Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Podniza Documentation

Boiarynia Katrusha the Skomorokh

The joy of a Russian persona is that all women's clothing was, more or less, exactly the same differing slightly in fabrics but mostly in trims and ornamentation. One of the most popular ingredients of ornamentation were pearls. Pearls could be used in many ways, from sewing them directly on to an outfit or couching them on with embroidery. Because pearls were such an easy thing to find all over Russia, it is not surprising that many women would create podniza, veils attached to their hats that would hang about to their eyebrows, as forms of decoration. It could take hundreds of pearls, depending on how tight knit you wanted your network to be. Because of the amount of work it takes to make one of these, it was not strange to find them passed down from mother to daughter and re-attached to hats. The first time they may be seen is on the crown like hat that is placed on a woman's head when she gets married.

Hats, in general, were a part of Russian culture that could designate your status. Depending on the style of hat, types of decoration, it could easily be seen whether you were married or a maiden and what role you played in society. A kokoshnik, for example, was a crown like hat. Usually the ladies of high society liked to keep their kokoshnik smaller, more crown like, while the towns women inflated them to much larger sizes. It is no wonder, with the hats so large and ornamental, that the hundreds of pearls could be seen as a stabilizer for the hat.

There were a few key points usually found on hats. First were the riasny. These had started in history as a Byzantine accessory and usually was only seen in court headdresses. They were normally ten to twelve inch long strings of pearls that dangled coins, or kolti, at the bottom for the sound. These riasny were attached to the hat rim directly over ones ears. Later, the riasny became more decorative, using strips of gold fabric that would then be heavily ornamented with pearls and jewels, but kept the same length as before.

12th - 14th century Russian headdress adornments
Photo courtesy of Secret Chamber of Kremlin

The second aspect of the hat was the ubrus, a scarf that would be folded in half and either draped or attached to the back of the hat. It would then sometimes be pinned about under the chin of the wearer, or it could be left hanging down the back. Either way, it was said that some ubrus were decorated just as heavily with pearl trimmings and metalic embroidery.

The third aspect of the hat, finding a counter balance all the way around, was the podniza. The podniza first appeared in the Muscovite period of Russia, and it was an open lace work structure that formed a decoration on the front of the headdress. The net of small pearls usually attached to the front of the headdress and stretched from ear to ear where the riasny hung, covering fully over the forehead and hanging nearly to the eyebrows. This acted in a manner to not only stabilize the hat, but also fashionably extend the hat band.

Podniza are created by making small loops of pearls where each row attaches to the middle of the loop on the row above it. Not all podniza encorporated only pearls, though. Nor did they all only stretch the front of the hat. There have been finds of the podniza having fine metals or jewels being encircled by the pearls or even dangling, much like the riasny, to make soft sounds when the wearer moved. This could perhaps be attributed to the fact that noise was seen as a way to banish evil spirits in your path. There have been finds of the podniza being sewn onto fabric, as well, much like the riasny that came later. There have also been finds of a longer veil like podniza attached to the back of the hat instead of an ubrus.

In either case, podniza was a fashionable item to put on the headdress that also helped to weigh it down, with the help of the riasny and the ubrus, to keep the large ornamental hats from tumbling off the head. I have made two podniza, the first being made from glass pearls (which was not uncommon for a peasant to use). The second one was made of small irregular shaped pearls as I am certain that not all pearls found in the streams of Russia had been perfectly shaped. I started with a straight line of pearls before starting the looping network in a horizontal manner. I have heard doing it vertically makes it a little stronger and gives it more elasticity, so I may try that next time. I also plan to add in the metal discs or pearl flowers to the next podniza.

                                                                             Fig 1

                                                                            Fig 2

                                                                       Fig 3

Some different examples of podniza:
Fig 1: The podniza appears to be sewn onto a band going around the hat and appears to interchange between pearls and metal discs.
Fig 2: Another example of a podniza interchanging between pearls, discs of metal, and jewels. This is also a great example of a podniza extending all the way around to create an almost veil behind the head. This is also a headdress of a married woman.
Fig 3: Here is a maiden's headdress with a much shorter podniza than the married woman's headdress, but it still goes all the way around the back of the head.

All drawings copyright Julia Sepanova.


Kies, Lisa. Women's Headdress in Early Rus. http://shadow-cat.150m.com/Costume/rusheads.html (April 3rd, 2011).

Pouncy, Carolyn Johnston. The Domostroi: Rules For Russian Households in the Times Of Ivan the Terrible. Cornell University Press: London. 1994.

Pushkareva, Natalia. Women in Russian History: From the Tenth to the Twentieth Century. M. E. Sharpe: Armanok, NY. 1997.

Rostovskogo, MordakTimofei. Class Notes “The Practical Clotheshorse Embroidered: 16th Century Russian Decorative Stitchery and Pearling.” 1997.

Sepanov, Julia. History of the Russian Traditional Suit. http://archcostume.narod.ru/index.htm (February-April 2011).