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Vyshyvanka as an integral attribute of the Ukrainian people

Iryna Kharko


Vyshyvanka or Ukrainian embroidery is a whole history and culture of the Ukrainian people. For a Ukrainian it has a deep sacred meaning. Vyshyvanka is one of the symbols of Ukraine today, so often guests who come to us from other countries are very tempted to buy one or more embroidered things.

There is an unspoken rule in Lviv that every decent Lviv resident should have at least one “for exit” embroidered shirt in their closet. Which will be well ironed and wore not only for Easter and Christmas, but also for other holidays.

The general features of Ukrainian embroidery that have survived to the present day go back to the Old Slavic agricultural community. However, the decorative art of decorating clothes with embroidered elements is much older, and, according to some sources, dates back to the Neolithic era.

Perhaps the earliest mention of the spread of embroidery in the modern lands of Ukraine is the numerous "stone women" on which you can see the embroidered elements on the statutes, hems, and cuffs.

According to Herodotus notes, we know that the tradition of embroidered clothing dates back to the distant Scythians, as evidenced by images on the works of decorative and applied art of the Scythian era:

  • the golden pectoral of the mound Thick Tomb (IV century BC),
  • a silver vase from the mound Chortomlyk IV
    century BC),
  • a bowl from the mound Gaimanov`s grave (IV century BC), etc.

Traditions of making embroidered clothes can be traced back to the times of Kievan Rus`. It is known that already in the XI century in Kievan Rus` there was the first embroidery school for girls, organized by Volodymyr Monomakh`s sister - Hanka, where they taught embroidery in gold and silver.

At first, the tradition of using embroidered shirts in clothing was typical of the peasants, while the lords and townspeople tried to adopt the traditions of the ruling elite. In the days of the Cossacks, the mustache, saber and embroidered shirt were an indispensable attribute of the Ukrainian Cossacks.

The Cossacks believed that the signs embroidered on the canvas had a powerful force, provided a connection with the native land, gave them the strength to win and protected from the evil eye. 

It is believed that it was during the Cossack Hetmanate that a holistic Ukrainian national costume was formed, where the embroidered shirt acquired a symbolic meaning for the entire Ukrainian people. Although for many centuries the specific meaning of the symbols was lost, the tradition of their use has not disappeared.

The leading role in the modern "fashion" of wearing an embroidered shirt under a jacket is attributed to Ivan Franko, as he was mentioned in the notes: "he differed from the general public by his suit - an embroidered shirt among lush collars and ties."

Today, the embroidered shirt, as the traditional clothing of Ukrainians, is experiencing its revival. We often see embroidered shirts on holidays and in everyday life, on adults and children, on young people and the elderly; the embroidered shirt unites and at the same time helps to be a person, preserves the traditions and customs of the Ukrainian people.

The main features of the traditional Ukrainian shirt are the white color of the fabric made of linen thread, the incision of the sinuses in the middle and the embroidered ornament. Apparently, there is no other such object in all-decorative art that would concentrate so many different symbolic meanings.

For modern Ukraine there is no single clear and established pattern, in the process of historical and cultural development, each region has its own characteristics of embroidery in styles, methods of embroidery, ornaments and patterns. However, the interpretation of ornament patterns remains common.

We offer you an interpretation of some elements of the embroidery ornament:

The main motif in Ukrainian embroidered shirts is the symbol of the Mother. It looks like an octagonal star or flower with pointed corners, surrounded by a flower garland. The garland glorifies the Mother, elevates her role in the continuation and preservation of the family and clan. A similar ornament, an octagonal flower or rosette denoting the sun, is often combined with a symbol of infinity, which denotes water. They were and remain the main elements that created and sustained life on earth.

Rhombus, according to ancient Slavic culture, represents the goddess of the Earth, which promotes fertility. It is among the most used symbols in Ukrainian embroidery.

Often in embroidered shirts you can see an endless zigzag, which is called - infinity or meander. Decorative twisting line that forms a repeating motif. It is an eternal, endless ornament that is associated with the flow of life and is a symbol of eternal existence.

Embroidered viburnum – is a symbol of a healthy and immortal family. In Ukraine, viburnum has long been considered a talisman of the family, for its healing flowers and fruits.

Oak – in Ukrainian mythology, a sacred tree that represents Perun - the god of solar energy, the development of life. It often symbolizes a man, family happiness, longevity, a standard of good health.

The embroidered shirt for Ukrainians is a centuries-old symbol of beauty and health, happy destiny and
family memory, love and festivity. Therefore, in Ukraine there is an expression "born in a shirt", they say it about those who are lucky to avoid death or great misfortune, who are talented in life.

You can buy an embroidered shirt here:


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