Russian down and woolen headscarves are a source of pride and national heritage for Russia, and they are rightly considered one of the best presents for a foreign guest.
The city of Pavlovskiy Posad (in the former Bogorod imperial district, near Moscow) is one of the oldest Russian textile centers. Pavlovo-Posad is quite rightly considered the leader in this area, and for many decades has maintained with care and developed ancient art and Russian traditions. Down and semi-woolen headscarves decorated with traditional printed ornaments began to be made here in the 1860s-1880s, and the handicraft itself has a 200-year history.
In the 18th and first half of the 19th centuries, Bogorod headscarves and sarafan fabrics were distinguished by the special beauty of the ornaments sewn of golden thread. Later here silk weaving became widespread. 2,500 silk headscarves were produced in 1812, and by the mid 19th century Pavlovo-Posad shawls and headscarves were well-known in all of Russia and abroad. Production grew incrementally and acquired a distinctively national character. Pavlovsky Posad’s place in world culture, like that of other famous folk handicrafts, was not that of simple textile production but as an image of national Russian culture.
The predecessor to the headscarf in old Rus is believed to be an embroidered linen towel, the ubrus, which women used to cover their heads in ancient times. It began ceding its place in the 17th century to headscarves, and a century later the word shal’ (shawl) appeared in Russian, a borrowing from Persian denoting a large patterned headscarf.
Headscarves play a huge and significant role in folk costume outfits as the concluding headwear or decoration for everyday and holiday festivities. Based on the traditions of wearing headwear in the Russian North, various manners of wearing and tying headscarves can be found. The concept of “Russian headscarf” is recognized worldwide thanks to the painstaking work of talented Russian artists and masters in weaving and dying.
The birth of the production of printed headscarves in Pavlovskiy Posad has spiritual roots, and the entrepreneurial aspect was grounded on spiritual and ethical principles: bringing beauty into life, a beauty which both gives the means for material welfare and guarantees local employment. As known from ancient acts, the peasant Ivan Labzin together with other local peasants signed a statement for a district police officer about the payment of an annual tax for the right to weave, as evidenced by a ticket issued by the Moscow Manufactur-Collegium. Thus the existence of Ivan Labzin’s establishment had already started by 1795. The history of the Pavlovo-Posad handicraft begins from this date, a craft that is famed for its richness of colored patterns on festive shawls and headscarves which have become famous far outside of Russia’s borders.
The decoration of Pavlovo-Posad shawls and headscarves with color motifs was developed the most in the latter half of the 19th century. Color painting is a representation of the blossoming of the earth, and the blossoming of the creative spirit – dating to the archetype of the Garden of Even, embodying the feeling of a joyful perception of the world. The fullness of the pattern painting strongly and variously appeared in the 1870s-1880s, which made Russian folk art and folk life notable overall as well The color painting decorated the cornices of peasant homes, arches and spinning wheels, and flowered in Zhostovo trays, Kursk rugs, Russian porcelain and was an integral part of the lifestyle of Russian cities and suburbs. And patterned color headscarves and shawls highlighted the Russian national costume and became an essential part of its ensemble.
The compositional and color magnificence of the Pavlovo-Posad headscarf owes to the virtuosity of the masters who cut the pressing boards used to print drawings on the fabric, as well as the masters who pressed the colors. Each color is printed using a different board; the amount of boards can at times be several dozen for a single item.
Dominant in decoration of the headscarves are flower bouquets and garlands. Shawls and headscarves of the Pavlovo-Posad type are an explosion of garden and wild flowers on the corners of the headscarf, and garlands on the fringe. As before, popularity is enjoyed by the ornamental motif of “Turkish cucumbers”, borrowed from the well-known Indian cashmere shawls which became fashionable in Europe in Napoleon’s time, as well as Eastern ornaments imitating Persian shawls. The range of colors is dominated by milk-white, black, red, turquoise, dark blue, and cherry backgrounds.
During the 1920s and 30s Pavlovskiy Posad produced primarily cotton fabrics with pressed and printed patterns, and the art of pressed wool folk headscarves was reborn in the post-war years when hand pressing was actively employed. Beginning at the end of the 1950s, however, handmade production began to be squeezed out by modern printing machines and photoprinting techniques.
At present headscarves are not manually pressed at Pavlovskiy Posad. Nonetheless, by creating images for reproduction using modern printing methods, artists attempt to preserve traditional Pavlovo-Posad shawl techniques for the decorative abstraction of color motifs, composition type and coloring features.