pinterest pin it

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Zalishchyky sylianka with monety restoration

The "Spirit of Beads: Sharing Their Stories" exhibit at the Ukrainian Museum in Canada, Ontario Branch, brought this incredible artifact (adornment) out of storage!

Since Bozhena Gembatiuk works at the Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Centre (UCRDC), she could see the exhibit preparations going on in the museum on her way upstairs to work. At one point, the museum staff were pulling together examples of beadwork from Ukraine to compare with Indigenous Beadwork of North America which were going to be lent for the exhibition.

Bozhena believed she had just the piece which would fit in the exhibition, but when she brought in her sylianka from Zalishchyky to show, tiny black grain of sand-like beads were loose in the box. Everyone's hearts sank as this beaded choker with coins and unique bugle trim could not be used in the exhibit. I, a consultant for the Spirit of Beads exhibit, was recommended for the restoration of the beadwork.

Bozhena with sylianka & family photo


Bozhena's grandmother, Olena Korol Gembatiuk, proudly wore this beaded sylianka, a family heirloom. Here she is wearing it in the photo with her son Jaroslaw, Bozhena's father, who was born in 1910. They lived in Zalishchyky, located on the Dniester River in Chortkiv district in Ternopil oblast.

Olena Korol and son Jaroslaw Gembatiuk

Zalishchyky sylianky are easily recognizable! They were primarily black seed beads backgrounds with fine rhombs and diamonds in coloured beads in what appears random order. These are very difficult to see because of the overwhelming black netted background. They were created using horse hair in a multi needle technique (pick up a bead on one string (horse hair), pick up a bead on another string, criss-cross through a new bead); then move on to the next pair of strings/ hairs. A trained eye can notice how the beaded band was created when there are missing beads in a diagonal exposing the stringing material. Often times the netted band is stitched onto a twill ribbon to stabilize it.

Multi needle horse hair weaving

Close up of the original 

It was an honour and a privilege to restore this sylianka! Here was my chance to see how the craftspeople of yesteryear problem-solved to get the desired results they envisioned.

full front view

This piece, called a 'strichkova sylianka z monetamy' (ribbon band sylianka with coins) according to Olena Fedorchuk (
Ukrainian Folk Adornments from Beads. Lviv:Svichado, 2007), was stitched onto a black twill base. It has 15 coins from the days of the Austro-Hungarian Galician empire along the lower edge. Some of these coins had rings soldered on, while a few coins were drilled near the top. They were all strung between large beads and then attached to the black twill tape. 

full back view

It had a very unique bugle bead trim along the top edge. This bugle trim was stitched onto a very fine wire cord braid and then added onto the top edge of the twill tape. 

A red wool twill ribbon was stitched onto one end, a fine wide black trim was stitched to the other side. I'll show you later what a fine trim it was, but scrunched together it makes a handy tie.

The 'strichkova sylianka', a fine bead on horse hair multineedle net was stitched on top of the twill tape separately. We know the sylianka was separate because a paper slipped in the torn area reveals a solid net!

Strip of white paper helps 

When it became clear Bozhena wanted to wear her sylianka heirloom in the future, it was clear this portion needed to be removed and beaded on fresh new thread, then stitched back in position to recreate the Zalishchyky sylianky look.

Documentation -- Where do I begin?

First step was to document the entire piece from all sides, both front and back and look for clues of it's construction.

Close ups of the seed bead sylianka revealed the rhomb diamond motifs. It also enabled me to see where there were missing beads, broken horse hairs.

I circled the problem areas and sent it to Bozhena. At first it seemed I might be able to rescue some area by filling in beads. A test revealed this was impossible because a fine needle and thread could not pass through some of the microscopic bead holes on horse hair! Also, there turned out to be more seed beads missing that first glimpse. I needed to add beads into the sylianka. 

Problem spots on left side

Problem spots on right side

I found Czech 13/o charlottes were the closest in size. Because they are cut on one side, they reflect light. Since I was adding them to the mix, I released a string at a time and mixed them with the beads I pulled off the horse hair. As I was beading the sylianka, I found many of the original beads were erratically-shaped, some with impossibly tiny hole, some thin slivers seemed ready to break. There were a lot of discards! The bead soup of old and 13/o Charlottes enabled me to bead weave the full length.

working to remove beads from netting

Charting the pattern

I printed my black 5-bead graph paper at 50% size and started colouring the motif from my close-up photo of bead sylianka. It was easier to see the pattern on paper rather than in the original. There was a rhomb with double coloured horns around a black diamond. Then, a diamond where a single coloured bead on each of four corners forming a miniature rhomb. There was a seemingly erratic colour placement of the rhombs and diamonds, but blue rhombs seemed more dominant and were spread out equidistantly along the sylianka.

charting pattern

using coloured pencils

charted pattern of full motifs

I closely photographed each section of the original again. Then printed out those sections and matched them up so I could have a pattern of the exact sequence. I wrote out the colours above each rhomb and diamond as often it was impossible to tell the difference between royal blue and dark green rhombs in the photograph. I then used it as my master.

photos next to sylianka

Today we can achieve the netted look with a single needle and thread. To recreate my charted pattern per the Zalishchyky sylianka, I found I needed to use a second needle to add a two bead edge to recreate the pattern exactly as drawn. In the end of the day, the netting has the same pattern as the multi needle horse hair original. 

sample in progress next to photo

Sample next to original

My sample was beaded with 13/o Charlottes with rhombs in larger 11/ seed beads for color placement. Because this was the netting stitch, it was more forgiving and could handle an occasional larger bead in the netted fabric. The color of the bead was important and occasionally I had to use it in the final in place of missing beads.

starting two rows

Blue rhomb taking shape

Red rhomb next

Adding two beads along lower edge

sample next to original

Vertically netting the sylianky band  --  Netting the sylianka

Once I had the stitch and the pattern, I started again using as many of the original beads as possible. This meant releasing the beads from the horse hair sylianka. I unpicked the threads holding down the sylianka to the twill base and cut away sections at a time. As I was releasing the beads, I was constantly amazed how the patterns were created. Simple, if you have 6 horse hairs tied into a knot and secured to a table for plaiting one or two beads at a time!

Cutting away from the twill ribbon

Gently pull away

More removed from twill

Removing beads from horse hair

Seeing the mutli needle weaving 

Removing red rhomb section

More detail of the weaving

Removing the blue rhomb section

More beads being removed

I added some Charlottes to the released bead mix on my Chinet plate and proceeded to net. I was using NYMO 0 thread and a very fine needle. As I was picking up strings of beads, there were times when the beads would only go up a few millimetres, or worse get stuff by the eye of the needle. I would flick these discards on to a second plate next to my bead soup mix. Slowly the sylianka got longer.

Bead mix

Comparing to master

I needed to add a two bead edge to compete the pattern. While it finished the pattern nicely, it was a straight thread verses the flexible netted fabric. I stitched around the lower edge where possible so there wouldn't be long lengths of a single thread. This 2-bead edge done with the second thread pulled the netted pattern together and matched up to the original pattern.

Adding two bead edge

Photo reference, work in progress and twill ribbon

The tie ends and a few secrets

The red wool tie near the black tail base was shredded. As I unpicked to release the ratty red tie, I found a fine black fabric with traces of yarn dyed edges. It was stitched over the ends of the horse hairs which were knotted at the sylianka ends. The horse hairs were then folded under for securing and protected the wearer by a fine fabric patch finish.

Red wool tie attached to black twill

Opening the original black twill ties

I cut off the worn red twill and restitched it over the base as not to disturb the original any more than necessary.

Patched end ready to reattached ties

Original cord that coins and large beads were strung on

Stitching on the new sylianka

First, I basted on the netted band with white thread as black on black is brutal for the eyes! 

Attaching the new netted section

Basting netting to twill ribbon

Continuing to baste

Basting done

Once I started stitching on the net to the base along the bottom near the coins, my double Nymo B thread kept catching everything in the vicinity. I needed to take off my glasses for the close up operation. By catching different monety along the way, I had a chance to have a good look at all the different coins and monarchs ranging from 1769 to 1893!

Different threads used

Working with a good light helps

Reattaching coin

Marie Therese coin

The lower edge took all morning, while the upper edge took the afternoon. As I stitched on the top net I tried to catch some of the bugle trim. This resulted in a better finish where the bugle trim does not flop over the seed bead sylianka but should stay more upright when worn.

Next I reinforced the monety bead trim along the lower edge to the black band. There were some gaps between this trim in the original. The coins were strung on a separate string are heavy. If Bozhena is going to were this sylianka, I thought it best to reinforce everything as best I could!

Reinforcing bugle edge

Continuing to reinforce edge

Monety from Austro Hungarian times

This is a separate lesson onto itself! With changes in occupations of the Galician Ukrainian territories, money was devalued. Someone came up with the bright idea of adding the coins of the ruling monarchy as trim to adornments. It was also a way of showing status. Not knowing history, one wonders why someone would take the great trouble of soldering on a ring to coin or drill a hole for stitching it onto a fabric base. This needs more study. Some coins were solid with great detail. Other monety were much thinner with worn down details. There was Joseph, Franz Joseph and Maria Theresa. The empires kept changing according to the lettering on the coins.

Detail of coins

Detail of coins with rings soldered on

Coins of different sizes

Head side of some coins

It was a privilege to work on such a fine specimen of microscopic beadwork trimmed with 

history in Ukraine.

Restored sylianka next to photo references of original

Thank you, Bozhena, for trusting me with your baba Olena's "strichkova sylianka with monety"

from Zalishchyky.