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A couple years ago I created a series of healing crone dolls. If you are interested, you can see them on my gallery page here. In these dolls, Each of the crones in this series represented a different quality and each also represent deep emotions. This doll, a larger Ukrainian crone was part of that series. Last year, I worked more on this doll, adding a base for her to stand on (my husband helped-I write more about this on my Instagram account.) But she didn't seem finished. I had come to the understanding that this doll was a Ukranian crone, but her clothes didn't look Ukrainian enough. So I decided to fix that. As usual with these types of efforts, the process took a lot longer than expected.
Before I got to embellishing my Ukrainian crone's clothing, there was another step to take care of. I realized I needed to add a supportive piece of leather for her shoulders-see second image below. When we added the rods into her legs, they pushed up into her shoulders and I was worried that they could eventually push their way up through the cloth.
And then I explored alternate cloaks for her-third image below. I never had the intention to make her exactly accurate. She isn't meant to be a replica of a Ukranian crone in real life. Instead I followed my intuition in creating her, letting her be who she wants to be.
I did do some research about Ukrainian clothing, studying about the kinds of embroidery that would be added to clothing and other decorative household items such as tablecloths or curtains. I learned that oaks, laurels, roses, stars and crosses were important symbols in Ukrainian embroidery, plants and floral designs being most common, especially in Eastern Ukraine. In Western Ukraine, geometric, nature-inspired patterns were more common. Some of the symbolic meanings were: flowers and branching leaves symbolize purity and prosperity of a family, grape clusters mean joy, oak and gulden roses symbolize feminine youth and magical beauty. Much of this symbolism had to do with weddings and fertility.
The symbolism of geometric patterns have their roots in Slavic mythology. A rhombus means fertility, stars represent the universe, triangles relate to the holy trinity and crosses are a defense against evil.
I discovered that animals and birds also had symbolic meaning in embroidery but were usually not added to clothing. Common animals and birds would be doves and roosters-often turned towards each other, symbolizing wedding union, butterflies meaning angels, and swallows representing good news. The colors of black and red symbolize wisdom and courage over generations.
I didn't find anything about foxes in Ukrainian embroidery, especially not on clothing but I felt that this doll wanted a fox-a powerful symbol of survival, shape-shifting, edges and borderlands and the ability to charm. But I did find this story of Mykyta the Fox, a wiley fox whose story is as well-recognized in Ukraine as Mother Goose would be in the U.S. In this story, Mykyta outsmarts other animals that he encounters in his travels and is able to use their strengths against them, in order to survive. In the book, Fox Mykyta, "...is the eternal rebel--irresistible, independent, and indomitable. Using only his wit and his wits, Fox Mykyta astutely uses the moral flaws of his enemies to triumph over them--Wolf's greed, Cat's thieving, Rabbit's opportunism, Bear's hypocrisy, Goat's obsequiousness and even the lust for treasure of King Lion himself; only the guileless Badger and Babye escapes Fox's cunning." (from Ukrainian Treasures Studio) I wanted my crone to have some of this creativity, strength and cunning.
Below, you can see how I initially drew the foxes onto fabric, painting them then with fabric paint and then stitching into them with colored embroidery threads. Then I cut them out and added them to her black cloth skirt. In the other images below, you can see me experimenting with various additional embellishments to the skirt, cloak and her bodice. She seems to enjoy and appreciate the process.
Below, you can see more of the work as I went along. I had ordered some embroidered fabric from Ukraine, and I added that at the end to make sleeves for her. I also looked at headdresses worn in traditional Ukrainian costumes and saw that they often had flowers, red, white and sometimes pink and also pompoms. I made both the flowers and the pompoms. The flowers I made by folding cloth circles and stitching them together and the pompoms I felted out of colored wool. I gave her a pocket on her skirt. Not sure yet what will go in the pocket. I think she is done now but I will let her sit for a while longer to see if she asks for anything else.
Dedication, a discovered family connection...
After I wrote this, I learned, at our family non-traditional Seder this year, that my husband's great grandmother (and grandfather) were Ukranian and had emigrated to the United States, to Brooklyn to escape the pogroms of that time. They were apparently married in Ukraine and then made it here after that. His great grandfather was soon killed in an accident in which he was run over by a horse-drawn wagon. I dedicate this doll to my great great grandmother in law. We don't know her name or the name of her husband.
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I've been making dolls for about ten years now. I believe that dolls serve as representations and reminders of the best part of ourselves. I am excited to share with you here my learnings about new methods and techniques for doll making and healing. So glad you are here!