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Traditional Russian Doll

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In Russian folk tradition doll is not just a toy, it symbolize a person. In this role it focuses on time, history, culture of the country and its people, reflecting the process of their development. Doll is a way to learn more about life both of those who create it and of those who play with it. In present-day Russia it becomes the live means for communication and folk traditions study. In past this small human-like figurine played a magical role, was a sort of an amulet. It “took part” in different rituals, festivals associated with the real life events – birth of a new baby, wedding ceremony, death etc.

There is a surprising similarity of dolls in different nations. They are connected not only by origin (toy dolls usually come from ritual ones) but  also by generally accepted human values and ideas: procreation, parents’ care, attitude to the ancestors. Hand-made toys served to our ancestors as a sort of genetic code showing  landmarks in their life cycle. That’s why there were accidents in the process of their making - everything was meaningful.

As a rule, a doll was just simple imitation of the woman’s figure made of a textile, rolled around the stick, face coated with white linen, breasts shaped like two soft balls, plait decorated with red ribbon, and colorful costume, either everyday or festive. Red shreds were most valued – red color has always been considered as protective color, symbolizing life itself and fertile power of Nature. Dolls were given to relatives and close friends, aiming at strengthening family ties, which was one of their sacred functions. In families as toys for kids dolls were usually made (“rolled“) of warn-out clothes. That was not because of poverty, but mainly as a ritual “blood/kin relations”.  Parents’ worn-out clothes were considered to keep the kin power and being personified in a doll were transferred to the child, having become the amulet.  For the same reason the new-born baby was swaddled in parents’ underwear, swaddled in old pieces of textile.

To make dolls they often used lower parts of women’s garments and aprons for these parts having been in contact with the ground accumulated its power and got the most sacred meaning. It was important not to cut shreds by scissors but to tear them - such a toy was believed to keep the wholeness of their small owner protecting against damages and flaws. Doll-making was considered to be merely  female business. Men were not allowed even to observe the process. The fate of the family and kin was believed to depend on the quality of the maker’s labor. Before the process the woman “tuned” herself for the process and pronounced a special positive charm. Girls started to make first dolls at the age of 12-13. Looking at the quality of dolls a conclusions was made if the girl is ready for marriage or not. The most beautiful dolls were kept close to the chest and were the part of dowry. With the purpose of protection against evil powers dolls were made” mute” (mouthless), with clear  face and  nameless.

The common collective words for all dolls: ljalki, matryoshki, manki, tsatski.  
A doll could be very simple, made of a handkerchief with knots – a knot  has always been  one of the elements  protecting from sorcery. “To make a knot for memory” – meant to keep in mind, not to forget.


For a long time researchers did not try to look inside of a textile doll, where it's main mysteries were hidden. There are several types of them depending on the way of making: stolbushka (log-type doll), krestushka (cross-shape doll), a doll on a stick, a knotted  doll, pelenashka (swaddled doll), zakrutka (rolled doll), stuffed-doll (filled with grain, herbs etc.) In spite of all differences any doll was a reflection of a mythological world arrangement, eternal  recurrence in Nature and human life.

Simple doll’s three- part shape, corresponds  to the world pattern consisting of sky, ground and underground. Cross-shaped dolls indicated also  4 parts of the world. As a rule, in the middle of this construction was a slanting cross - a symbol of the world fire, the powerful  clearing impulse, responsible for bringing into life new  things instead of old ones.


Facelessness  is also one of the ancient mysteries of a textile doll. Among peasants it was always prohibited to portray  the face itself (eyes, mouth, nose, brows). When asked: why a doll is faceless, a peasant women replied that it doesn’t need it at all, that they do not need extra eyes at home. It meant that a doll with eyes could be dangerous for a child, as nose, mouth and eyes are the gates through which the cosmic powers can affect us - both light and dark. Therefore, it would be better  to keep these  gates closed. A faceless doll is detached from a lively human-being. It  is blind, deaf and mute – it is on its own. Only in such a dead silence it is possible to keep the mystery of the kin, the family.


The frequent  element of the textile doll is a plait. As a rule, it was made of linen tow, sometimes - of real hair which was collected after combing  specially for a doll. In the folk tradition hair, especially ladies’ ones, is associated with enormous energetic power of the solar goddess.
A plait weaved in three tresses symbolizes the harmony of  World's Trinity. Not by chance it was prohibited to cut kids’ hair during  one year after birth - hair means connection with the mother, her protection. This tradition has being kept up till now - people believe that it is quite easy to bring harm to a person having got his/her  hair. That is why hair was never thrown away - it was burnt or hidden in a special place. Using real hair in the process of doll-making women thus made it a member of the kin.