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Russian Felt Costumes

Russian Felt Costumes

This is a guest post by my friend Penny Peters. Penny is a wonderful stitcher who travels extensively so I have asked her to do a guest post for us. Penny recently visited Russia and saw some interesting uses of felt that I thought you might all be interested in. She did see the Pazyryk burial felt which I have posted about before

During a recent visit to St Petersburg I was fortunate to be able to visit the famous ethnographic collections at the Kunstkamera and the Russian Ethnographic Museums as well as archeological collections at the Hermitage. I was not permitted to photograph any of the items in the Hermitage from the Altai Burial Mounds (Pazyryk Burials) so famous for the ancient, well-preserved felt horse trappings and canopies. Good photographic images of those can easily be found online. You can search under “Pazyryk burial felt”.

I was able to photograph a unique felt wedding cloak on display at the Kunstkamera Museum. Felt cloaks once were a common item of Afghan male clothing, diverse in cut and decoration. They varied from simple cloaks worn by herdsmen to works of art signifying the owner’s social status. The most elaborate is a wedding cloak decorated with delicate embroidery and cutwork. The embroidery is comprised of tiny, uniform back stitch or knotted stitches in bands in natural wool threads. The bridegroom’s costume pictured is completed by a felt hat and luxurious shawl in gold brocade to cover the head or shoulders.

The other two felted wool costumes were located in the Russian Ethnography Museum. Unfortunately the signage was in Russian using the Cyrillic alphabet, and I was unable to understand the documentation. Having said that, both items of male attire are probably from central Russia— a very cold climate region. The coat-like garment is very plain, decorated only with a belt buckle featuring deer or reindeer and patterned knitted mittens at the waist. The short jacket is again decorated with tiny back stitches in natural wool threads.

These 19th century garments are of such classic design they could probably be worn on the street today without attracting much attention, except from us textile enthusiasts. If you have a chance to visit St Petersburg, the Kunstkamera and Russian Ethnography Museums shouldn’t be missed. The Kunstkamera houses a marvelous costume collection from around the world—especially the Northwest Coast and Alaskan indigenous people since Russian explorers were trading in that region long before other Europeans reached it. The Russian Ethnography Museum displays mostly 19th century costumes of the dozens of distinctly different people who inhabit their enormous country.

Thanks Penny! I enjoyed seeing these felt costumes and reading your explanations. Thanks for taking us on a short trip to Russia!

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