I remember making something with my hands – almost obligatory – every winter school break. I would then give these creations out to my family as new year gifts. For some reason when you’re a child you are never ashamed of even the clumsiest thing you make. Because anything made with your own hands gives such joy to your parents, you can hardly reproduce that with any other gift – however outrageously expensive it might be.
This time I waited almost till the last day of my winter break from work to indulge myself in some handicraft. I really enjoyed the process so quite recently I made another doll. The first one stayed with us as a gift to my Mom and the other one is already somewhere in Italy, on its way to the Veneto region.
My guide into the world of handmade dolls is this book by a talented Russian artist Yana Volkova (here’s her Instagram, her posts are partially in English). She was trained as fine art restorer and makes wonders with all those bits of cloth that in her hands get transformed into warm-coloured creations.
I really love Yana’s sense of colour, her handicraft (not only dolls) always has this homey feel to it. I also believe she’s that kind of artist who puts their soul into work. And I think there’s something from the Russian North in her creations, in the materials and the choice of the colour scheme. By the way, she also organizes online workshops from time to time. It’s a pity none of her two books has been translated yet, though.
So, first, here’s my take on a doll called Severnaya Bereginya (literally, Northern Safeguard Deity) which is a true exercise in colour matching. It’s essentially a tightly rolled up linen (the head) that is sort of wrapped in layers of coloured cloth.
Yana insists that this doll is nowhere traditional, in fact it’s her own creation out of two kinds of northern dolls – a wooden treshchotka (ratchet) and a Komi people rag doll.
The game (or the challenge) of making this doll gets even more… intimate when you realize there’s a story behind every bit of cloth. Mother helped me choose the ‘rags’ for this rag-doll out of all those fabrics she once used in her sewing. What a lovely way to recycle stuff!
Here’s my Bereginya out on a walk on our snow-covered balcony:
Her kerchief is made from a real kerchief that I recall from my childhood. Mom or Grandma would tie it over an aching tooth or put on when we went to a forest on a hunt for mushrooms.
My Mom could also tell a story or two about other bits of her dress.
In the ideal world the doll’s face should be white but I didn’t have any white linen thick enough to hold its shape. It’s also very imperfectly rolled up (and the ‘dress’ pieces are not that straight) but I like the overall result.
I liked the blue fabric so I used it twice in the doll’s dress. By the way, the whole process of wrapping the doll’s head in cloth is such a … warm thing! As if you were caressing or protecting something small and dear with your hands. There’s definitely something special to handicraft!
I didn’t make this one though – but I just wanted to show you this addition to our clay toy ‘collection’, now standing next to the dolls we painted with my Mom in Kirov back in 2015. I got this toy from the Arkhangelsk region as a gift. It’s a troika, a trio of horses, one of the Russian symbols. The guy on the back is holding an accordion. And on that collar thing in front they surely have some loudly jingling bells.
This is the other doll from Yana Volkova’s book that I’ve made so far, a Podorozhnitsa, a sort of a charm that was given to a man (I mean, a male family member) travelling (far) from home, hiding it in the clothes. Its name comes from doroga, the road.
In her bag called uzelok (knot) she has a piece of a rusk so that the traveller she is supposed to guard fears no lack of food along his road. It is also supposed to have a coin (so that it steers him away from hardship) and a pinch of soil (so that he returns) but they wouldn’t fit into her uzelok anyway.
I’ve made the doll’s kerchief from a shirt.
Yana says protective charms are never made with a needle so the fabrics for this doll’s body and dress are just tied with a thick thread, no stitches involved. The Bereginya doll has only one element that was sewn – the arms. As another variant of this Podorozhnitsa doll Yana suggests giving her a baby instead of an uzelok, but that would be a different story.
I’m contemplating on making yet another doll soon. There’s one of a grandpa, a dedushka, and several more that contain grains in their ‘base’ (body) which also has (had) a specific meaning to it in the pagan set of beliefs. I’m off to selecting the fabrics!
Yana Volkova‘s second book is titled Home and Family Guardians (Хранители дома и семьи), 2017.
Adding this post to the ‘On Russia / USSR‘ collection.