Map symbols

Artists map regions of Russia in folk embroidery

In ancient Russia, embroidery was more than an art form: it was a language in its own right. Cloth and thread took the place of paper and ink, while symbols and patterns formed their own alphabet – all woven together according to the grammar of deep folk traditions.

In a celebration of these traditions, hundreds of Russian artisans redesigned the map of their country — embroidering it in the traditional folk styles of each region.

The Embroidered Map of Russia project was organized by the Ministry of Culture of the Chuvashia Republic, which lies east of the city of Nizhny Novgorod and is home to the Chuvash people, a Turkish ethnicity famous for their embroidery traditions .

More than 200 craftsmen from all over the country embroidered a total of 82 fragments, each representing a different federal subject of Russia. Each fragment was then sent to Chuvashia, where they were assembled into a single piece measuring 3.1 meters by 6.7 meters and weighing 50 kilograms.

From the Slavic motifs of western Russia to the republics of the North Caucasus, Siberia and the Far East, where elements of Islam, Buddhism and shamanism inform the designs, the map contains a myriad of styles reflecting the diversity found in its 11 time zones.

Svetlana Dianova, head of the Moscow Museum-Gallery of Pictorial Embroidery, led a team of 14 artists who contributed to several regional segments of the map, including Moscow and the Irkutsk region.

“I was very pleased with the variety of styles and directions of embroidery that artisans and women from different regions brought to their panels…it’s just beauty and fun,” he said. she told the Moscow Times.

Among the 14 seamstresses working with Dianova was Svetlana Boyko, a St. Petersburg-based artist who helped design the square panel that representshates Moscow and the surrounding Moscow region.

“Although I travel a lot and have lived in different regions of Russia, I discovered a lot in this large-scale project. It’s a true celebration of folk art,” Boyko said.

Boyko’s creation depicts St. George slaying the dragon, the symbol of the Russian capital, bordered by ancient Slavic symbols like the birds of paradise and the world tree.For the Vologda region, considered the Russian capital of lace, the artist Dina Telenkova used white cotton thread on white Vologda linen to represent the famous lace of the region.

In the Sverdlovsk region, artists embroidered the segment to look like a towel, an object that has great significance in Russian culture as it is draped over Orthodox icons and used in weddings and funerals.

Unconventional materials including gold thread, deer hair, beads and stones appear alongside traditional needle and thread work in some areas.

The embroidered panel representing Moscow and the Moscow region.
Svetlana Boyko

In regions with no tradition of embroidery, such as the republic of Buryatia in Siberia and the Far Eastern region of Kamchatka, embroidered panels are inspired by the traditional costumes, ornaments, flags, plants and animals of the regions.

In one segment—the one representing the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad—the embroiderers even sewn a QR code.

In total, the card was embroidered by 200 men and women aged 16 to 82, said Svetlana Kalikova, Minister of Culture of Chuvashia.

The idea for the map originated in Chuvashia, where local artists last year created a map of the region reflecting each district’s embroidery traditions.

Artists Roza Nakova and Yevgenia Maklakova with the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District segment.  Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District Governor Press Service

Artists Roza Nakova and Yevgenia Maklakova with the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District segment.
Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District Governor Press Service

In November 2021, the regional Ministry of Culture offered to do the same for the whole of Russia.

“The Federal Agency for Ethnic Affairs supported the initiative and approached the regions so that each federal subject organizes the appropriate work,” Chuvashia leader Oleg Nikolaev said. said at the end of last year.

Once segments from each region were sent, combining them into a cohesive and visually pleasing end product presented challenges.

“Although we sent the map template to each region…some distortions appeared. When the fragments are stitched into a single web, their configuration must match like a puzzle. Sometimes they didn’t match, so we had to find some ways to combine them while preserving all the embroidery at the same time,” said Irina Menshikova, director of the Chuvashia National Museum.

Chuvash Minister of Culture Svetlana Kalikova with the fragment of a map of the region.  Ministry of Culture, Nationalities and Archives of the Chuvash Republic

Chuvash Minister of Culture Svetlana Kalikova with the fragment of a map of the region.
Ministry of Culture, Nationalities and Archives of the Chuvash Republic

The card will be unveiled at a ceremony at the Chuvash State Philharmonic Orchestra in the regional capital Cheboksary on Friday ahead of the Russia Day holiday.

The card will then be displayed at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum when it opens on June 15.

After that, it will be exhibited throughout the country.

But there’s no need to wait to see the map in person – explore the project and each of its segments on its official website. website.