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Wonderful embroidery created by Nina Ipatiy
In the village of Reshetylivka, in the Land of Poltavshchyna, Ukraine, wonderful embroidered shirts are created by Nina Ipatiy and her co-villagers who work for the company called Iniy, or Rime. Though the patterns and designs of the embroideries do resemble the lacy patterns of the frost on the windows, they do not look cold at all — they radiate warmth of human hands and of artistry.
The embroideries of this kind, which have an age-old tradition in Ukraine, are created not only by the dexterous hands but by the ardent heart as well. The shirts made in Reshetylivka are not only worn — they are collected as fine creations of decorative art. The President of Ukraine has a Reshetylivka shirt in his collection too.
Nina Ipatiy, a member of the Union of Folk Artists of Ukraine, is also the curator of an art gallery and founder and manager of her own company.
I met Mrs Ipatiy at a big tourist exhibition that was recently held in Ukraine, in the pavillion of crafts and decorative and applied art. The Reshetylivka shirts stood among other similarly impressive items thanks to their particularly refined and tender, if I may say so, character and superb craftsmanship. I could not help asking Mrs Ipatiy for an interview and my request was kindly granted.
(Mrs Ipatiy was interviewed by Yevhen BUDKO, senior editor of Mizhnarodny Turyzm Magazine).
Mrs, Ipatiy, are there places where one can see and purchase such shirts, other than exhibitions and private collections?
Yes, there are such places — welcome to Reshetylivka where you’ll find a great selection of them. Some of the shirts embroidered by me can be seen in the exhibition hall of the Union of Folk Artists of Ukraine which is situated in Andriyivsky Uzviz in Kyiv. Once in a while — usually in the first weeks of May and September — they are displayed at exhibitions in the Open Air Museum of Folk Architecture in the village of Pyrohiv, not far from Kyiv… But I think the best of our shirts can be found only in Reshetylivka. They are displayed at the culture centre Oberih, right next to the museum of local history and lore. The centre contains an art gallery and the premises of my private company. You can have a look at the shirts exhibited, you can buy the ones you liked best, and you can actually watch the shirts being embroidered. In addition to the embroidered shirts, the gallery exhibits decorative rugs and tapestry, ceramics and paintings. Shortly before Easter, we regularly organize exhibitions, Reshetylivska vesna (Spring in Reshetylivka) and then the selection is particularly impressive.
What does it take to become an embroiderer of shirts, Ukrainian traditional style? Some special skills? Knowledge of traditions?
Yes — plus the feeling for it. Being raised in the tradition and continuity of tradition is very important. My grandmother was a wonderful master embroiderer. I grew up with embroideries around me. I never thought I would be anything else in life but an embroiderer. It’s a God’s given talent, like any other artistic talent for that matter… Of course, in addition to the talent, you must have a good art education which helps seek for perfection… But though my grandmother did not have any education at all, I still borrow some of the motifs and ideas from her works… Our family survived the Great Famine of 1933 thanks to the embroideries — embroidered towels, shirts or other items were exchanged for food…
Where were you educated?
First, at an art school in Reshetylivka where I learnt, among other things, all kinds of techniques of embroidery. Then I studied at an applied art school in Bukovyna where I learnt to be an artist in addition to being an embroiderer. I develop the concept, the design and then I actually make what I’ve designed. It’s like being a composer who writes music to the verses he writes and then performs this song. When I see the way people look at my shirts, I know that they hear my “song” and that they like it. It’s very uplifting.
Somebody told me that you do sing well, literally sing, that is.
Well, I do like singing but how well it is not for me to judge…These days though I “sing” with my needle threads. My son is a composer — I mean he composes music, professionally.
Oh how nice… Coming to your embroidery — do you follow the traditional patterns, or do you develop your own?
Both. Sometimes, I’m commissioned to do something in a more modern style but even then I make sure this new and modern design is based on the traditional one. I think that the authentic folk tradition will always be in demand and will always be popular.
Embroidered shirts are rather expensive. If, say, a foreign tourist wants to buy one of your shirts, he or she would also want to know why the price is high and whether the shirt is actually worth paying so much money for.
The price for my shirts is determined by several things — the materials used, the work and the time to make it. An average shirt takes a month to embroider. The one that I’m wearing now took four months to embroider. While you’re making a new shirt, you’ve got to have some money to live on, right? So you can figure out for yourself what a hand-made and embroidered shirt should cost.
Is there any way of ascertaining that it’s a genuine, hand-made, high quality shirt?
Just look and compare. You do have to be careful in choosing an embroidered shirt. Take your time. I heard one customer say that one should be as careful in choosing an embroidered shirt as in choosing a good wife. One of the indications of good workmanship is the size of cross-stitches — there should be at least five cross-stitches per one centimetre (half inch). But the cross-stitch is only one of the many techniques used. The Land of Poltavshchyna boasts particularly many techniques and high artistry. There is no preferable colour used in embroidery in Poltavshchyna, but in other parts of Ukraine there are colour preferences. In the Land of Kyivshchyna, for example, red and black are popular colours. They are imbued with certain symbolism too — the red stands for love, and the black stands for grief and sorrow. In the Carpathians and in the adjoining lands the colours are bright and varied, which, I think, reflects the character of the people who live there. I, as a native of Poltavshchyna, prefer soft, pastel-like colours and sophisticated design.
Who are your customers? Mostly foreigners?
No, not really. Up to about two years ago, yes, most of my customers were foreigners, but these days it is mostly Ukrainians who buy my shirts. I’m so happy to see young people wearing Ukrainian traditional shirts! I hope this growth of interest in the traditional culture will continue. This interest became particularly evident after the Orange Revolution. During those events orders for the embroidered shirts began to come from people from all walks of society, rich and poor. The Orange Revolution was a great inspiration for me, and in the months that followed I created several very complicated and refined embroideries.
Is it true that Ukraine’s President Viktor Yushchenko has one of your shirts in his collection?
Yes, it is [at this point, Mrs Ipatiy produces an album of photographs and points to one of the snapshots and then to another]. Look, this one is in the President’s collection. It is called Kokhannya (Love). He bought it when he was the premier. After becoming the President, he bought this one. It is called Maydan (the reference is to the central square of Kyiv where the major events of the Orange Revolution took place — tr.). His wife Kateryna also has one of my shirts, this one... I was commissioned to make shirts not only by the supporters of “the orange cause” but commissions came from their opponents too. I have to admit that in one case, after I had agreed to make a shirt for a customer who was a supporter of Yushchenko’s opponent it took me quite some time to make myself get down to work, and in fact I started working on that shirt in earnest only when I learnt that that person had left the ranks of Yushchenko’s rival.
The village of Reshetylivka used to have a sort of a factory of handicrafts and applied and decorative art, didn’t it?
The first years of independence were very hard, and the factory closed down. Some of the craftspersons left searching for jobs, others stayed and barely survived. I was among those who had stayed put. As it turned out, those hard times proved to be a severe test — those who did have love for the work in their hearts and skills in their hands, persevered, and those who had worked in embroidery because they had just happened to be involved in it and their heart was not in it, took other jobs. Later when the economy began to revive, we started to make things even of a higher quality than before because we were fully devoted to what we were doing. The new circumstances made us work better. Handicrafts in Reshetylivka slumped but never died and now they are not actually flourishing but anyway are actively practised. And we still have an art school functioning in our village.
Wasn’t there a temptation to start mass-producing things?
I do not see anything wrong in mass-producing souvenirs. My company makes them too — simple in design but still of a good quality. Unfortunately, mass production often results in a poorer quality. People still have to survive and they do whatever they can in their struggle to keep their heads above water. I know how difficult it is from my own experience.
What, in your opinion, will be most helpful in the revival of handicrafts?
The government’s purposeful policies can be helpful — plus the development of tourism. Reshetylivka is an excellent place to spend an enjoyable holiday. Come and check it out. Embroidered shirts are worth looking at and buying too.
Photos by Oleksiy ONISHCHUK
Embroidery of “white on white” —
Embroidery style known
White embroidery against
Traditional decorative towel
One of the shirts designed