatian woman’s dress.
Traditional Ukrainian shirt isn’t always embroidered.
Traditional clothing includes not only embroidered shirts but also patterned ones. Interestingly, cross-stitch, which many consider traditionally Ukrainian, came to us from Europe only in the XIX century. It spread thanks to the advertising campaign of the founder of the Brocard & Co. perfume and cosmetics company Henri Brocard. Pieces of Brocard & Co. soap were wrapped in bright wrappers, which depicted mosaic floral ornaments, which served as embroidery patterns. Two-color embroidery with simple schemes quickly became an urban fashion. Thus, cross-stitch spread. And then a stereotype appeared about red and black embroidery as a symbol of love and sorrow.
Each region of Ukraine has its own embroidery technique, details, and themes for ornament and traditional embroidery colors.
In total, there are about two hundred different embroidery techniques in Ukraine. The excessive popularity of the Brocard’s cross-stitch almost supplanted the ancient Ukrainian ornaments, which were quickly replaced by a relatively easy-to-make seam. It’s gratifying to know that today the ancient techniques are being revived: braiding, cutting, poking, nightingale eyes, satin stitch, nyzynka, hemstitch, weaving.
The traditional color of the Ukrainian shirt is white.
Poltava embroidered shirt is considered to be one of the most difficult ones. It was embroidered mostly white on white, occasionally adding gray, black, or red threads to enhance the effect. The inspiration for such embroidery was nature: in the past, women embroidered mainly in winter, when there was no garden work. Sitting by the window, they watched the patterns that the frost painted on the windows and then transferred them to the canvas, that’s how an embroidery in white on white appeared. In total, Poltava embroidery has about 180 different ways of execution. A pure white shirt embroidered with white threads was valued much higher than the usual one and served as an element of both men’s and women’s wardrobes. The technology of white-on-white embroidery in the village of Reshetylivka in the Poltava region is the only element of Ukraine’s intangible cultural heritage that is related to embroidery and included in the national list.
An embroidered shirt is festive, not casual clothes. In ancient times, women’s and men’s shirts were cut in the same way, later their cuts began to differ. On weekdays, Ukrainians wore weekday clothes, inconspicuous shirts made of linen or hemp, and on holidays, they wore embroidered shirts. The first shirt for a newborn was always sewn from worn and soft parental things. It was also believed that the clothes of the mother and father contained positive energy that will protect the child from disease, betrothal, bad people, and bad luck, and the shirt for babies was affectionately called “liolia.”
The embroidered shirt had served as a talisman against all evil for Ukrainians. It was its primary purpose. Therefore, shirts and dresses were decorated with patterns on the sleeves, collars, and hem, so that the pattern touched the entire body. Endowed with great strength, the embroidered shirt can work wonders. Ukrainians who returned from concentration camps in the postwar years told amazing stories about how our girls escaped death in prison by simply wearing their native embroidered shirts. They believe that embroidered shirts even have their energy fields.
Today Traditionally in Ukraine, a fiancée buys a shirt for her future husband so that he can wear it on a wedding day.
Best men should repurchase it from maids of honor. In a day and sometimes on the wedding day itself, bridesmaids take the shirt and come to the fiance’s house. Bridesmaids can bring a couple of shirts and, depending on the amount of money the best men propose, they give a certain shirt. If the sum is not very big – they may give an old shirt, if the sum is bigger – they can give a newer one, and when they see eye to eye – the best men can take the true wedding shirt.
There was also a custom: the young bride had to give the groom and his parents embroidered shirts.
The shirt for the future mother-in-law had to be soaked in very salty water before sitting down to embroider to avoid troubles and tears in the future family. They attached great importance to the ornament on embroidered shirts. You couldn’t imitate the ornament, for instance, by a friend or relative, because it meant that a person seemed to “take away” or “repeat” someone else’s fate.
War, it would seem, isn’t the best time to wear an embroidered shirt.
But history proves otherwise. Centuries ago, the Cossacks, going into battle, always wore an embroidered shirt, which was a kind of protector. Liberation struggle soldiers, Sich riflemen, and Ukrainian insurgents also wore it under their uniforms. Much time has passed since then, but national traditions have remained unchanged: today, many Ukrainian defenders in Donbas find a place for an embroidered shirt in their backpacks, along with the most necessary things. It’s especially valuable when it’s embroidered by a mother or beloved one.
And Donbas itself was completely Ukrainian until the 1950s. Before the party’s new program of “merging nations into a single Soviet people” was adopted in the early 1960s, people in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions spoke Ukrainian and wore Ukrainian attire. Due to the forced Russification in the region, Ukrainian schools and kindergartens almost disappeared, and people began to speak Russian. On social media, the descendants of Ukrainians from the eastern regions often share early-twentieth-century photos that have survived in their families.
The National Bank of Ukraine issued two coins of 5 and 10 hryvnia denominations, dedicated to the Ukrainian embroidered shirt.
These coins reproduce the traditions of embroidery in different regions of the country. They belong to the Ukrainian Heritage series (a series of coins launched by the National Bank of Ukraine in 2005). Both were put into circulation on August 20, 2013. Now collectors are ready to pay from 600 to 1,300 hryvnias for such coins.
Ukrainian artists, in particular poets, have always praised the beauty of folk costumes. There are 22 poems for children and adults about embroidered shirts. In Ukraine, they shot a whole documentary about the embroidered shirt, “Heritage of the Nation.” The documentary’s slogan, which premiered on November 3, 2016, was “Embroider to Survive.” The film tells about the embroidered shirt as a spiritual heritage of the Ukrainian people and shows the variety of ornaments from all Ukrainian regions and the stories of people who tell about the value and uniqueness of the embroidered shirt for them. “There are interesting stories from Italy and the Emirates, these are the places where Ukrainians live,” says director Oleksandr Tkachuk, “there are stories from the temporarily occupied territories. They met a woman who wanted to keep the embroidered shirt and pass it on to her descendants. She stays there, and her shirt is already in Kyiv. True or not, the family heirloom was transported through checkpoints.”
View to get inspired, feel Ukraine’s soul, speak the language of embroidered patterns, and maybe even choose “your” ornament.
Boston Vyshyvanka Day 2022 – Fundraiser Event for Ukraine.
Dear friends, Ukraine Forward would like to invite you to the Vyshyvanka Day charity event on Friday, May 20th at Encore Boston Harbor. Join us for the celebration of Ukrainian culture and help us raise funds for the purchase of urgent resources for Ukraine. Show your support for Ukraine, put on your best vyshyvanka, and let’s enjoy a social night with friends!
Help Us To Provide For Ukraine Raise Funds for Ukraine’s Armed Forces