What is Ukrainian Embroidery?

Rebecca Cartwright

Ukrainian embroidery encompasses a wide variety of surface embroidery styles and techniques traditionally practiced by the Ukrainian people. Decorative arts play an important role in defining traditional Ukrainian culture, and embroidery is prominent among these. Ukrainian embroidery typically features design motifs taken from nature and the use of red and black thread. These designs decorate a wide variety of clothing and household items.

Ukrainian embroidery may be featured on everyday clothing.
Ukrainian embroidery may be featured on everyday clothing.

Traditional Ukrainian embroidery has roots reaching as far back as 2,000 years, when surface embroidery was already practiced in that region. By the 10th century, recognizable embroidery motifs, designs, and techniques were developing that still continue in the 21st century. While fabrics, threads, and stitches vary, the designs used follow a common and recognizable style in which both symbolic and representational motifs repeat in patterns arranged in lines, squares, or diamonds divided by frames that form part of the design.

Yellows, oranges, red and black are common colors featured in Ukrainian embroidery.
Yellows, oranges, red and black are common colors featured in Ukrainian embroidery.

Elements in Ukrainian embroidery design draw heavily on plants, flowers, and animals for inspiration. Leaves, petals, stems, and flowers appear in both stylized and more natural fashion, depending on the regional style of the piece of work. Crosses with differing numbers and lengths of arms, suns, and interlocking abstract geometric designs are also common. In some regions, stylized fruit, particularly grapes and berries, and the traditional Tree of Life are favorites.

The colors in Ukrainian embroidery vary by region, but yellows, oranges, red and black are common. In past centuries, work done for the richer classes and for the church often used silk and metallic threads, including both gold and silver. Fabrics for this work included silk, velvet, satin, and brocade. Less expensive work was done on linen, which could be locally produced, with silk threads. As cotton fabrics and threads became more common, they also were used.

After World War II, a wider range of threads and colors became available and colors became more varied and often brighter after the appearance of synthetic dyes. Hundreds of stitches are used in Ukrainian embroidery. The most common stitches are cross stitch, half-cross stitch, and Swedish huck weaving stitches, in which the needle never completely goes through the fabric.

A wide range of items have traditionally been embellished with Ukrainian embroidery, including household and bed linens, everyday clothing, national costumes, and head coverings. Other uses include decorating church furnishings and items for special occasions such as weddings and funerals. Special designs and colors are associated with some of these uses, and these associations may vary by region.

A punch needle can be used for some types of hand-made embroidery.
A punch needle can be used for some types of hand-made embroidery.

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Discussion Comments


I have a co-worker from the Ukraine who was getting married. I was trying to come up with some unique Ukrainian gifts to give her for a wedding present.

I found a lady who is very skilled at embroidery, and she had tea towels with a beautiful Ukrainian Easter egg embroidered on them.

These tea towels came in a lot of different colors and the combination of the embroidery thread and tea towel colors was striking.

The embroidered Easter egg was simple, yet ornate at the same time.

I knew nobody would appreciate this quite as much as my co-worker, so ordered a whole set for her. She was very pleased with them. I liked them so much I also ordered some for myself.


One of my close friends grew up in the Ukraine, and I have learned a lot about some of her customs and traditions.

I have also had a chance to see some of the embroidery she has done, and it is absolutely exquisite.

She makes some custom embroidery pieces for some of her family that still lives in the Ukraine. One tradition she told me about is when a woman become engaged, she will begin to embroider her wedding rushnyk.

She will wear this embroidered head covering once she is married. The kerchief will show that she is now a woman and no longer a maiden.

I am not sure if they still follow this tradition or not, but I found it very fascinating.


@nextcorrea - Have you tried looking for any videos online? I know that information about this type of embroidery can be hard to find, but I have seen a few places where you can order videos.

It would be a lot better than trying to teach yourself - especially if you don't have anyone near you who would be able to help mentor and teach you.

Once you learned a few of the basic stitches, then you should be able to complete most Ukrainian embroidery patterns.

I have never done Ukrainian embroidery, but I know many of the stitches are similar to other types of embroidery. The colors of thread you choose can be just as important as the stitches and patterns you follow.


Where can I learn to do Ukrainian embroidery? I have looked for books at my local library but we have none. I would try to seek out a Ukrainian person but I live in a small town and the simple fact is that we don't have any.

I saw a documentary on TV that featured a lot of embroidery from Russia and the Baltic region. All of it was beautiful. I would love to try it for myself but I have no good way to learn.


My mother is from the Ukraine and she spends most of her time doing Ukrainian embroidery. The funny thing is that she only picked it up once she got here to the states.

A few years after she made the trip she began going to a Ukrainian cultural society because she was feeling very homesick. The other women there all passed the time spreading gossip and embroidering. Not to be left out, my mother joined in.

Now her house is filled with pieces she has made. She is not an expert by any means but she has a sure and steady hand and the expertise that comes with doing a much loved task over and over again.

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