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Presently, at the beginning
of the 21st century, the
traditional hand-embroidered
Doukhobor shawl is treasured
as a family heirloom. 


View Examples
of Doukhobor Embroidery
in our Hope Chest Gallery



About Doukhobor Embroidery

The colorful embroidery was evident as the Doukhobor women, dressed in Sunday best black vests enhanced by colorful stripes and embroidered floral boarders, disembarked from the ships in Canada at the turn of the last century. Dorothy K. Burnham, in her publication “Unlike the Lilies, Doukhobor Textile Traditions in Canada” states that:


"They (the black vests) are made of various kinds of commercial materials, and were probably produced by professional sewers in Russia, for they were cut and sewn in a very tailored fashion, with a high waist and many pleats across the back. …

The embroidery wools are soft and appear to be late 19th century commercial yarns, quite different from the wools spun by the Doukhobors in Canada. Probably those Doukhobors who were fairly prosperous
in the Caucasus did not need to practice the self-sufficiency generally required during the early years in Canada, and they could both obtain and afford some bought clothes."


The first Doukhobor embroidery to emerge in Canada was the exquisite drawn-thread work, a type of embroidery skill brought from Russia. Threads were drawn from the fabric to make openings on which the embroidery was done. This technique is evident in decorative shawls worn as head coverings, towels and bureau runners that were made from cotton sugar sacking and fine commercial cottons. When the Doukhobors moved to B.C., hand woven linen was added. The towels and runners were often trimmed with a knit or crocheted edging. Some shawls were fringed.


About the 1920s, Doukhobor women also began to embroider floral “platki", shawls or kerchiefs, with silk floss yarns in a double faced satin stitch on fine commercial wool fabric or cotton. Roses seemed to be the most popular. A unique shawl that was donated to the Cultural Interpretive Society that dates to this era has the following words, in Russian, incorporated into the floral border, “Fortunate is the family among whom God always dwells, and whose hearts, filled with love, beat in unity and agreement.” Women spent hours doing the fine stitch work with low illumination from coal oil lamps. Embroidery and fine needlework was a form of relaxation, pleasure and was very rewarding.


Women who embroidered shawls often got their designs and inspiration from fine china patterns featured in the Eaton’s and Simpson Sears catalogues, calendars and greeting cards. Most noteworthy of all Doukhobor embroidery would be the traditional Doukhobor shawl. Materials for the shawls have changed as the years have passed – woolens, cottons, silks, rayons, to the present day synthetics, but the quality of the fine embroidery remains.


In the 1930s, colorful embroidered aprons, day-of -the -week dishcloths and other household items were embroidered. Inspiration for the designs came from published patterns. The Free Press Weekly, a newspaper published in the Prairies, often offered mail order embroidery patterns.


Since the early pioneer years on the Canadian prairies, young girls were encouraged to learn spinning and weaving to produce materials and the basic skills to embellish them. Embroidered dresser scarves, pillowcases, aprons and tablecloths were carefully prepared to be added to a young woman’s trousseau. (View Hope Chest photos in our Web Gallery)


From about the 1970s to present, the art of hand embroidery is fading and almost lost to the younger generation due to the abundance of co-ordinated commercially bought linens and lack of time for this labor intensive skill


Doukhobor women are resourceful and adaptable! Some turn to new technology incorporated into modern embroidery machines. Machine embroidered scalloped edges on lace triangular shawls provide an informal alternative to the traditional embroidered shawl. The flowered borders or “koimachki” and other digitized designs depicting our Doukhobor culture are transferred to memory cards, then to embroidery machines. Machine embroidery is the adaptation to preserve the Doukhobor patterns as hand embroidery is becoming a “lost” art. Presently, at the beginning of the 21st century, the traditional hand-embroidered Doukhobor shawl is treasured as a family heirloom.

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