These ensembles are from the collection of Natalia de Shabelsky (1841-1905), a Russian noblewoman compelled to preserve what she perceived as the vanishing folk art traditions of her native country. Traveling extensively throughout Great Russia, she collected many fine examples of textile art of the wealthy peasant class.
Traditional Russian costume consists of straight, flowing lines. Beginning at the turn of the 18th century, the sarafan, a long, sleeveless dress, became the most popular article of peasant women’s clothing in the Northern and Central regions of Russia.
Married women were required to cover their hair entirely lest they be considered immodest; they wore fatas, usually a white muslin veil woven with silk floral designs and gold embroidery. These were sometimes worn with a headdress, or kokoshnik. The traditional wedding customs that were practiced widely in the 16th century and lasted in some remote areas into the early 20th century placed great importance on needlework. Young women often began years before their marriage to produce the collection of textiles that would be presented as gifts to their future husband and his family. These gifts offered proof of the maiden’s skill and industriousness to her future family, and consisted mostly of towels with wide embroidered borders and chirinkas, or embroidered pocket handkerchiefs.