Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Stories from the East

I've been on a bit of a roll with my posts lately. There's just so much I feel like I want to catch up on! 
This here one is inspired by a research I did a couple of years ago on the Russian fairy tales of Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Beautiful. I was read them as a child and they were quite chilling what with the witch who rides in a mortar steered by a pestle, and lives in a house made out of chicken bones that can run! The mad imagination and vivacity of the stories have stayed with me, and have inspired a love for all things Eastern European.

Baba Yaga as illustrated by Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin, riding her mortar back home.

Here is an image I found which I used as a character reference for the old grandmother - look at those eyes!
What I love about Baba Yaga is that she is not considered to be simply evil. She is also regarded with respect as a wise woman, despite her penchant for eating small children. Occasionally she will appear to be helpful, as a guider to lost souls, and seems to embody the saying "you reap what you sow".

Here is Vasilisa the Beautiful, a kind of Russian Cinderella. She is sent out by her wicked stepmother to visit the old grandmother witch Baba Yaga in the deep forest, to collect a flame so as to relight their fires and candles. The hut is built of dancing chicken bones, and a tall fence of human bones surrounds it, skulls glowing on staffs. After completing three impossible tasks, she is given a glowing skull to take home. She happily marries the Tzar of Russia after she weaves him the finest of cloths for a shirt. Yes. That's right.

Some beautiful maidens in their beautiful clothes. I learnt recently that the embroidery is focused on the collar, wrists and other spots likely to wear down as the thread work strengthens the cloth. I actually plan on making a simple blouse based these to wear hiking, as my shirts usually return absolutely shredded. And I want to look a little prettier than I normally do!

I found a website a long time ago (I'm afraid I could not find it again) with these collage/illustrations of the variations in peasant wear across the Slavic regions. They're so charming, and also really rather useful!

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