Clothing: Construction and Embroidery

Clothing does much more than protect the body. It can be used to mark a person’s social status, age, gender, marital status and so forth. In Ukraine, the clothing of the young differed from the clothing of the old. There was special holiday clothing and clothing to mark the major events in a life such as weddings and funerals. Clothing differed by gender. This not only means that women wore skirts while men wore pants. It means that the clothing of little girl was different from the clothing worn by a girl old enough to marry. When a woman married, her clothing, and especially her head gear, would change again. Thus, little girls wore unbelted shifts, sorochki, and could wear their hair loose. Young women wore single braids. They had to wear a belt over their sorochki and most often wore a skirt as well. At marriage, a woman’s hair was braided in two braids as part of the wedding ceremony. From then on, the woman was supposed to wear two braids, wear her hair up, and keep her head covered. Her clothing became more modest and darker and darker as she aged. The man, by contrast, wore the same hairdo and pretty much the same clothing throughout his life, though his clothing, too, became darker with age.

Clothing has magical power. The act of embroidery is powerful and clothing protects an individual, not just from the elements, but from the evil eye. Clothing was embroidered and holiday and ceremonial clothing richly so. Embroidery around all clothing edges served a protective function and, since individuals in transition, such as the couple getting married, are especially vulnerable, their clothing was richly embroidered and they were decorated with wreaths, flowers, pins, and other protective items

In the area of Central Ukraine, which is the source of most of the information here, there is a distinction between everyday clothing, which was minimally adorned, and festive clothing, usually called ukraiins’ke. Ukraiins’ke means a linen shirt, what we might call a shift, with heavily embroidered sleeves, embroidery around the neck, and at the bottom of the shift. Over this is worn a skirt, usually of colored brocade. The skirt is to be worn in such a way that the embroidered lower edge of the shift is visible from under it. An embroidered apron covers the front of the skirt and a woolen woven belt, usually called a poias or a kraika is worn on top. Over the shift and skirt a woman wears a sleeveless jacket called a korsetka in summer and a long sleeved jacket called a iubka in winter. Men’s ukraiins’ke is primarily an embroidered shirt. The linen trousers worn by men in the past and the home-made jackets and coats have mostly been replaced by factory-made slacks and jackets.

The shift or sorochka can be made of linen, cotton, or hemp. In the past, hemp was used for everyday wear since it is a courser fabric of a darker color. Everyday wear was ideally embroidered at least around the edges to protect the wearer. It was possible to omit embroidery altogether.


Festive Clothes

A festive sorochka is made of linen or cotton, though hemp can be used on occasion. The most prized shifts are made of hand-loomed linen. These can be identified by the fact that they consist of 3 panels. Hand-weaving produces a narrow, approximately 18 inch wide, strip of fabric and three width of this fabric are needed to make a garment. Garments are pleated at the neck and at the top and bottom of the sleeves to control the fullness. A band secures the pleats at the neck and the bottom of the sleeves. As noted earlier, the bottom is embroidered, along with the sleeves. The top usually is not embroidered, though some areas do embroider at the top, sometimes for decoration and sometimes to secure the garment. Pleat types, along with other features discussed below, identify the area in which the garment was made. The garment usually has a very deep front slit to permit the nursing of children. The slit is concealed under the korsetka or iubka. If the garment is not made of hand-loomed fabric, it is usually made of two pieces, rather than three, and has side seems.

A man’s shirt from the village of Dobranychivka, Iahotyn region, Kyiv province is shown. On both men’s and women’s garments, it was important to decorate the edges to protect the wearer from the evil eye. The belt serves the same function of protection. It also had many practical uses. Men could use it to hold knives, hammers, and other tools. Women could use it as the final layer in the swaddling of infants. Embroidery on rushnyky means things and is distinctive from region to region. The same is true of embroidery on clothing. The province of Poltava is known for white-on-white embroidery, often with cut-work. In this area, similar designs are also done in blue-on-white. The province of Cherkasy has distinctive cherry clusters on its shifts. The favorite designs and colors in the past were red and black on a natural linen background. Favorite motifs were those that signaled prosperity and fertility: the tree of life in various forms, flowers such as roses and pumpkin blossoms, fruit such as grapes and cherries. In recent times, people have begun experimenting with new, synthetic, and brightly colored threads. The motifs are the same as earlier but colors are now very bright, such as on the shift embroidered in green and orange and shown here.



Ukraiins’ke used to be worn to church on Sundays. It was worn on holidays. It was considered appropriate and even obligatory dress for weddings. Specifically, a bride was to wear ukraiins’ke to invite guests to her wedding. This was done by walking the village with the maid of honor or druzhka, who was also supposed to be dressed in ukraiins’ke, as seen in these photos. The druzhka would carry special breads called shyshky. The bride would enter a house, place a shyshka on the table, and issue her invitation. Ukraiins’ke was also worn for the actual wedding, the ceremony in the church and the various ritual acts in the home of the bride and groom. With the advent of Soviet rule, there was pressure to stop wearing ukraiins’ke and to switch to the more modern white dress and veil. Many villagers did not like this and would wear the white dress for the civil ceremony only. Outside of official circles, during all of the ceremonies in the home, for example, they would still wear ukraiins’ke. The church wedding was of course banned under Soviet rule. A good example of wearing both the white dress and ukraiins’ke is the 1983 wedding of Halyna Kapas’, nee Latysh, in the village of Iavorivka, Drabiv region, Cherkasy province. The bride wears a white dress for the civil ceremony, but is dressed in ukraiins’ke elsewhere.
With the independence of Ukraine, ukraiins’ke is becoming more popular and widespread and more and more people are choosing to do the same as Halyna Kapas’. The return to earlier practice is not complete because invitations are no longer issued on foot. Rather, invitations are sent in the mail. Therefore, the formal walk around the village in ukraiins’ke is no longer practiced. I was told that, as the mailing of invitations was becoming more and more prevalent, there was an intermediary phase. During this phase, the bride would walk the village in ukraiins’ke to invite the older residents, but she would send mail invitations to the young.

Ukraiins’ke is also a popular choice as a funeral garment. It is believed that the coffin cannot be prepared in advance, though wood for it may be purchased. All the other necessities, however, may and should be set aside well in advance and most people over the age of 50 have a funeral bundle. Thus, people purchase and set aside the cloth needed to line a coffin and to cover it on the outside. They buy the prokhidna, a piece of paper with a strip called a vinchyk, or wreath, that gets cut off and placed across the forehead of the deceased and a prayer that is read at grave side and then folded and placed in the pocket of the dead person. They buy crosses, one to wear around the neck and a larger one to place in the hands. They may purchase the candles that are lit during the funeral service. Rushnyky and kerchiefs that will be given as presents to the gravediggers, pallbearers, and others who help with the funeral are typical items to acquire and place in the funeral bundle. And, of course, the deceased needs a full set of clothing from undergarments, to sock and shoes, to ukraiins’ke or modern clothes.

Today, everyday wear is usually a purchased dress for women and purchased trousers and a shirt for men. All married women wear a kerchief, at least in villages. Embroidery is widely popular and equally widely practiced. More and more people wear ukraiins’ke on more and more occasions. Ukraiins’ke is worn more and more often to weddings. It is also popular to wear ukraiins’ke to festivals. For example, at the Ivan Kupalo rite celebrated in Berlozy, Kozelets’ky region, Chernihiv province, all of the performers wore ukraiins’ke. The costumes chosen adhered to traditional age categories. Thus, the young girls dancing around the tree called the Marena all wore embroidered shifts and belts. Their hair was loose. The older, married women who sang in the choir wore skirts and headgear, as well as shifts. Men wore embroidered shirts. Even the effigy called Kupalo was dressed in ukraiins’ke. It was a figure made of sticks dressed in an embroidered shift with an enormous wreath for a head.
Modifications to the traditional heavy linen shift with red and black embroidery are also popular. Modifications tend to be of two types. One is to use traditional fabrics, but non-traditional threads and colors. The other is to use traditional colors on more modern garments, garments made out of a finer, thinner fabric and with a slimmer, more figure-fitting cut, such as the red blouse. Sometimes old, worn garments are taken apart and made into modern clothing, such as the tank top. Urban men in the 19th century, if they wanted to be nationalistic, wore embroidered shirts with their suits instead of a shirt and tie. This is again becoming fashionable, in villages as well as cities and men wear embroidered shirts with their suits on dress occasions.


Natalie Kononenko in Costume

Here are two Object Movies of Natalie Kononenko.
She can be rotated to show the complete costume.


Here are two people in Edmonton wearing traditional clothing from different parts of Ukraine.

This is what a married woman from
the Rivne Region would wear:
a blouse with red and black
embroidery, a red wool skirt,
and a black decorated vest.
The necklace is made of amber.
This outfit is from the Chernivtsi
Region: a blouse, a thick
dark skirt with a thick
woven belt, and a
heavy animal skin
vest with coral jewelry.
In the Poltava Region
the embroidery has a lot of
flowers. She is also wearing
a red checkered overskirt,
an apron, and a long vest
with coral necklaces.


This man is wearing clothes from
the Chernivtsi Region. He has a
linen shirt with brightly
coloured embroidery around the neck
and wrists. He is also wearing a heavy,
animal-skin jacket, linen pants and
a thick, woven belt
These are clothes from the
Rivne Region. His shirt has red
embroidery around the neck,
down the front and around the
wrists. He is wearing linen pants,
a thick, woven belt and an