The Krolevets towel: A new focus on Urkainian weaving


9 October 2023

Elya, Serkozhaeva. “Yuriy Stepanets, Founder of the Vereta Weaving Center.” Media.Zagoriy.Foundation, 15 Jun. 2022, Accessed 15 Mar. 2023.

Anna Kovbasiuk reflects on her Ukrainian roots and the key role of weaving in the continuing struggle for identity.

Weaving is one of the most important components of Ukrainian national culture. It has existed on Ukrainian lands since prehistoric times, and is one of the most common crafts and folk-art types. Weaving is widespread throughout the ethnic territory and its traditions exist in every Ukrainian house. These traditions are hidden in female-made cloth, towels, handkerchiefs, rugs, and carpets.

Unfortunately, this craft practice is not as valued as it was in the past because of globalization, Russian appropriation of Ukrainian culture, and lack of acknowledgement of the need to preserve Ukrainian authenticity. Since the full-scale Russian invasion starting on February 24, 2022, the value of Ukrainian craft has started to shift dramatically in a positive direction. However, many things still need to be understood to appreciate this craft practice fully.

The value of the craft of weaving should be widely conveyed by the art community because it is capable of spreading recognition and expanding the popularity of the craft. With the government’s help, the goal should be to highlight an understudied problem related to the activity of traditional craft, support the circumstances of its development and trace the historical evolution of Ukrainian weaving. It is important to have government support and its admission of responsibility for education about heritage in a country with such a rich craft culture. The relevance of the mentioned problem is due to the need to preserve Ukrainian authenticity, and to research and clarify the peculiarities of creating modern products in the realm of artistic crafts, such as weaving, one of the most ancient types of folk creativity.


The production of fabrics at home in quantity was determined by a person’s requirements, their purely practical need for fabrics with which to dress, decorate the home and trade for economic purposes. The emergence and development of weaving took place under the condition of progress of social culture, both spiritual and material. An evolution in the socio-economic layer contributed to the development of weaving. Weaving turned out to be a process susceptible to changes in society because of historical events, natural and geographical parameters, and economic activity.

Ткацтво серпанкового полотна з вишивкою в етнопарку “Ладомирія”. 15 May 2022 року [Weaving of linen fabric with embroidery ethnopark “Ladomyria”] Wikimedia Commons

Weaving in the territory of modern Ukraine existed from the time of the Trypil culture. This is evident through artifacts found during archaeological excavations (Andriiashko, 178). The most famous centre of towel weaving since the fifteenth century is the city of Krolevets in the Sumy region. The rich geometrical patterns of the Krolevets weaving include symbols inspired by the Ukrainian worldview. The recognizable pattern among hundreds of others is a combination of white and red. The central part of the towel contains an anthropomorphic symbol that resembles the figure of a woman with raised arms or the shape of a candlestick, which over time, was replaced by a flowering vase.

The main ornament of the Krolevets towel is a tree/flower of life or goddess. In the nineteenth century, various regions were renowned for their weaving: Kyiv region for Bohuslav carpets; Poltava for Reshetiliv carpets;  and Podillia and Volyn. Despite the similarity of the compositions, the products of each centre are distinguished by their characteristic features. I grew up in a region with a distinct and distinguished style of weaving. Hutsul (Hutsulshchyna) is a region in the southeasternmost part of the Carpathian Mountains of Galicia, Bukovyna, and Transcarpathia. Carpets with geometric ornament are most common in the western regions of Ukraine. They continue to be manufactured in Hutsul Oblast.

Olha, Yamborko. “Ornamental Carpet. Hud. I. Gulyk. 1976. Kolomyia Factory Named After September 17. Ivano-Frankivsk Region. Exhibits registration number: KN3001-V1538; wool; w 297 h 200 cm. Courtesy of the Hutsel Museum and The Yosaphat Kobrynskyi National Museum of Hutsulshchyna and Pokuttia Folk Art’s collection.

A characteristic feature of modern Hutsul carpets is the division of the main field into three, five or seven parts and the cross-striped arrangement of the main geometric figures. These are mostly rhombuses with protruding elongated rectangles or bent hook-like elements. They are combined with smaller, individually located motifs—rhombuses, bevels, and wedges—which clearly stand out graphically against the plain background. The colour scheme is built on the harmony of rich, sonorous yellow-hot tones, which contrast with a small amount of white, black and green.

The traditions of Hutsul carpet-making are also mimicked in the Kolomiysk region. Kolomy carpets are characterized by a three-part arrangement of the main ornamental motifs on a solid background. The geometric motifs typical of the Hutsul region are more concise in form, and the colour is softer and more harmonious. It is based on a combination of warm brown, ochre gold, green, terracotta, gray and white tones.

In the pre-industrial Ukrainian village, there has long been a division into men’s and women’s types of economic activity, particularly in handicrafts. Traditionally, in Ukraine, it was believed that every woman must be able to weave. During hours free from agricultural chores, it was necessary to create woven carpets and tablecloths. Exceptions exist, such as Maria Vovkula’s father. Maria inherited the skills and experience from her father, who was engaged in carpet weaving all his life (Tereschenko, 772). The Ivano Frankivsk region, where Vovkula was born, is rich with weaving artists such as Tatyana Tarasenko, Mykola Rymarya, and Valentina Tkach. Maria Vovkula worked on creative designs at the Boguslav weaving factory, “Peremoga,” in the 1950s-70s. Her style is unique because the technique combines elements from two different regions. This approach inspired other masters to rethink weaving traditions (Tereschenko, 772).

Many traditional weaving techniques were lost. Some were the result of industrialization, others because of political conflict in the USSR between Russia and Ukraine. The lack of preservation of Ukrainian craft heritage and a switch to industrially-made yarns, instead of saving traditional techniques of dyeing, led to a decline in authenticity. The Soviet Union was concerned about quantity rather than quality; centralized yarn supply contributed to compliance with a single standard (Yamborko, 57). Woven carpets became a national brand. During the Soviet period, the Ukrainian industrial carpet industry preserved some authenticity by using traditional patterns, which contained an artistic and stylistic concept based on resurrections of regional traditions of carpet weaving (Yamborko, 59). The collapse of the USSR created a nationwide economic crisis and a decline in the weaving industry.

A peculiarity of Kyiv craft in the 1990s was that artists turned mainly to the Ukrainian past in search of inspiration. The weavers of the new era of Ukrainian independence also sought self-identity and affiliation with the cultural heritage of the past. They passed ideas first through national and then through personal perceptions. Aware of themselves as Ukrainians, they sought to feel, and therefore to depict, what it means to be Ukrainian (Polischuk, 279).

Preservation of Tradition

The war in Ukraine reminded me again of the importance of preserving cultural craft heritage. At handicraft enterprises, especially in recent times, labour productivity has significantly increased due to the mechanization of many processes, standardization, and reduction of the range of finished products. Unfortunately, these events lead to negative consequences: homogeneity, simplification of the finished composition, a decrease in the quality of products and fewer colours. In such conditions, the most experienced and talented craftsmen are compared to ordinary weavers, who execute patterns developed by someone else without the freedom to show creativity and improvisation (Yamborko, 59). The main ways of restoration and development of folk crafts in Ukraine are:

  • restoration of the material and technical base of educational institutions and enterprises of folk crafts, equipping them with the latest production technologies and building new ones
  • modernization of scientific and methodological support for the training of specialists in the field of folk art and handicrafts
  • implementation of a complex of educational, cultural and artistic programs and projects in the field of traditional artistic culture
  • provision of state support to subjects of entrepreneurial activity in the field of folk art and handicrafts
  • creation of legal conditions for the social protection of craftsmen
  • support and development of folk crafts in the countryside

Contemporary weaving in Ukraine is not as industrial as it was during the USSR. In general, a crucial issue in weaving and textile production is the cessation of cultivation of flax, hemp and cotton in agriculture (Varyvonchyk, 41). This issue existed before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. What will happen with agriculture in the future? No one can predict. Russia has tried to steal our identity and land more than once. Overall, Russia, for centuries, has oppressed Ukrainian territories and stolen cultural heritage. The Russian occupation of Ukraine didn’t happen eight years ago or 100 years ago: Russia is cyclically destroying Ukrainian culture and appropriating territory (Dornik, 35). The biggest problem is the size of Russia and the number of people that can be mobilised to invade foreign territory. The strategy of holding referendums and creating separate republics dates back to 1917 ( Dornik, 40).

The key factor to remember is that nothing new is happening right now. To understand the present situation, people need to know the history of this relationship. This includes not only weaving crafts but cultural heritage in general. Any artistic activity is now perceived through the prism of war, even if it does not directly relate to war. Some previous projects have lost relevance and need to be reconsidered. Many cultural initiatives have focused on priority tasks or projects such as how to survive during the war; secondary concerns are discarded. Ideas need adaptation, and sometimes the language must be reinvented. New topics and their means of resolution have appeared:

  • Ukrainian culture outside of the war in the world context
  • destigmatization of people from Donbas (annexed by Russia)
  • post-war disability
  • children of war, etc.

Olga Pilyugina . “”Melody” Tapestry. Wool, Cotton, Jute, Smooth Hand Weaving; 113 X 87 cm; photo courtesy of Olga Pilyugina

Weaving right now is about preserving history in a modern way. The Vereta weaving center is one of the great examples of preservation and modernity. Artisans from the Tomashpil region and eco-activists transform old tee shirts and leftovers from suits into traditional tapestry, demonstrating sustainable methods for weaving techniques to survive in contemporary culture. Olga Pilyugina is the creator of large modern tapestries using the technique of hand weaving. In her tapestries, Pilyugina combines the best traditions of Ukrainian carpets, characteristic features of Ukrainian baroque, modern subjects and many colours and emotions. She learned to make tapestries from her parents. Another artist, Nadiia Babenko (1926-2009), from the Poltava region, was the creator of more than a hundred carpets. They were made using the ancient technique of two-sided smooth hand weaving with natural wool threads. Creating one takes several months to several years (Yamborko, 56).

Weaving can be attributed to both economic activity and folk art. It has an age-old history and deep traditions nurtured by many generations. The history of the origin and characteristic features of artistic weaving as a type of traditional Ukrainian craft need to be recognized. Weaving is gradually developing and moving away from the traditional vision. The lack of academic information and insufficient awareness about weaving creates an unfavourable environment for craft development and appreciation. As a Ukrainian, I must do everything I can to make this craft known to people and appreciated more than it is now.

The current moment is crucial in the history of Ukraine, and it is time to connect with our ancestor’s craft. It is important to start using heritage techniques again to bring back our national identity. I believe that when people start using woven tapestries daily as household items, not just for decoration, Ukrainians will be ready to share their national craft worldwide. During the Russian-Ukrainian war, every Ukrainian defends his front: not only military, volunteer, humanitarian or informational, but also the artistic and craft front.

Anna Kovbasiuka works at OCAD University Toronto as a jewellery monitor. 


Andriiashko, Vasyl. “Zeszyty Naukowe Wyższej Szkoły Technicznej W Katowicach.” З ІСТОРІЇ РОЗВИТКУ ТЕКСТИЛЮ КИЇВЩИНИ, 15 Feb. 2022, pp. 177–188. Accessed 15 Mar. 2023.

Dornik, Wolfram, et al. The Emergence of Ukraine : Self-Determination, Occupation, and War in Ukraine, 1917-1922. Translated by Gus Fagan, Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press, 2015. Accessed 12 Mar. 2023.

Polischuk, Alla. “Cultural Heritage in Kyiv art of the 1990s.” Молодий Вчений. Accessed 15 Mar. 2023.

Tereschenko, Natalia. On Creative Achievements by Folk Art Craftsmen in the Context of Rebirth at Centres of Folk Artistry in Bohuslav Region. Accessed 17 Mar. 2023.

Varyvonchyk, Anastasia. “Current state and trends of weaving in UkraineМолодий Вчений, «Молодий Вчений». Accessed 16 Mar. 2023.

“Vereta.” VERETA, 14 Sept. 2022, Accessed 12 Mar. 2023.

Yamborko, Olha. “Ukrainian Carpetmaking.” Narodoznavchi Zoshyty. Accessed 15 Mar. 2023.

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