Kiev: Ivan Gonchar Museum

Here’s the second of many posts to come, on places I visited, and hope others will too, in Kiev.


I first found out about the Ivan Gonchar Museum (aka Ukrainian Centre of Folk Culture) on the Folk Costume of Polissya website, which features traditional ensembles from various parts of Ukraine, nearly all of which are from the museum. So, naturally, it was top of my sightseeing list.

IvanGonchar01The museum is situated in the eastern part of the city, next door to the famous Pecharsk Lavra monastery site and close to the banks of the Dnieper river. Although small, it houses a varied collection of Ukrainian handicrafts, including pottery, clothing, woven fabrics, paintings, photographs and painted eggs, all informatively labelled in Ukrainian and, helpfully, English. The focus of the collection is to represent items from across the regions Ukraine, rather than give a historical survey. The majority of objects are no older than the nineteenth century, but show the range of styles, colours and patterns traditionally favoured by different regions.




Detail of embroidered sleeves of women’s full-length shirts (sorochka dodil-na), from various provinces. Early 20th century, homespun embroidery thread on homespun hemp or linen cloth.


Hand-woven wrap skirts (plakhta, “zirchatka”), from various provinces. Early 20th century, wool, wool and cotton, wool and linen


Women’s woven sashes (kraika), Poltava province. First half of 20th century, wool.


Man’s Costume, Western Podillia. Late 19th – early 20th century


Woman’s costume, Ivano-Frankivs’k Province. Late 19th – early 20th century.

IvanGonchar19I was, of course, particularly drawn to the costume display, with its exquisitely embroidered linen or hemp full length shirts, worn under multi-coloured hand-woven woolen wrap-skirts tied with sashes. The amount of time that must have been spent making these outfits and all their constituent parts is staggering, and demonstrates the importance and pride placed in their making and wearing.


Woven rug, on which I failed to write down notes – if you visit the museum please let me know and I’ll update the info

The museum also has a display of ‘rushnyk‘ – long strips of cloth traditionally embroidered or woven with symbolic patterns and/or imagery. They still play a part in modern Ukrainian wedding ceremonies, being used to literally tie the bride and groom together at the wrists.


Embroidered ritual cloths (rushnyk), 18th – 20th century. Homespun linen or hemp cloth embroidered with wool or cotton thread.


Woven cloth, late 19th to early 20th century. Linen, hemp, cotton and/or wool.


Woven Krolevets’ ritual cloth (rushnyk “krolevets’kyi”), early 20th century. Cotton.

IvanGonchar17I loved seeing some of the tools of textile-making on display too – these giant wooden prongs are the combs used by weavers to separate threads.

Admittedly, my interest waned after passing the textiles section, so  apologies for the under-representation of the beautiful ceramics and paintings also on display..




Teapot (chainik), 1930s. Cherihiv Province, Korop District, Village of Verba.


Oven tile (kahlia pichna), mid 19th century. Ivano-Frankivs’k Province, City of Kosiv.



Folk Painting ‘Stepan and Yaryna’, by Yakylyna Yarmolenko(?). Mid-2oth century, Kyiv Province, Pereyaslav-Khmel’nyts’kyi District, Village of Stovp’iahy. Oil on panel.


Folk Painting ‘Oh there is a fire burning on the hill’, P. Shtorma, 1952. Kyiv Province, Obukhiv District, village of Husachivka. Oil on panel


The Ivan Gonchar Museum is open Tuesday – Sunday, 10 – 17:30.

Address: 19 Lavrska Street, Kyiv.

Nearest Metro station: Arsenalna


Kiev: Day 1 – tour

My arrival in Kiev was greeted with torrential rain, claps of thunder, and lightning so bright the pictures look as though they were taken in broad daylight.

lightning in Kiev on Make A GifSo I was rather surprised to have come back from my first day of sightseeing with dry clothes and sunburn.


Statue of Yaroslave the Wise, 10th century Grand Prince of Kiev, holding the cathedral of St Sophia

My guided tour began with the city’s ‘Golden Gate’, a reconstruction of the main entrance to the old city, under which a bit of 10th century wall is still preserved. The eighteenth-century zeal to recoat and paint ancient monuments also struck the city’s oldest church, St Sophia. Originally built by Yaroslav in the 11th century, its bright white, green and gold facade is hard to connect to the originally round-domed church within (as seen in the model held by Yaroslav in this statue) and its old frescoes and mosaics.

Outside St Sophia, and in several other parts of the city, clusters of candles commemorate those killed during the tragic events earlier this year.


the bell tower and entrance of St Sophia

IMG_1575The tour was sprinkled liberally with stops at statues – to make a wish on the lucky ear of the cat, the lucky ring and shoe of the lover, the lucky hand print on Yaroslav.. This, and my guide Hannah’s enthusiastic report on the importance of the number 13 and black cats, made me wonder if she, Kiev, or both, were just a little superstitious. However, my skepticism didn’t stop me wishing on the ear of the cat for peace in Donetsk.IMG_1560IMG_1598IMG_1592


A recently-painted mural on Andreevsky Descent

On Andreevsky Descent, we wandered past stalls selling antiques, embroidered Ukrainian shirts and tablecloths, and pottery bowls and ornaments, to number 13 – home to the Mikhail Bulgakov Museum. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pose for a picture with the bronze Bulgakov next to the museum, holding my (borrowed) half-finished copy of The Master and Margarita. The stranger who took my picture recommended reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand* next.

IMG_1911We then went on to Vichnoi Slavy Park, a popular spot next to the Dnipro river for couples to have their wedding photos taken, and tie a ribbon to the ‘love tree’. IMG_1624When the tour finished, I asked the guide to drop me off at the Ivan Gonchar museum and National Museum of Ukrainian Folk Decorative Art, which really need a piece of their own to properly do them justice.

*20/05/2014 My dad has warned me that Atlas Shrugged is “the most extreme neo-lib novel imaginable”, and it’s been described by critics as an “homage to greed”, and “shot through with hatred”. Perhaps I’ll try Gogol’s The Overcoat instead.

The cost of clothing

Tomorrow, it will be exactly a year since the Rana Plaza clothing factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1129 of the workers inside and leaving many more injured.

Groups around the world will be gathering to remember those who died and to protest against a global fashion industry that continues to trivialize and endanger the lives of factory workers.

Some clothing companies have signed an Accord on Factory and Building Safety in Bangladesh, but others have refused, citing liability concerns and instead agreeing to improve conditions but on less stringent terms. And, according to the Clean Clothes Campaign, only a third of the money needed by survivors and victims’ families has been paid, with many companies yet to pay any compensation at all.

It seems clear to me that the only way to prevent more accidents of the same nature, we, as consumers, must take a stand. Ultimately, if we don’t buy from companies whose practices fall short of our ethical demands, then they can’t continue to profit from those practices.

By changing the way we buy and treat our clothes, we can change the system for the better. Here are a few things we can do:

Choose carefully. Buy good quality, ethically-sourced clothes. Although the immediate price is higher, buying clothes with better quality seams and fabric will mean you buy fewer items of clothing and save money in the long run. Also, buying something you really really like means you’re more likely to look after it properly and make it last longer.

Don’t worry about ‘trends‘. The fashion industry coaxes more sales out of a saturated market by telling us we must keep up with the latest, constantly changing trends. In reality, finding clothes that fit and suit you is the easiest way to that rather furtive notion known as  ‘style’.

Buy secondhand. So much cheap, good quality and perfectly wearable clothing can easily be found on the secondhand market, from charity shops to upmarket vintage stores.

Take care of clothes. Properly cleaning, storing and mending clothes can hugely prolong their lives. Darning is really easy and, as Tom of Holland points out with his Visible Mending Programme, a mended patch can be worn as a badge of honour.

Buy handmade. Alongside the global fashion industry, there’s a growing global handmade market. Websites like Etsy make it easy to buy handmade clothing direct from the maker, and this means you can often request a particular size, colour or design. You can also find designer makers closer to home at local craft fairs and markets.

Make it yourself. Making your own clothing does require some time and equipment, but is pretty addictive once you get started. You can make clothes exactly how you want them to be, they’ll be completely unique, and it feels wonderful to wear something you’ve made yourself. It’s also really easy to get started – there are lots of excellent online tutorials and books for beginners, and many groups like our collective Craft Guerrilla who host workshops and craft nights.


If you’re in London tomorrow, join us on Oxford Street to mark the anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy. You can find more information on the event’s facebook page.

This interactive documentary by the Guardian newspaper tells the story of the Rana Plaza factory disaster and what has happened since. The Shirt on Your Back

Barrington Court

barrington19On our way back from Devon last month, we stopped off in Somerset to pay a visit to Barrington Court, a Tudor manor house near Ilminster.

As the first large property acquired by the National Trust, in 1907, Barrington Court was a bit of an embarrassment for them, since the repairs and maintenance costs were just a bit higher than anticipated (ie astronomical). It was only in the 1920s, when the property was leased to Colonel Lyle (of Tate & Lyle) that sufficient funds were provided to make the house watertight and visitable. Colonel Lyle also used the property to house his collection of wood panelling – much of it rescued from the many other large old estates being sold off at the time.

barrington16Unusually for a National Trust property, the house is devoid of furniture (and so also teasels and, largely, room attendants). It was surprisingly engrossing to walk through big empty rooms; instead of quickly becoming blasé about heaps of Chippendale chairs, tapestries, chaise longues, silver cutlery, Rembrandts, Staffordshire ceramics, crewel-worked curtains, four-poster beds, and family portraits, I followed my camera’s excited nose, focusing on the patterns of light created by the old wibbly-wobbly glass windows, and the impressive display of Delft tiles in every bathroom.barrington17

barrington21barrington23barrington24barrington25barrington26barrington27barrington28barrington31On the top floor, quiet wood-paneled galleries branch off symmetrically into light-filled vistas – like some kind of Tudor sci-fi film set, or how I imagine one to look anyway. A warm, woody minimalism.

I think the space reminded me of something futuristic because it felt oddly history-less. Without the curios and knickknacks of past inhabitants, Barrington Court gives visitors few chronological markers, letting them roam around with just their own ghosts for company.

barrington29barrington30 barrington32 barrington33

Bye bye Wool Week


Wool Week is nearly over. As anticipated, I spent much of it knitting, talking about knitting and lusting after other people’s knitting.

Much of this indulgence went on in a couple of visits to the Oxford Street branch of John Lewis, which has been playing host to five days of knitting workshops. What a wonderful event! But woefully under-advertised by the store. Their beautiful and entertaining ‘live knitting’ window would have surely attracted many extra customers both into the haberdashery department and the rest of the store if displayed up front. Instead, it was relegated to the far side of the building, where few but staff on their fag break got to see it.

Ah well, at least I can show you here.


I bounded up the escalators with great zeal and camera/ knitting needles at the ready; slightly nonplussed to discover, on my arrival at the haberdashery department, a distinct lack of Wool Week activity. Shop assistant not sure where it is. Am I in the right store? I wonder on way back down to the information point on ground floor.

Directed up to first – through shoe section and into ladieswear, round to the right – and eventually find the woolly haven. It’s an admittedly intimate spot, squeezed between clothes rails; browsers step over balls of wool and beanbags, knitters make friends fast as they rub elbows on squashy sofas. I meet today’s knitting gurus – Norwegian duo Arne and Carlos  – and get to work on Magnus Mouse. Having expected a variation on the beginners staple garter stitch square, I’m pleased to discover Arne and Carlos’ mouse cuts an elegant, elongated figure, knitted in the round on double-ended needles. After nearly two hours I am still working up Magnus’ ankle and am well into a continental style (left-handed) vs English (right-handed) knitting debate with Arne, Carlos and accomplished Canadian crafter Natalie Selles. Time to go, unfortunately, but will return – soon.



I return on Thursday night, armed with a better camera and greater resolve to use it. Meet the designer of tonight’s workshop and pattern, Sarah Hatton, who kindly demonstrates her extremely efficient underarm knitting technique. Her design for Rowan’s workshop this evening cleverly comes in garter, stocking stitch and cable options for all knitting levels. DSC_4874

DSC_4877DSC_4876DSC_4880There was some awesome cable needle accessorizing on the part of fellow knitter/ blogger, Snowfox of I am Snowfox.

Look, look!

DSC_4906DSC_4894DSC_4889DSC_4898Wool Week on Make A GifDSC_4915DSC_4888

We wrap up the evening snapping away at the Toft Alpaca team in their glass tank of yarn. I leave with a warm fuzzy feeling.

Goodbye Wool Week! Until next time..

next week: Wool Week

Somehow, knitting season has taken me by surprise all over again.

You might say that the wool has been pulled over my eyes (if you were a desperate blogger after any opportunity to throw in cheap and cheesy cliches to appear effortlessly silver-fingered; not a writer feeling laboured and awkward, spending an inordinate amount of time nose-deep in the thesaurus).

Nevertheless, I’m pretty taken aback to discover Wool Week (14th – 20th October) is here again. It seems like only last week that the beautiful Wool House was on display at Somerset House, but, in fact it’s been a full six months.

© 2013 Campaign For Wool

This time, the Campaign for Wool team have hooked up with John Lewis to host a week of FREE knitting classes. Each of the six classes is run by a different supplier, ranging from Christmas jumpers with Sue Stratford to snoods with Rowan (full timetable below). You can either secure a place in the morning or afternoon sessions, or drop in anytime in-between. There’s lots more info here on the Campaign for Wool website.

William Morris Gallery at the London Antique Textile Fair

Tomorrow the William Morris Gallery is off to the London Antique Textile Fair at Chelsea Old Town Hall. We’ll be selling books and cards, as well as giving visitors the chance to try their hand at printing with some very beautiful little Indian woodblocks.

I’ve never been to the Antique Textile Fair, but from looking at this video of their show in Manchester last year, it’ll be a challenge not to drool on all the costumes and fabrics on show .

It’s run by the Textile Society, who promote the study of textile disciplines and provide museum and student bursaries raised from the door entry funds from the fair. So it’s for a very good cause too.

See you there!

London Antique Textile Fair

Chelsea Old Town Hall, King’s Road, London

Sunday 6 October 2013, 10.30 – 16.30
Admission £6, Concessions £4 (all profits made from the door entry funds the museum and student bursaries granted by the Textile Society)

A little trip to Devon

I’m just back from a family holiday on the north coast of Devon. We did lots of walking, eating and generally enjoying all the things London’s not so good for – like clear air and bouncy turf and multicoloured pebbles and SEALS.

I didn’t take many photos, and those I did were taken with an eye for future knitting designs. Here they are, with a few notes.barrington09

On the way, we stopped off at Montacute House in Somerset. This Elizabethan house is full of interesting textile pieces, including a collection of samplers and a beautiful crewel-work bedspread. Understandably, the lighting indoors is kept low to protect these, so I couldn’t take any bloggable pictures.

Montacute House

the famous lumpy hedges at Montacute – a result of one year’s heavy snowfall squashing the trees


beach grass-inspired knitting in green, yellow and tan?

a Missoni-like zig-zag striped sweater in subtle shades of sand?


a Missoni-like zig-zag striped sweater in subtle shades of sand?


In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion

In all things related to the British monarchy, I wholeheartedly share Mark Steel’s views.

That being said, I can’t help having an awe and fascination for the exquisite monstrosities that only a budget unimpeded by common sense and commoner conscience can summon. So, this week I paid up £10.75 and paid a visit the Queen’s Gallery to see the exhibition In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion.


The curators successfully refocus our attention of familiar paintings (such as those of the young Elizabeth I and Edward VI) onto the changing fashions of the Tudor and Stuart courts. Alongside the paintings are displayed examples of clothes similar to those the sitters wear. Seeing the real clothes seems to bring the painted ones into our space, breathing life into them.

The oil paint on wood depictions are supposed to outlive their sitters and the fashions they proudly show off, so it’s incredible to see these sixteenth- and seventeenth-century garments still intact, let alone looking fresh. Their materials, cost and craftsmanship has inspired diligent care by a line of owners and now textile conservators to challenge the wearing effect of the passing of centuries.



Portrait of a Young Boy, by Paulus Moreelse, 1634.

The exhibition has some unexpected elements; it shows us that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, dresses were not just the garb of little girls and long curly periwigs were not the reserve of men.

I timed my visit to hear a ten-minute talk by one of the curators, Ann Reynolds (and I’m very glad to have made it on time). She chose the title of her talk Pretty Ladies dressed like men, from a comment by Samuel Pepys in his diary of 1660-69, to describe two unusual portraits – one of Frances Stewart, the other of Mary of Modena. The paintings contrast with the standard seventeenth-century depictions of courtly feminine beauty. In both, the usually bare arms and décolletage are hidden beneath outdoor masculine clothing, the usually delicately pinned-back hair is replaced by the impressively thick spaniel ears of periwigs, and both sitters (or, rather, standers) hold a sword. They remind us that, then as now, people play with identity by trying on different guises, expressions and masks.

Frances Stuart, later Duchess of Richmond (1647-1702). Painted by Jacob Huysmans (c. 1633-1696), c. 1664. Oil on canvas, 127.7 x 104.4 cm Royal Collection © Her Maj Queen Elizabeth II

tuastfashion2Another object in the exhibition quite literally plays with identity. A portrait miniature of Henrietta Maria, it comes with a set of transparent overlays to ‘dress’ the lady in different outfits. It’s hard to tell whether the set is supposed to honour or ridicule the wife of Charles I, since it was produced after the execution of the king. Is it commemorative or malevolent? Either way, it was designed to be entertaining.

The fact that half the surviving overlays are of masculine clothing is another example of seventeenth-century play with gender, although the intention behind it is obscure. Was the act of dressing Henrietta in, for example, the hat and collar of Oliver Cromwell, the ultimate form of mockery, or was it just another outfit in a courtly masquerade party – nothing to bat an eyelid at?

Set of mica overlays and miniature of Henrietta Maria (1609-1669), British school, c. 1650


The exhibition is both informative and thought-provoking, and the curators succeed in giving a clear picture of the fashions of the Tudor and Stuart courts. However, I found myself wishing for a little more social context: who made these clothes? Where did the materials come from? How were they made? What was the rest of the country, outside of the court, wearing at the time?

In a reimagined version of this exhibition I see a lord’s bejeweled bedcap sitting side-by-side with one of the countless knitted caps thrown into cesspits by Tudor city workers and later found there by 20th century workmen (many of these are now in the Museum of London collection). Also, there would be a map charting the journey of the silk for the thread covering that button, a recreated version of a Tudor taylor’s workshop, examples of the dyes used for Edward VI’s doublet..

But that’s all another exhibition.

In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion closes Sunday 06 October 2013.

Adult ticket £9.50 + £1.25 booking fee (make it a 1-year free pass if you remember to get it stamped on the way out)

Upton House & Gardens

upton03A little while ago I paid a visit to Upton House and Gardens with my family. Upton estate has a history going back to the 12th century. Little of this past, beyond the 1930s era to which it has been restored, is now evident, however the National Trust does a reasonable job of maintaining a ‘lived-in’ feeling in the house. A CD of shrill crooning played in the long gallery is made up for by samples of fresh scones in the kitchen (yes, the AGA still works!), and the garden is almost as abundantly populated with pumpkins as the pond is with equally fat orange carp.


Equal to the garden, the best aspect of Upton is its art collection. There’s a particularly impressive array of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Netherlandish paintings displayed throughout the house and in the terrific squash court gallery.

Highlights include:

  • Adoration of the Kings, Hieronymous Bosch, c.1495
  • The Death of the Virgin, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1564
  • The Interior of the Church of St. Catherine, Utrecht, Pieter Jansz. Saenredam, 1655–1660
  • The Duet or “Le corset blue”, Gabriel Metsu, mid-1660s

The Duet or “Le corset blue”, by Gabriel Metsu, mid-1660s


Upton House is located near Banbury, Warwickshire, OX15 6HT