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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Eva's Lemko Costume

Eva's 'kryvulka' returned

My Canada Day 2020 visit to deliver a restored 'kryvulka' to Orysia Sopinka yielded unexpected riches.

To this point, all I had seen was the broad collar 'kryvulka' beaded by Orysia's mother, Eva Vakyriak, an ethnic Lemko from Chystohorb, an administrative centre of Komancha, within Sanok County, in the Subcarpathian Voivodeship of south-eastern Poland, close to the border of Slovakia.

Eva Vakyriak (1920-2014)

As was the custom, girls would bead, embroider and sew their own folk costumes for festive occasions. In keeping with tradition, young Eva created her very own ensemble comprised of all essential elements of a Lemko-style costume. We know she would have started her accoutrements as a teen because in 1939 she was off to work in Germany as an Osterbeiter, a slave worker.

Orysia displaying Eva's 'lajbychok'

Orysia pulled out a 'lajbychok' (vest) her mother beaded. She kept referring to this fabric work of art in the diminutive form. You could sense the endearment. The more I looked at the 'lajbek' style common in this area, I saw Eva's 'lajbychok' was more refined and one-of-a-kind.

back of 'lajbychok'

Her 'lajbychok' was made of navy fabric with a jacquard weave. This would have been been an expensive purchase, but justifiably worth it! The vest was lined with a loomwoven natural fabric. Great care was taken to cut out the fitted vest and individual tabs which were lined in navy.

detail of lower back beadwork

Using a wide palette of seed beads and bugles, Eva bead embroidered a large floral composition on the lower back. It's sitting on a yellow-outlined ground. The floral bouquet is framed with an arch of star bursts and delicate daisies. I recognized some of the seed beads as spares from her 'kryvulka'. While the arch around her floral composition is fanciful, the floral bead embroidery of every tab is symmetrical and identical. The tabs were perfectly overlapped all around the base of the vest.

beadwork around armhole

Very delicate beaded daisies and bugle V's were embroidered around the armhole opening, neck edge and down the front. 

Smaller florals mirror each other on the 'lajbychok' front. They are sitting on a green-outlined ground.

Check out the floral buttons!! They're probably from Czechoslovakia where pressed-glass buttons are a specialty.

The inside of the 'lajbychok' reveals Eva used a natural thread to bead embroider through the navy and lining fabric. There was no extra satin lining to cover the stitches. 

Then, Orysia brought out her mother 'spidnytsia' (skirt). She first showed the front which was flat with a plain fabric insert. Really, this was a practical solution to keep down the bulk as a decorative 'fartukh' (apron) would have been worn overtop in front.

The skirt was a red printed fabric base which has rows of lace, blue and yellow ribbon stitched down on either side of a natural band. Great care was taken to use the red fabric as part of the striped design. Once the bands were stitched, the red fabric was densely pleated with fine tucks hidden up inside a wide natural fabric band. This made for a very full 'spidnytsia' on the sides and back. A little strip of a similar printed fabric was used to bind the edge of 'kryvulka' so it could be comfortably worn as a collar with the ensemble. (See Lemko 'kryvulka' restoration post)

The 'spidnytsia' hem was finished in a narrow printed navy fabric. It must have been machine stitched on front and fold down and around to the underside. Perfect hand stitches secure the roll-like binding in place.

In these three main elements you can see the harmony of red 'kryvulka', navy bead embroidered 'lajbychok' and the red 'spidnytsia' with ribbon trim. These elements are part of the Lemko-style costume, but Eva creatively embellished each one her way.

Being able to see such beauty up close made for a truly a memorable Canada Day!

As I was preparing my blog, I wanted a photo of Eva (seen above). I started to question how did Orysia come into possession of these original pieces her mother made, if she left in a hurry to work in Germany?

So, I asked....Here's Orysia's story: 

"I went to Dibrova, Ukraine for one day in 1975. Dibrova is a tiny village near Berezhany, Ternopil oblast. Several families from Czystohorb ended up living there after they were forced to leave Czystohorb, by the communist Poles (Aktcja Wisla). An ethnic cleansing had started a few years earlier and mama's family (the Vakyriaks) kept hoping that they would be able to stay in their new home which dido renovated in the thirties. There was a new metal roof on the house that showed the family had some wealth and it was a place for important visitors to stay. 

Mama left either in 1939 or in 1943 for Germany because she was summoned by a person from the government to go to work. She did not say good-bye to anyone, packed her wooden suitcase and left because the man said if she left right away, it would be better for her because the war was just beginning and later on life would get worse for Ukrainians.  

I (Orysia) was a student at an interpreter's school in Brussels, Belgium in 1975 and decided to go to Ukraine to visit family. My destination was Ternopil and after a very long train ride, thorough inspection at the border town Chop and a change of trains, I travelled to Ternopil and stayed with my aunt and uncle. Uncle Ivan took me clandestinely to Dibrova by taxi and I spent a few hours with my baba who was surprised to see me, but treated me kindly and offered me mama's Lemko clothing. She gave me her kryvulka, her skirt and her lajbychok.  There was an apron made out of the same cloth as the front of the skirt and I refused to take it because it looked well used and was not attractive. Today, I'm sorry I about that. Later on that year, I returned to Canada with it."

Maria Sopinka wearing a 'sylianka'

Orysia also brought this photo of her aunt wearing a beadwoven band with motifs which was fashionable in the 20th century. 

Orysia writes: "Maria Sopinka was born in Vyslik Velykij probably in the 1920's.  My father, Teodor Sopinka was her half brother. He was the youngest child, born in 1917, from the first wife and Maria was born to the second wife. Vyslik Velykij was the largest town in Lemkivshchyna with a population of about 2,000 people. Both mama's and tato's families were Lemky and strong partisans for an independent Ukraine. Tato's family ended up in Bila Krynytsya near Pidhajtsi, Ukraine and Maria escaped through the forest and crossed the border to Slovakia." 

I am grateful to Orysia for allowing me to share this story of a very patriotic Lemko family whom I got to know about through my interest in all things beaded and folk art.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Lemko ‘kryvulka’ restoration

'Krvyulka' in the round

I was thrilled when Orysia Sopinka asked me if I could restore her mother’s ‘kryvulka’, a precious keepsake and a piece of her cultural identity.

It was a privilege to get up close, to study the thread paths of an incredible traditional ‘kryvulka’ beadwoven by young Eva Vakyriak (1920-2014). This was the ultimate adornment for the Lemkos, a ethnographic Ukrainian group and Eva made her own for festive occasions. 

Netted section ruffles when 'krvyulka' is straightened 

Eva would have beaded this as a teenager in her village of Chystohorb (Czystogarb), near Komancha (Komancza) in today’s Poland. In 1939 she left home forever to be an Osterbeiter, a foreign slave worker in Germany. 

Orysia brought this to me in January 2020. Right away I said this ‘kryvulka’ has a lot of stories it could tell. So, here is what I gleaned from my restoration experience.

A ‘kryvulka’, the local term in Komancha, is a ‘kryza’, a broad collar comprising of four distinct sections:


A - ‘polotnya’ - top choker-like band usually, a right angle weave, using two needles or one today in the R.A.W. stitch. 

B - vertical netting with rhomb motifs. This then attaches to the ‘polotnya’ choker.

C - horizontal ‘zigzags’, rows of 5 beads going through the center of the previous row  bead net to expand the width of the broad collar one colored row at a time.

D - ‘gombychky’, large accent beads used to trim along the lower collar edge.

Eva ran out of large blue ‘gombychky’ beads and finished the trim with blue seed bead picots. She added a printed fabric to encase both ends so she could add a button and snap closure so her ‘kryvulka’ wears comfortably as a collar. Without this, the wide beaded net ends would fold over forward while wearing. 

Fabric encased ends

The best way of learning how something is constructed or beadwoven is to have to repair it! While it may seem sad, this is the best way to learn!

The entire ‘kryvulka’ was beaded with a red thick thread. Because of the tight tension, one wouldn’t notice missing beads or tears in places. Previous repairs would be with whatever beads colors were available. It was a challenge to repair in places because of the thickness of the thread/small size of the bead hole. Many fine needles broke in the process. I finally understood why there were knots and thread tails in places. It was a way to secure new thread, fill in beads and try to discreetly reinforce the addition.

I started repairing the netted motifs. One had to carefully add two beads above and below the mesh points in the vertical netting. Once the green rhomb net was repaired, I repaired a few more tears around.


By reconstructing this collar, I could clearly see how the ‘polotnya’ choker was attached to the top of the netted rhombs. It’s as if they were zipped together.




Though the horizontal zigzags are created with 5 beads as you expand the broad collar, when you repair tears, you simply insert two beads in between points as seen in the white row. 




Similarly for the blue zigzag row. In a previous repair red seed beads were inserted. Better red than have a tear! I wanted to change them back to a distinct blue row. 



The fabric closure needed cleaning so I gently ‘washed’ it with a cotton ball with detergent. When I saw the print lightening, I stopped and let it air dry.


The thread loop was badly frayed so I used a red cord to make a new loop. Thank goodness I remembered hand sewing basics my mother taught me!! 



I sewed on the blue button with red thread and reinforced the snaps on the fabric tab.

This was it for the reconstruction, but I wanted to figure out how to bead a ‘polotnya’  with extra 2-bead stack rows meant to be joined to the rhomb net.

Instead or using the traditional two-needle method, I tried beading the center row of diamond motifs using Right Angle Weave (R.A.W.) with one needle. You can see my turn-around progress and motifs.




It took a while to figure out how to make 2-bead white stacks. Then how to add a single red bead to connect the stacks. Afterwards, I added a single red bead between the red bead edge. This created a solid red line.



Next was a row of 2-bead green stacks. These went faster using the same methodology, as above. 



Lastly, a row of 2-bead yellow stacks. Same start and solid red finish.



At this point, I was so happy “I got it!”. I photographed this from every angle and asked Orysia permission to use her ‘kryvulka’ with my R.A.W. reproduction for the cover of my personal Facebook page. I am a beader and I love red with intricate motifs. 

On June 15th I completed a massive update on Rypan Designs website on occasion on my 25th anniversary of teaching. 

July 1st, Canada Day 2020, I delivered the reconstructed ‘kryvulka’ to Orysia. What she showed me will be in my next blog. Here’s a sneak-peak.

Lemko ‘kryvulka’ and ‘leybychok’ (vest) beaded by young Eva Vakyriak.


Saturday, August 22, 2020

Sunflower Mask

The Toronto Bead Society’s Mask Challenge for an Aug 12, 2020 Zoom meeting and a request for a “fantasy piece” for an upcoming bead exhibit at the Ukrainian museum converged into this Sunflower Mask!


The Ukrainian Museum of Canada Ontario Branch and our neighbours at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto are planning a co-produced exhibit titled The Spirit of Beads: Sharing our Stories.

What could be more Ukrainian than sunflowers?? They are Ukraine’s national flower and represent the warmth and power of the sun, which was worshiped by pre-Christian Slavs.

Inspiration photo and bracelet

My husband found this photo of a vibrant rich field of sunflowers. A netted bracelet with a beaded sunflower on top by Ulana Bobyk from Lviv inspired my freeform flowers.

I wanted my sunflowers against a bright blue sky. Jo-Ann gave me the perfect piece of ultra-suede for the background and cotton fabric to match at a time when stores with non-essentials were closed. I was determined the sky should be smooth all across the top. No seams! Just a pinch at the bottom and gentle pleats were acceptable.

Next, for beading my "fantasy" mask and one based on regional beadwork for the museum, I wanted to expand my color palette and use charlottes, a seed bead with a cut which reflects light and makes the bead embroidery sparkle. Naomi Smith, Black Tulip Beads, came to my rescue and Charles even delivered the beads, and more beads, in two lots!


For the sunflower seed center, I started with a circle of six brown beads. I kept changing the color and type of bead for every rotation. Sometimes, I used one, or two beads in between those of the previous row. The seedy center grew and then I’d start stringing an assortment of yellow beads for each petal.

2 of 3 flowers pinned in place

I found it best to start with a yellow-orange or two beads first; then vary the finishes to a picot turn around. On my way down, I’d improvise with the mosaic stitch and color of beads. Then I'd anchor the petal and move on to string another combo for the next petal.

Testing the placement

There was a lot of trial and error. With safety pins securing my beaded sunflowers, I tried to see how many more I needed to bead, where to position them. Coincidentally, my calendar featured a sunflower mural for August, so it’s like this was meant to be! The extra fingers belong to my husband, the photographer.

Starting a leaf

I netted the leaves in many shades of green. I sketched the first row and kept playing with color placement and shaping the leaves into more realistic shapes. I repeated it a few times, but each leaf is a bit different as it is in nature.

Shading and shaping

The final layout

Once I had my components, came the “positioning the sunflowers” fittings. Here we see them stitched onto the flat ultra-suede. I trimmed away the corner to allow for shaping on my face and stitched the outline of the dart for the bottom of my mask. Then I positioned my leaves and stitched them down. 

Preparing the layers

I cut the cotton fabric a bit larger than the ultra-suede. I started off with the folded down edge along the top and lined it up with the straight mask edge. I back-stitched a dart in both fabrics and used a quilting technique to make the seam as flat as possible. 

Stitching it together 

The top was finger-pressed one way, the lining dart was pressed the other way. There was no bulk along the bottom edge when I tucked under the excess lining fabric. The sides were pleated last.

Detail of  3-bead edge

I decided to used a 3-bead finish to join the front and lining together in a single stitch. Once I figured out how to do the stitch and sequence of colors, I bead-finished the top edge. I chose to use lively warm Hutsul-colors of yellow-orange, orange and green. Once the top was stitched, I did the bottom and sides. I’m pleased the diagonal pattern worked out perfectly all around. 

Twisted cord ties

For ties I used DMC Mouline floss in matching traditional colors. There were several attempts to twist the thread like I used to with my mother. The twisted cord with three colors was quite thick when it was folded in half and twisted further upon itself. I felt it appropriate for tying on my mask since it’s the way finish of embroidered ‘sorochky’ (chemises) or beaded necklace for wearing.

Finished and ready for Zoom meeting

The Toronto Bead Society Mask Challenge Reveal meeting was right when we were on vacation in Kingston, ON. I finished each chord end with a tassel in the motel. Thank goodness I was able to participate in the Zoom meeting through my iPhone.

TBS Zoom meeting


This is my favorite kind on meeting, because we get hear everyone’s stories. The ideas behind their design and their creative process.

It was amazing to see the great variety of masks.