‘Nothing is so compelling to rethink the present, as the memory of our roots, history and traditions’, costume designer for blockbuster historical films Antonina Belinska tells us how she, along with other creatives and Ukrainian public figures grouped together for a national cause. Read the entire article, from Issue 87 Folk Art, here.
Tell me a little about the Shchyri project. Why did you want to be involved?
The ‘Schiri’ project was created by the Domosfera company and the Grace and Todorchuk agency as a charity project in 2014. The goal of the project was to raise money for the treatment of wounded Ukrainian soldiers who were injured in hostilities in eastern Ukraine. Later the goal of the project became to raise money to support two ethnographic museums, pictured here are the images from the later 2016 project.
2014 was a difficult time, a lot of people died who fought first with the pro-Russian government in Ukraine on Maidan, and then for the integrity of our state in the east of Ukraine. Our army, soldiers and volunteers needed support and everyone tried to do what they could. So Yaroslava Gres and Natalia Kravets got the idea to create a beautiful patriotic calendar to inspire people and raise funds to support the patriots. To attract more attention to the project, famous figures of Ukraine were invited; singers, TV presenters, actors, sportsmen; I was invited to the project as a costume designer. And since I am an historical costume designer, I offered to collect authentic rural costumes from different regions of Ukraine dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
What is the oldest garment in the project?
The oldest costumes – from the project’s later incarnation in 2016 – are three festive costumes of rural women of the Chernihiv region. The photo shows three generations – a grandmother with covered head and closed neck, her daughter, a married woman, also with covered head and granddaughter in a wreath made by hand from paraffin and thread. All are dressed according to their age. At the end of the 19th century, Chernihiv Province occupied a large territory, and was a fairly rich region. Women wore shirts with voluminous sleeves of thin handwoven with a complex technique of embroidery with fine silk threads. The brocade zapaska (apron) is woven from silk, factory-made cotton threads and gold thread and laid in wide folds. This item of clothing was the most expensive, and was worn only for holidays and weddings. The plahta (belted skirt) was woven from wool threads and hand dyed.
What are the regional differences in traditional Ukrainian dress?
Of course, all regions in Ukraine are very different. In some regions, especially in the western part of Ukraine, the tradition in costume is very different even between the neighbouring villages, which are 20-30km apart. 100 years ago, the territory of Ukraine had very clear geographical borders of regions and provinces, and the image of symbols, colours, decor methods of textiles and leather, styles, jewellery, head pieces and traditions were different in each territory. In each region you need to know the lengths of clothing items, ways of tying belts, dressing of belt clothes, tying handkerchiefs on the head and namitky (this is a long rectangular piece of fabric, which in different regions could be from thin or thick fabric, could be from three and a half to nine metres long, and tied on the head in different ways). Also, wedding head pieces are different everywhere. There are wedding head pieces, for example in the Carpathians, which require braiding wool yarn into hair in a special way, and it takes about five hours. It was a ritual when women prepared the bride and sang songs.
Would these clothes have been worn everyday by everyone or are they examples of special clothes?
In our project we use wedding and holiday sets of rich rural people. In everyday life, clothing was as simple as possible and not bright. Wealthy women and girls would have worn coral beads, Venetian glass beads, with silver and gold crumb, silver elements and dukaches, these are ancient silver coins, from which neck ornaments are made in the form of beads or as a single coin in jewellery design with stones (depends on the region).
Do you have a favourite garment or outfit?
My favourite sets are wedding sets of West Podolia, Borshov district (now the territory of the Ternopil region). I myself come from Podolia and my great-grandmothers wore similar clothes. The colour scheme of this region is recognisable, and differs from other regions by featuring a large amount of black. It is interesting that our ancestors did not consider black to be the mourning colour, as it is customary now, but white. The black colour was considered the colour of wealth, because it symbolised the land with rich harvest.
For the black woollen threads in this region a breed of sheep with long black wool was specially raised. Due to this, after more than 100 years, black threads retain their deep colour, don’t moult or fade in the sun. Also, in the embroidery on the sleeves of the shirts of this region you will find three types of complex embroidery techniques at once, which allows you to get a three-dimensional embroidery, and you can see that the embroidery is divided into three parts. In the upper part, closer to the shoulders, the embroidery is arranged in horizontal rows, symbolising the earth and the sown field – these are our roots, our ancestors, traditions; the middle part has floral ornament, it is wealth, fertility – the present; and the lower part – embroidered rhombuses with flowers inside: a rhombus in Ukrainian symbolism means family, flowers and the birth of a new life. Thus, a shirt in the Ukrainian costume has always been an amulet for a woman.
Is everyone in Ukraine familiar with these garments? How often are they still worn?
Unfortunately, no. That’s why this project became so popular and successful as many Ukrainians had no idea how a real Ukrainian costume might look. Only a stylized version of one of the central regions of Ukraine reached us. Although vyshyvankas (the so-called ethnic shirts with Ukrainian embroidery) are very popular for the holidays to this day.
Now ethnographic heritage is very important for Ukrainians and this trend is actively developing. Many Ukrainian designers use the motives of the Ukrainian costume.
Extract from the article, Costume Drama: Atonina Belinska styles Ukrainian folk Costume, in Issue 87 Folk Art written by Grace Warde-Aldam.