Beautiful embroidered wedding towels are still used by Ukrainian couples on their big day. Though, these days, only 1 rushnyk mostly appears during the ceremony, while in old times, dozens of such ornate towels were used. There is even a curious and funny wedding superstition regarding the traditional rushnyk. It seems Ukrainians really love their tradition of needlework, and so they buy or make embroidered towels for the wedding even in the 21st century.
Photos are from “Wedding Ukraine” exhib in Viktor Yushchenko Museum of Ukrainian heritage (situated in Kyiv outlet village “Manufactura”).
In Ukrainian culture, an embroidered towel called “rushnyk” is a very important item. Such towels are used as a ceremonial cloth at Ukrainian weddings even today. Almost any modern wedding ceremony includes a rushnyk, not to mention folk weddings. This tradition is honored and used in Ukraine for centuries.
Various traditional wedding pastries and bright wedding towel
The main purpose of the rushnyk is to symbolically link the bride and groom. A large embroidered towel is put on the floor during the Christian wedding ceremony in the church and the couple steps on it and stays there during the service. There is even a wedding superstition connected to a rushnyk – who steps on the towel first (bride or groom), will be the real head of the family and will make all the important decisions. So, sometimes, they are going out of their way to be the first one to step on the wedding rushnyk.
Rushnyk at a traditional wedding was more than a peculiar décor. It was also a part of the outfit for every participant of the event. The bride-to-be embroidered a towel for each relative and friend who would take part in the wedding ceremony. So, there were at least 20 handmade towels – hand-woven towels from hand-spun yarn and decorated with intricate needlework. Even the poorest girls tried to prepare as many rushnyks as they could afford. So we can tell that the embroidered towel was also an indicator of wealth and social class of the bride.
The embroidery patterns on rushnyk changed throughout the centuries, but the most widespread and desirable pattern was and still is the Tree of Life. It is a symbolic depiction of a tree that symbolizes a family, its happiness, wealth, and well-being.
In some regions of Ukraine, these towels were woven on a loom rather than embroidered.
Hand-woven towel that serves as wedding table decoration