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Russian Tradition of Birch Bark Braiding
May 7, 2015 08:36

Birch bark products were manufactured in lots of Russian provinces. Bast shoes, boxes, baskets, caskets, suitcases, children's toys, and painting frames – all those things were braided of birch bark.

Birch bark is a beautiful and enduring material for wickerwork. Healthy and mature birch trees usually have very smooth, clean and lustrous birch bark. It is well extendable, hardly breakable, and waterproof and can stay in water and soil for a long time without rotting. These properties account for a wide range of application of birch bark. Birch bark braiding requires simple equipment, such as knives, needles, and blanks.

There are three methods of braiding: oblique, straight and pattern ones. Oblique braiding is applied in case of angled things (such as suitcases, caskets, and boxes), straight braiding suits cylindrical items, and pattern braiding is used for creating ornaments.

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Birch bark is collected in the early summer, when birch sap movement stops. Birch bark sheets are oiled and laid down horizontally in equal pieces. Afterwards they are cleaned, divided into layers, and cut into strips, which are braided into summer footwear, cases and boxes for storing flour and grains, and saltcellars. In the early 20th century townsfolk liked to purchase handbags, small suitcases, small berry baskets, briefcases for papers, glove boxes, various frames and pocket cigarette cases.
Birch bark canes enjoyed great popularity among townsfolk in Russia and abroad. A cane was made of birch bark circle work pieces put on a steel rod. Its upper point was decorated with a wood carved knob in the shape of a horse or a lion head. Such canes were manufactured back in the 1940s by the Ideal artel. This trend was revived by the Handyman association. The enterprise played a considerable role in preserving and development of birch bark wickerwork. It created new samples of wicker items and trained skilled outworkers.

With the influx of industrial home goods to rural areas the handicraft of birch bark braiding was forgotten and even seemed to be lost for all.
Only at the end of the 20th century it started to be revived with the upsurge of interest in the history of the Russian people and their traditions.

There appeared a number of truly outstanding experts, who won wide recognition of the professional community at various exhibitions and competitions. They excelled in creating refined birch bark handbags, pencil boxes, trays, tableware, and cases of various size and purpose.

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Author: Vera Ivanova

Tags: Folk Arts Arts and Crafts Birch Bark Woodwork  

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