Garment Construction and Care in Early Rus

by Sofya la Rus, Mka Lisa Kies
Updated 7 April 2007

An entire dress was discovered in 1957 in the strata of Toroptsa, burnt in the second-half 13 cent. as a result of Lithuanian invasion. It was sewn from woolen fabric of various weaves. Top of dress - from woolen cloths of tabby weave, the bottom - from cloth of twill weave. The folds are visible on some fragments. (Kolchin)

Well was preserved narrowing to the zapast'yu sleeve with a gusset [lastovitsa, the underarm gusset]. The sleeve is made from the cloth of twill weave, the lastovitsa - from cloth of plain weave. The seams, the connecting parts of dress, are made in such a way that the edges of the cloth would not be peeled off - by "zaposhivochnym seam" [flat-felled]. This technique of sewing arose with the simulation of the cut of clothing. However, in Toroptse is found a piece of cloth with ornament in the "branoy" [brocade?] technique. (Kolchin)
One additional entire dress is found in Izyaslavl. It was sewn from several forms of the finest woolen cloth of linen interweaving and cut with a top/bodice and separate skirt. Top of dress is lined. At the waist a skirt is sewn to the top of the bodice. It is put together with small gathers, for which are sewn four parallel seams. Judging by the seams, the sleeve was sewn under the arm, where a strip of cloth with a width of 5 cm was sewn. This detail is sewn across the sleeve with the finest seam - a running stitch, and then a return route [i.e. the Holbein stitch], the space between the stitches is filled so precisely, that it creates the impression of a machine seam. (Kolchin)

The existence of sewn dresses in Old-Russian cities is proven by finds discovered on the Raykovetskyy fortification in the territory of the Ukraine. Among the heap of burnt fabrics, there are fragments of woolen, flaxen and silk cloths of different structure. The seams were preserved on some of them. Fabrics of tabby weave are laid in the creases, and also in the smallest pleats. Clothing with corrugation [gofrirovskoj] and pleating is known in the graves of Birka already from the 11th cent. The opinion is expressed that clothing with corrugation is imported from the lands of the southern Slavs. (Kolchin)

In individual regions of the south-Slav world has been preserved to our time traditional clothing, which was constructed with the aid of the different type of folds, pleats and corrugation (on the skirts, the sarafans, the sleeves of shirts and on collars). Gathers, corrugation and pleating are also known in the traditional clothing of Russians, Ukrainians and Belorussians. (Kolchin)

The discovered dresses and their fragments testify to the existence among Old-Russian townspeople of sewn clothing created by different methods: both of not-cut-out [neraskroennykh, fitted?] pieces of cloth, put together with the help of various forms of gathers and pleats; and from the fundamental [korennykh] pieces of cloths. Both methods of sewing relate to defined stages in the history of the making of clothing, but they exist in the traditional costume of Russians to the present day. (Kolchin)

The dresses also give ideas about the culture of sewing, about the special features of the cut, the character and the variety of seams. The dress from Izyaslavlya confirms the presence in ancient Russia of clothing, which was constructed on the figure (pritalennoj - fitted). This clothing can be seen on the "girl" [Virgo?] from the Izbornik of Svyatoslav. On her is placed a dress with oplech'e [barma-type collar] and skirt in pleats (Izbornik of Svyatoslav 1073. 1977 p. 251). (Kolchin)

In the figures of the capital letters of the Old-Russian manuscripts are depicted the different forms of the existing clothing, among them – fitted [pritalennoj] with folds and gathers. (Kolchin)

As is known, double-breasted [dvubortnaya] clothing is characteristic for the Russian national costume. In the work of T.S. Maslovoj it is suggested that the wide distribution of double-breasted clothing and the men’s blouse [kosovorotki] occurred simultaneously. Double-breasted clothing can be seen in the miniatures of the 15th cent. Radzivillovskoy chronicle. Thus, in the miniature connected with the founding of Kiev, two figures are shown in long outer clothing with the zapakh [upper flap] on the left side. Obviously, the high collars (more than 4 cm high), sewn on birch bark and leather, with the opening to the left, belonged to the upper double-breasted clothing. (Kolchin)

In the 13-17th cent., even among the elites they tried to make and keep clothing at home. In the home of wealthy city dwellers, and even more of major nobles this grew sometimes into a significant household problem. The needs in clothing (both in quantity and in quality and in selection) far outgrew the ability of the family, granted even with serfs. Therefore the Domostroi did not forbid from needlework servant maids: “and the woman needleworker that shows [or gives instructions?] rubashka made or ubrus [scarf] to take [брати?] or weave, or gold or silk paylichnoe [пяличное?] activity” (that is, embroider). But long with that it recommends to have “workshop of own tailor and cobbler” and all tools necessary for it – “gear… tailor’s shop and cobblers”. The simplest material – sheepskin, linen canvas [polotna], linen [kholsty] – is prepared and dyed at home: “linen and ouschin [оусчин] an linen made and on that prigozhe [comely] other dyed for letnik and for kaftan and for sarafan… for home everyday re-cut and re-sew, and will too much for everyday make linen [poloten] or ouschin or linen [kholst] or tablecloth or shirinok [kerchief?] or other something that can sell… and rubashki red men’s and women’s and porty… for yourself cut out”. Expensive imported materials and furs the Domostroi recommends to buy at once in large quantities, depending on the market situation. It listed also objects of clothing, that are sewn in home conditions. Besides the already mentioned lower and upper (“krasnykh”) rubakhas, porty, sarafans, kaftans and letniks, are named shuba, terlik, odnoryadka, kortel’, kaptur, shapka, nogovitsy. Not overlooked was direction, when best to launder: “if bread bake, then also garments wash”. “Beautiful” rubashki and better garments wash with soap and ashes, rinse, dry, press in a mangle (irons then not were known). The benefits were 2: economy of firewood and ash arm in arm. There is, of course, also recommendation for how to keep clothing and ornament: “and bed and dress along gryatkam [гряткам] (shelves – M.R.) and in trunk and in box and oubrany [оубраны?], and rubashki, and shirinki all should be nice and clean and belen’ko suvercheno [беленько суверчено] and sukladeno [сукладено] and not rumpled… and sazen’e [саженье], and necklace, and better dress always would be in a trunk and in a box locked, and key would (by housewife – M.R.) be kept in a small box [ларце]”. And dress lesser – “vetchanoe [evening?], and travel, and serving” (mentions epanchi [cloak?], shlyapy [hats], mittens [rukavitsy]) – propose to keep in the shed [клет]. (Rabinovich)

For further information, read about individual garments in the sections on Men's and Women's Clothing.

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