June 22, 2011 - 4:14 pm

From Russia … quilts, with love

There’s a great movie from 1966 called “The Russians Are Coming.” It tells the tale of a Soviet sub that got stuck in shallow water along a New England coast.

I won’t bother you with the details, but it’s pretty funny. Basically, the fierce Russians turn out to be pretty nice guys.  They even help save a local kid in distress.

Khrushchev ... truly a sole man!

I think Russians have a softer side. Cold warriors may disagree.  But I think it’s true. More on that – and why this has to do with colorful quilts – in a minute.

First a short history lesson. Russia has always had a macho thing going on. Its past features some pretty tough guys … the three Marxist amigos: Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky.  Khrushchev, who liked to pound his shoe on the podium at the United Nations.

Then there’s the current prime minister, Vladimir  Putin, who likes to be photographed sans shirt while he hunts, fishes, rides motorcycles and horses, and does other tough-guy things.  Supposedly, Russian women find this attractive.

Bad-guy Boris.

This tough-as-nails thing even carries over into popular culture.  Fans of  Rocky and Bullwinkle know of Boris Badanov, of course. (That No-Goodnik!) But Boris’s sidekick, Natasha Fatale, is no wallflower.  She’s supposedly the love child of Count Dracula.

But there are cracks in the macho veneer, I think. The biggest sign of change occurred a few weeks ago, in the city of Sochi.  There, officials announced the visual branding for the 2014 Olympic Games to be hosted there.

Not a clinched fist.  Not a Russian bear, nor revolutionary red banners. Not even Putin doing Old Spice commercials.

No, the theme is patchwork quilting.  Gorgeous, elaborate, colorful, never-ending patchwork quilts.

Olympic banners featuring patchwork quilts!

By 2014, if you’re an Olympics fan, you’ll see quilts everywhere. On clothing, on signage, on Russian trains, planes and automobiles.  Even on telephones.

The Olympics organizing committee wanted a special symbol to illustrate both the diversity and unity of Russia. So the 16 folk images within the patterns represent Russia’s different nations and cultures.

Based on the press conference, the designs were “created from the motifs of ornaments of the most famous Russian national crafts. Here we can see Uftyuzhskaya painting and Vologda lace, Gzhel and Zhostovo painting, Kubachi patterns and Pavlov Posad shawls, Mezenskaya painting and Khokhloma, Yakutsk patterns and Ivanovo chintz.”

And the message? The quilts contain “the character and reflection of the north and south of Russia, emotionality and moderateness, delicacy and expression.”

The patchwork palette.

Patchwork quilting has, in fact, a long tradition in Russia. Russia holds what is said to be the oldest example in existence of a quilted linen carpet. It was found in a Mongolian cave, and is now kept at the Saint Petersburg department of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ archaeology section.

And patchwork quilting, which began as a peasant tradition, soon spread upward to even the nobles.  Apparently Catherine, the wife of Peter I, “personally sewed a patchwork quilt for her husband as a gift.”

That popularity continues today.  If you Google “Russian quilt blogs,” you’ll get a bunch.  Here’s one of my favorites done by Russian quilter Dusha Tryapichkin.  The top item talks about how her club won a recent competition in black and white quilts.

Not all Russians are happy with this Olympic quilt theme.  The newspaper Pravda grumbled that foreign

On planes and trains, too!

tourists aren’t going to want or appreciate the complexity of the patterns.  They point to the World Cup in South Africa, where the departing symbol of that great event was the noisy, irritating vuvuzela – the horn blown by fans during the matches.

But I think Pravda’s wrong.  It’s a new age for Russia, now on a world stage.  Moderateness and delicacy are in.

So bless you, Sochi.  Your warmth of character shows in your quilts of many colors.

Even Natasha might approve.

(To see other cool photos from the press event, click here.)

Doug Weaver is the manager of book publishing at The Kansas City Star and an occasional contributor to KansasCityStarQuilts.com.

Filed under Doug Weaver

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.