In the remembrances of my childhood these starched napkins, lace pillow covers, and counterpanes smelling of naphthalene bring back associations with the neighbour's grandmother Olinka ... As I recall, when we used to ask her to show some pattern she would laugh and say «I'm too old, I don't remember, my grandmother used to knit it, after all...»
The art of fancy-work in Karabakh – knitting, fine needlework, lacing, applique – traces its roots back to the remote past. Marvelous handmade pictorial works reflect the color and national essence of the Karabakhian people.
The art reached its special development and characteristic national appearance in the classic Middle Ages in IV-XIV cc. By the light of lamp in dark and cold cabins our grandmothers used to create amazing fine goods that became the perfect samples of art. Wall adornments, counterpanes, towels, table-cloths, skilfully embroidered curtains – all this beautified the way of life and created cosiness and warmth.
Every marrying girl took with her as a portion things embroidered or knitted by her own hands and kept all this in scrappy bags called bokhcha. These were often works that were real masterpieces of fancy-work art. “… goods created by the women of Artsakh and derived colors cannot be compared with any other things,” - wrote the Arabian chronicler Al-Maksuddasi.
The technique of the Artsakh embroidery and the patterns of laces have much in common with the patterns of medieval khachkars – cross-stones in miniature.
Many original highly artistic embroideries bore the names of those places where they were created, gradually forming the school of fine needle-work. Such hearths of fine needle-work are known as fancy-work school of Dadivank, Shoushi.
Plant and animal patterns as well as flowered wreaths were used in the ornaments of embroidery.
Such stitches as sharakar (basting), chain-stitch, cross-stitch, buttonhole, velvet, hem-stitch, edging in chain stitches are widely used. Different threads were used such as cotton, linen, silk, woolen. Very often women used beads, pearls, precious stones, spangles and coins in embroidery.
Various patterns, ornaments, subject compositions and portraits were created on different fabrics like leather or felt. Even horse harnesses were embroidered.
With the development of technology at the end of 19th c. and at the beginning of 20th c. machine embroidery appeared and gradually replaced manual embroidery.
Lace work is as traditional and ancient as the art of needle-work. Passing from one generation to another and enriching with new elements and methods the art of lace-work became more perfect. Laces knitted with needle or crocheted had different types of interesting ornaments, deeply national style and rich color spectrum. The ancient patterns such as geometry, plant patterns, images of birds and animals are still preserved in Karabakhian laces. Airy tender laces are woven from white threads.
The Artsakhians perfectly mastered the art of lace-work both with needle lace and crochet. Usually shirts and kerchiefs were ornamented with needle lace; also decorative napkins and covers for lamps and samovars, or bed-corners were knitted. With the help of needle and thin thread by simple patterns and circles a great number of beautiful laces were created.
Crochet is the favourite instrument of Artsakh women. A clew of thread and a crochet hook harbour boundless opportunities for creative work. The knack of knitting is useful in housekeeping – it helps to restore old things, renewing them and giving them new life.
Women also laced without any instruments, just by fingers – artistic lacing.
Among knitted goods socks named shatals occupy a special place. The original ornamental design makes them the real masterpieces of art. On both sides of socks, under and lower, squares are knitted with open-work ornaments round. Ornaments differed depending on the imagination and skilfullness of knitters. Among ornaments were images of birds, plant patterns, and very often the symbol of eternity. Elements of stripes and ringlets were also used in the ornamental design of socks. Socks-shatals were knitted with the help of knitting needles and crochet from the woolen and cotton threads, goat’s wool and silky threads.
And now in almost every house something from grandma's dowry has been preserved – embroidered pillow, lacy cape or a couple of socks – knitted and reknitted but having kept the old decorations.
Today traditional fancywork is taught in Stepanakert School of Art, thus trying to revive and keep this art alive for future generations. In some villages the traditions of Karabakh embroidery has been successfully retained as well.
One can buy the samples of the modern Karabakh fancywork in souvenir shops in Stepanakert, as well as at the Folk Architecture Museum of Ethnography and Rural Life (Nikol Duman House Museum) in the village of Tsaghkashat of Askeran Region. There the visitors can admire the collection of Karabakh embroidery and lace of XIX c. as well.