House of Crafts - Crafts Workshops
Russian Folk Doll
The leader of Studio - Larisa Orlova

The Russian rag doll is simple to make, but possesses deep meaning. These lovely dolls are important survivors from our ancestors' world, which could be seen as a folk treasure. They keep  traditions and legends alive, which have always been so important to the Russian people. By passing ancient wisdom from one generation to the next, the Russian rag doll has been used down the generations to help people to survive and prosper.In collecting and restoring Russian rag doll folklore, we endeavour to understand and incorporate the knowledge our ancestors have left us. In turn, we pass it on to our children.
The doll was the most famous and favourite toy of the Russian people from times immemorial. It was an ever-present part of a person's life, from birth till death.
Playing inside or outside, children always took their dolls with them to play. They began to discover the world together. Their doll was their friend and helper; they shared their troubles and their happiness with it.
Many societies considered dolls as talismans and keepers of ancestral traditions. Naturally, the girls loved dolls and they were regarded as a pledge to family tradition and happiness. That is why people considered it a good idea for girls to play with their dolls until marriage. After the wedding, they took the dolls into the husband's house with the dowry.The Russian people knew and loved rag dolls. Every peasant had them at home and some families had dozens. The very first rag doll met the new-born in the cradle. The mother made it when she was expecting the baby. The baby grew and played with the doll, which still kept the warmth of its mother's hands.
        From the age of four or five, the children started making dolls. First dolls were made from two or three pieces of material without using scissors or a needle. The mother and any elder sister would help them at the beginning, before they had learnt to make their own. The children made them from anything they had to hand, during their games. The adults encouraged these games, as the child was learning to communicate, to be part of the household and was discovering the world around him.
Girls of 8 to 10 made dolls not only for themselves, but also for their younger sisters and brothers. By expertly making the doll, they demonstrated their readiness for an apprenticeship. The girls tried their best, as the older women in the family were examining the girl's handicraft, her doll and the doll's clothes, thus they judged the girl's readiness for real trade.The doll was dressed, but her face was not painted. According to folk belief, a doll without a face was considered without animation and thus inaccessible to evil spirits and angry powers. Made this way, it was harmless for the child. That is why a faceless doll was a toy and, at the same time, a talisman.  The dolls had special meaning for adults. Even in the 20th century the doll kept its original looks and purpose: it assisted bountiful harvests, animal yield, lucky marriage and childbirth. The fact that children were making a lot of rag-dolls, predicted a new child for the family. However, if the dolls were treated carelessly, it forebode illness.
The doll was supposed to ensure that many children were born, so dolls were  participants at the wedding ceremony. They were given to the bride to hold during the wedding feast and later given to the newly-wed as a present, as a wish for luck and lots of children. Even today we see wedding processions decorated with festive dolls, an echo of the ancient traditions associated to family longevity.
© Zapovednik of folk life (Russia)