Discover top five Russian folk crafts

November 17, 2019 - 9:50

Torzhok’s goldwork embroidery, Yelets lace, Nizhny Tagil’s decorative trays, Fedoskino lacquer miniatures and Rostov enamel: we will tell you where to go to learn about traditional Russian crafts and buy original souvenirs. Let’s get started, or as the Russians say — Poekhali!

Torzhok’s goldwork embroidery

At the end of the 18th century, gold-wire embroidery was mastered by the needlewomen of Torzhok, an ancient town in the Tver Region. They embroidered headdresses, sleeves, belts, shoes, purses and church decoration with gold wire thread.

The first ornamental designs to be used were with floral patterns. Their work was in great demand. Trade was flourishing in Torzhok at that time, a town which was founded at a crossroads, where both land routes and waterways converged. Their embroidered pieces were even purchased to adorn the Russian Imperial Court.

After the Russian Revolution, the workshops where the Torzhok gold workers had worked were turned into a factory. Just like in the old days, bags, belts, clothes, wallets and other souvenirs are still embroidered there.

You can learn about the history of the craft at the Goldwork Embroidery Museum and Factory on 73 Dzerzhinsky Street in Torzhok. The exhibition pieces include the only existing copies of early embroidered work and modern panels made as gifts for famous people and for private collections.

You can even order your own personalized piece of embroidery in the shop at the factory. You can also try your hand at doing your own embroidery under the guidance of experienced masters of the craft.

Fedoskino: lacquer miniatures

Four schools of lacquer miniatures exist in Russia: Palekh, Mstera, Kholuy and Fedoskino. Fedoskino is considered the oldest center of Russian lacquer crafts.

In the village of Danilkovo, which has since merged with Fedoskino, craftsmen began painting these lacquer miniatures in the late 18th century. In 1795, merchant Pyotr Korobov opened a workshop to manufacture visors for Russian army helmets and shakos. After a visit to Johann Stobwasser’s manufactory in Braunschweig, Germany, where he studied the technology of papier-maché, Korobov began producing snuff boxes instead, which were popular at that time, decorated with painted portaits and scenes and varnished prints. German masters were invited to work at Korobov’s workshop.

From 1814 onwards, the workshop began painting snuff boxes, bead boxes and jewelry boxes by hand. Before then, the boxes had been decorated with paste-on prints.

Korobov’s heir was a merchant from Moscow, Pyotr Lukutin, who further developed the craft. In the 19th century, Fedoskino’s lacquered works were simply referred to as “Lukutins”. A factory was opened in Fedoskino, which ran until 1910, when the factory owners decided to close it down. A group of ten craftsmen got together and re-opened the factory in 1910, and called it the Fedoskino Artel. The factory is still running to this day.

Attention to everyday scenes, a passion for copying paintings by Russian and Western European artists, and the use of original stories from folk tales is what sets Fedoskino lacquer miniatures apart from other centers of miniature art. Fedoskino also uses different material. All the miniatures are painted using oil paint in the triple-layer painting technique.

Brushstroke by brushstroke, the masters create a picture, painting the tiniest details of each portrait.

Excursions and master classes are now held at the Fedoskinskya Factory of Miniature Painting and Museum, where you can try to paint your own papier-mache miniature. The museum at the factory exhibits miniatures that chronicle works created over the two centuries since the first miniatures were made, with almost two thousand exhibits.

Nizhny Tagil: decorative trays

Zhostovo is not the only center famous for its painted metal trays: in Nizhny Tagil, this craft began to develop at the end of the 18th century. The emergence of tray painting was helped by a high standard of living in Russia at that time, when people began decorating the interior of their houses with exquisite household items and ornaments. For the owners of factories and mining plants in the Urals — including the Demidov family — this craft served as an advertisement to promote their industries.

The idea of decorating metal trays originated in traditional folk paintings. They had two main subjects — themed scenes and floral arrangements or still lives. Craftsmen in the Urals developed the techniques of single-layer painting with tonal color transitions, with elements of folk paintings which were commonly used to decorate on spinning wheels, chests and other household items.

Hardly any of the trays produced in Nizhny Tagil have survived. You can see one of them which was created in 1887 in the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg.

The Round Tray. Workshop of N. A. Perezolov. Nizhny Tagil. 1887. State Russian Museum. Taken from S.B. Rozhdestvenskaya’s book “On the Question of the Fate of Arts and Crafts in the RSFSR (Tray Painting of Nizhny Tagil)”

Rostov Veliky: enamel

This craft is over two and a half hundred years old — an enameling technique for miniature painting which spread to Russia from France in the mid-18th century. The first workshop was set up at the orthodox bishop’s house in Rostov Veliky (Rostov the Great, as Rostov is popularly known to Russians). Inspired by Limoges enamel and Renaissance portraits, enamel painting was used to create icons and decorate ecclesiastical objects. The famous floral motifs only appeared in the 19th century.

After the Russian Revolution, the craft fell into decline, but the masters were able to preserve it by uniting and forming an artel (association of craftsmen). After the World War Two, it was transformed into the Rostov Finift Factory, which still exists today.

Finift is an incredible combination of enamel and metal.

The Museum of Finift is housed in the old judicial chamber of the Rostov Kremlin. The exhibition includes more than three thousand colorful painted enamels: icons, as well as landscapes and portraits bejewel an array of different items. This is one of the most magnificent collections in Russia. The museum has a shop.

Yelets: lace

Yelets lace is finer and more delicate than Vologda lace, and traces its history back to the 18th century. Before then, lace making had flourished in the Lipetsk Region as a cottage industry, where the lacemakers were the wives and daughters of wealthy merchants. The first drawings of designs for lace patterns were imported from Europe, from Germany, Belgium and France. However, local craftswomen quickly found their own distinctive style, which can be seen in the dresses that were made for the last Grand Duchesses of the Russian Imperial House, and in napkins which are now a collector’s item.

The first known lace piece made in Yelets is dated 1801, a towel with a stitched inscription: “this piece was sewn by deacon Alexander Ivanov’s daughter in 1801.” The lace on the towel is made of linen and mesh.

Yelets lace is made by braiding and twisting lengths of thread wound on bobbins. Picture this: in just one lace there could be several hundred bobbin threads. And in some cases, there are one and a half thousand of them! Another feature of Yelets lace are its natural themes and floral ornamental patterns. Linen and silk are used for weaving, as well as different colored cotton threads of varying thickness.

Yelets lace had its heyday in 1873, when it was displayed at the World’s Fair in Vienna, and the work of Russian lacemakers attracted the attention of the public and experts from around the world.

You can admire the intricate lace pieces at the House Museum of Yelets Lace. Inside the museum you can see tablecloths, dresses and lace umbrellas, which look like they are straight off the set of a historical film. There’s even a piano accordion! The museum has a shop.

Yelets lace is made by braiding and twisting lengths of thread wound on bobbins. Picture this: in just one lace there could be several hundred bobbin threads. And in some cases, there are one and a half thousand of them! Another feature of Yelets lace are its natural themes and floral ornamental patterns. Linen and silk are used for weaving, as well as different colored cotton threads of varying thickness.

Yelets lace had its heyday in 1873, when it was displayed at the World’s Fair in Vienna, and the work of Russian lacemakers attracted the attention of the public and experts from around the world.

You can admire the intricate lace pieces at the House Museum of Yelets Lace. Inside the museum you can see tablecloths, dresses and lace umbrellas, which look like they are straight off the set of a historical film. There’s even a piano accordion! The museum has a shop.

Lace-making masterclasses are held in the shop at the Yelets Lace Factory, which is located on the territory of the Izmailovo Kremlin in Moscow.

(Based on a research into Russian sources)

Leave a Comment

3 + 1 =