Chapter: Body and Soul

Rushnyk (embroidered towel)

"Something to keep from birth to death"
Roshnyk embroidered hemp towel from Western Ukraine Rushnyk (embroidered towel)


Mass production has led to a more disposable society; our possessions are often only a few years old, rarely more than a couple of decades. In contrast the rushnyk was an item a person would have with them from the cradle to the grave.

Gifted to them at their birth it would be used during their baptism, to cover religious icons, decorate homes, for marriage and lastly at their funeral to line their coffin.

This particular rushnyk is from the village of Kuzivka, Ternopil'ska Oblast (district), Western Ukraine. It is made of hand-woven hemp and adorned with region-specific embroidery and colours. This artifact is unique to Eastern Europeans.

From the late 1800s to the early 1900s a massive wave of Eastern European immigrants, facing difficult hardships in their homelands and being sold on the idea of great opportunities in Western Canada, started to arrive in Manitoba. Immigrants were usually only able to bring a few possessions with them. The fact that they brought rushnyks demonstrates the importance placed upon them.

Many of the new arrivals did not find the opportunities that were promised. They struggled with the harsh climate, isolation and racism. However, the rushnyk provided a comforting and physical connection back to their homeland.