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.
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.
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.