Russian Kerchiefs and Shawls

Calico kerchief First printing mill  Moscow 1932The collection of kerchiefs and shawls, which numbers over a thousand Russian-produced specimens, holds a worthy place among the treasures of the Museum of History. Of special value are the items carrying the manufacturers’ trademarks.

Kerchiefs and shawls have a history of their own. In olden times, women covered their heads with towel-like scarfs, so-called ubruses. Mention of ub-ruses can be found in written sources dating from the 12th century. Women’s habit of covering their heads with ubruses continued in some regions of Russia into the 19th century. The Museum preserves several ubruses dating back to that period. Especially interesting is one from a village in Vereisky Uyezd, Moscow Gubernia, which is decorated with ornamental strips, silk ribbons, golden lace and silver fringe.

In the remote past women also covered their heads with pieces of cloth which were called plats. Ubruses and plats were usually worn over the bonnet. In the 19th century, ubruses fell out of use together with the ethnic Russian costume, while plats, or kerchiefs, were worn on top of a soft headdress and somewhat later right over the hair.

Kerchiefs had other uses as well. There were neck-kerchiefs, hand-kerchiefs, etc.

Before the appearance of mechanized industry, towel-like scarfs and kerchiefs were woven by peasant women on primitive domestic looms and decorated with woven strips, embroidery or printed designs.

Calico kerchief Manufactory of N Konstantinov artist G E Volkov  Moscow  first half of 19th centuryBack in the 17th century the first royal textile factories produced linen ubruses with embroidered or woven ornament at the ends in quantities sufficient not only to meet the requirements of the tsar’s court but also for sale. The manufacture of silk kerchiefs was started in the 18th century, first in Moscow and later in Bogorodsky and Kolomna Uyezds near Moscow. In the second half of the 18th century cotton kerchiefs entered the scene. In the 19th century, with the advent of mechanization, the manufacture of cotton kerchiefs assumed a mass scale. The largest manufacturing centres were in St. Petersburg and the Moscow-Vladimir area. The manufacture of woolen shawls and kerchiefs began to develop in the early 19th century in Nizhni-Novgorod, Ryazan, Voronezh, Saratov and Moscow Gubernias.

The earliest specimens in the Museum’s collection are 16th—17th century kerchiefs, socalled shirinkas (the word comes from “shirina”, or width, for they were cut crosswise through the entire width of the cloth). The shirinkas in the Museum collection are made of fine linen or cotton fabric splendidly decorated with embroidery in gold, silver and coloured silk threads. In olden times such kerchiefs were used in performing various rituals during holidays, weddings and other festive occasions.

The 18th century is represented by silk and brocade kerchiefs and veils in the form of oblong kerchiefs, sometimes consisting of two uncut kerchiefs. There were silk, muslin and kanavat veils. Kanavat veils were especially valued. In the 18th century their cost ranged from 7 to 45 roubles and they were considered a luxury item. Hence the saying: “A beggar in a kanavat veil”. In the 18th century veils were produced in Astrakhan and Moscow, and at the end of the century their manufacture began in Kolomna (Moscow Gubernia) and in a village near Kolomna at Lo-zhechnikov’s and the Levins’ factories. Some veils in the Museum’s collection carry woven trademarks of these factories.

Kanavat was produced from silk yarn and had an original border ornament of broken strips typical of Central Asian fabrics. The distinctive design in the middle part in the form of round or square medallions was brocaded in gold or silver yarn. Since the ornament of kanavat veils had a pronounced Oriental character, they were widely marketed not only in Russia but in Central Asia as well.

Kanavat veils were popular in Moscow and in the towns and villages of the Russian North and the Volga region, mostly among the merchant and petty-bourgeois classes, and also among well-to-do peasants. The veil was worn over the bonnet and its ends hung loosely, draping the entire figure.

Woolen shawl  Manufactory of Labzin and Gryaznov Pavlovsky Posad Bogorodsky Uyezd Moscow Gubernia  late 19th centuryThe Levins’ factory at Kolomna produced silk muslin veils in vivid patterns. A muslin veil was an indispensable attribute of bridal attire. The bride covered her head with the veil. Before the wedding ceremony she put it over her face. Together with the saraphan outfit, the muslin veil was in use among the Russians in Moscow Gubernia and the gubernias north of Moscow. Its modified version is present in the modern wedding costume.

Silk and brocade kerchiefs were also produced in Bogorodsky Uyezd, Moscow Gubernia. Especially handsome were the kerchiefs from the village of Vokhna on the Klyazma river and the neighbouring villages of Zakharovo, Usovo, Dubrovo and Melenki. Permission to weave individually, which was granted to peasants in 1796, greatly boosted the kerchief trade. By the end of the century the region had developed into a major textile centre. Presently, these villages, large and small, merged into a single community which, in 1844, was named Pavlovsky Posad.

In the 19th century Moscow and Pavlovsky Posad were the main kerchief producers.

By the middle of the 19th century brocade kerchiefs and veils fell out of fashion, surviving mainly in the costume of the old-believers. Their manufacture gradually declined, while that of silk kerchiefs continued throughout the century. A combination of bright contrasting colours, for instance, black and orange, or green and red, was typical of such kerchiefs in the second half of the century. The patterns were exuberantly splendid, consisting of large flowers, twigs, leaves, large feathers, etc., woven against a satiny background of varying shades. In the second half of the 19th century such kerchiefs were common all over Russia, supplementing both the rural and urban female costume. A kerchief folded in a triangle was worn over the head or shoulders. In some northern villages women, when promenading, wore kerchiefs folded neatly on the arm just for decoration and as an attribute of wealth.

In the 19th century, the manufacture of worsted goods —shawls, especially Cashmere-type, scarfs and kerchiefs — began to develop in Russia. Oriental shawls became the fashion of the day at the end of the 18th century after Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign when the entire European and Russian aristocratic world was fascinated by Oriental exotics.

Silk kerchief Fryanovo factory Village of Fryanovo Bogorodsky Uyezd Moscow Gubernia 1830s—40sThe manufacture of Cashmere shawls in Russia first began in the village of Skorodumovka, Lukyanovsky Uyezd, Nizhni-Novgorod Gubernia, in the estate of Nadezhda Appolonovna Merlina. Initially a carpet manufacturer, she began producing shawls in 1806. In 1828, there were 60 workers at her factory who produced 16 shawls and 5 scarfs a year. In the 1830s, Merlina’s factory in the village of Podryadnikovo, Yegoryevsky Uyezd, Ryazan Gubernia, gained fame.

A similar factory appeared in 1813 in the estate of Vera Andreyevna Yeliseyeva in the village of Khava, Voronezh Gubernia, which was later taken over by her sister, Nastasya Andreyevna Shishkina. Another well-known factory belonged to Major-General Kolokoltsov in the village of Ivanovskoye, Petrovsky Uyezd, Saratov Gubernia.

Cashmere shawls were produced from the soft wool of Tibetan goats which was brought in small amounts to the fair in Nizhni-Novgorod, and also from the down of the saiga and vigogne goats found in the West Siberian steppes. Russian manufacturers evolved their own techniques for producing very fine yarn from this material. A package of yarn weighing 13 g contained a thread of 4.5 km. The cloth made from this yarn was fine, soft and glossy and had therefore a remarkable decorative effect.

The most intricate part of the work was weaving the border design. Contemporaries recalled that V. A. Yeliseyeva had once unraveled a Cashmere shawl thread by thread to find out how the threads were arranged so that she could reproduce the whole composition. In the Museum collection there is a shawl produced by the twill tapestry technique typical of the genuine Cashmere shawls. The colours, however, differ substantially from those of Oriental shawls, thus lending it a charm of its own.

Weavers of another factory applied the method of weaving pileless carpets to shawl weaving and achieved outstanding results. Shawls produced by this method were double-sided, which was a great advantage from the point of view of the user. The shawls of this make had a trademark, “N.M.”, denoting the name of the factory owner — Nadezhda Merlina.

Weaving gossamer fine threads into intricate patterns, sometimes of 60 shades, required utmost skill and deftness, to say nothing of the great strain on the eyes. Only young women from 17 to 27 were admitted to do this work, which was so arduous that they were granted freedom from serf bondage after ten years at the factory. By that time they had grown blind and infirm. Some factories had charity homes for their invalids.

Even with labour as cheap as a song, the shawls were incredibly expensive, the prices ranging from 1,000 to 12,000 roubles, since it took two weavers from six months to two years to produce a shawl. Naturally, only the richest aristocratic families could afford to buy them.

Silk kerchief Artist Ghistov 1970sAt all Russian industrial exhibitions and also at the first international industrial exhibition in London in 1851, Russian shawls won the highest awards. Four shawls in the Museum’s collection bear the woven initials of the factory owner—Nadezhda Merlina; three of them also have a double-headed eagle, Russia’s state emblem, woven below the initials, which signified that the manufacturer had received the highest awards at exhibitions and thereby won the right to show the state emblem on her goods.

Worsted shawls and kerchiefs of other kinds were produced in considerable quantities in Moscow and Moscow Gubernia. In Moscow, the Guchkovs, Roshfor, Sopov, Savostyanov and Sapozhkova were the best-known producers. The Museum has in its collection shawls and kerchiefs made at their factories.

Although called Cashmere shawls, they were produced by a simpler method wherein colour picks were passed from one end of the ornamental border to another, showing on the face side where required and interlacing in that particular place with the warp threads in a twill fashion.

In the remaining area the weft threads hung loosely on the reverse side of the shawl. After four or five colour picks, a weft thread was passed across the entire width of the shawl, interlacing with the warp threads and thus fixing the previously passed weft threads. When the weaving was over, the loosely hanging weft threads on the back were clipped off to lighten the weight of the shawl. This method was therefore known as “clipping” and was used most extensively with Jacquard looms.

Since the yarn was coarser and the manufacturing technique much simpler, shawls thus produced cost less and had a wider range of users.

Shawls were common in all sections of society. In the peasant and merchant strata so-called Turkish, or carpet, kerchiefs and square-shaped shawls were especially popular. In the second half of the 19th century they were produced on Jacquard looms in great quantities.

The manufacture of printed kerchiefs and shawls was the most widespread. Moscow and Pavlovsky Posad in Moscow Gubernia were major manufacturing centres. The Museum’s collection contains specimens of printed woolen kerchiefs made at the Rezanov, Guchkov, Smirnov, Butikov, Maikov and other large factories in Moscow.

In Pavlovsky Posad where both silk and woolen kerchiefs were produced, Labzin and Gryaznov, Shtefko, and the Kudin brothers were the best-known manufacturers. Items made at the factories of Labzin, Gryaznov and the Kudins are represented in the Museum’s collection.

Practically throughout the entire 19th century woolen kerchiefs were printed by hand. The cloth, bleached and prepared for printing, was cut to the size of the kerchiefs and then, depending on the intricacy of the design, stretched on a wooden frame (for simpler design) or glued to a table upholstered with felt or thick broadcloth (in case of a more complicated pattern). Since the printing block was smaller than a kerchief, the design had to be divided into 4 to 24 parts. The outlines were printed first and then all the colour elements in succession. Some very intricate designs required up to 400 block applications. After printing, the kerchief underwent a complicated process of fixing the colours and dyeing. Following the pressing and the checking of the printed design, the kerchief went to the worker who attached the border to it.

Multicoloured printed kerchiefs were in use ail over Russia. Their traditional designs have been preserved in modern textiles, especially woolen kerchiefs.

The greatest popularity, however, was enjoyed both in towns and villages by printed calico kerchiefs, especially Turkey red ones. To produce this particular shade of red, known in the dyeing trade as Adrianopole red, the cloth had to be treated in a special way requiring the use of oil mordants. The colour produced was remarkably fast to light and washing. The Baranovs’ factory in the village of Karabanovo, Vladimir Gubernia, and Molchanov’s factory near Moscow were among the most famous manufacturers of Turkey red kerchiefs. The Baranovs produced kerchiefs with a floral design printed in bright yellow, green and blue over a red background. The Museum has a great many kerchiefs of this kind with widely varying designs. The Baranovs’ kerchiefs won honorary prizes not only at national but at practically all international exhibitions.

Vat-dyed kerchiefs with flaming red roses, tulips, carnations, etc., printed on a dark blue background were in high demand. The best calico kerchiefs of this kind were made at Prokhorov’s Trekhgornaya Manufaktura enterprise in Moscow, and also at Zubkov’s factory in Vladimir Gubernia. Practically all the large Russian factories that produced calico kerchiefs in the 19th century are represented in the Museum’s collection.

Of outstanding interest are the calico kerchiefs illustrating major events in Russia’s political, social and cultural life, notably the 1812 Patriotic War. Peace-time events are also dealt with, for instance, the commissioning of the first railway in Russia, the opening of polytechnical exhibitions, the jubilees of famous writers and outstanding statesmen.

The tradition of commemorative kerchiefs continues in the Soviet textile industry.

Producing an attractive kerchief is an art requiring maximum skill. Regrettably, the names of the artists are seldom found on textile goods. The Museum has only two signed kerchiefs: one of them, bearing the signature of artist Volkov, was made at Konstantinov’s factory in Moscow, and the other, signed by artist Aksakov, came from the Medvedevs’ enterprise at Lopasnya near Moscow.

The names of some artists are found in old-time publications or archives. It has become known, for instance, that a very talented artist, T.Ye. Marygin, worked at Prokhorov’s Trekhgornaya Manufaktura in the middle of the 19th century. Contemporaries testified that his work marked a whole epoch in the history of the enterprise. In the 1880s, artist Nikolai Mikhailovich Postnikov created designs for Trekhgornaya Manufaktura. During the same period artist Jacob Weiss worked very fruitfully at Albert Hubner’s factory in Moscow, and artists A.O. Travin, N.I. Popov and F.A. Druzhinin drew designs for Polushin in Ivanovo-Voznesensk.

Labzin and Gryaznov in Pavlovsky Posad, the largest producers of printed kerchiefs, employed artist Gerasim Petrovich Loginov in the 1880s. At the end of the century, S.V. Postigov, his sons Nil and Dmitry, S.G. Anisimov and his son Alexei, P.M. Sudan, Z.A. Prokhanov, F.l. Zhigarev and other artists were working there. Most of them were natives of Pavlovsky Posad and had evidently learned the art of drawing from their fathers.

Artists and textile industry experts today closely study the unique specimens preserved in the Museum and creatively apply old traditions in producing modern designs for kerchiefs and shawls.

Ye. V. Arsenyeva


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