I thought that the Pavlovo Posad shawls were no more than a tribute to old traditions. That the shawls were fashionable a long long time ago - at the end of 19th and beginning of 20th centuries, when Boris Kustodiev painted burly young ladies with shawls with bright rose ornaments over their shoulders. I could not even imagine that this huge factory, occupying an entire block in a cozy provincial town, still prints almost a million scarves a year! I must admit that I had no idea how shawls and scarves were printed at all. My visit to the Pavlovo Posad Manufactory turned out to be incredibly interesting! So, I will tell you everything that I learned while wrapping myself in a soft paisley shawl.
It was founded in 1795 by the merchant Ivan Labzin in the village of Pavlovo. Initially, there was a weaving production here, then they began to dye fabrics and produce plain shawls. Until the middle of the 19th century, there were no shawls with flower patterns. At this time, thanks to family connections, the founder's great-grandson, Yakov Labzin, invited Vasily Gryaznov to be a business partner, and the factory caught its second wind. Since then artists have been going to Pavlovo, taking positions as draftsmen and drawing their first patterns.
The manufactory had its own shops in Moscow and provided headscarves to members of the Imperial families. The enterprise was one of the largest in Russia, almost 4000 people worked there before the revolution! Merchants equipped the city, built barracks for workers, schools, churches, monasteries. After nationalisation, the manufactory became Soviet. GOST (set of technical standards) and production plans appeared, in the best years the enterprise produced 25 million scarves a year.
Before the revolution, scarves were printed on boards. One was called “Flower" - colours were poured over it, the second “Manner" - an outline was printed on it. Drawings in the ‘manner' were burned in depth with a needle, a mixture of tin and lead was poured into narrow grooves. The work was delicate and painstaking. The production of printing boards itself (there were about 90 of them) took a year. That is why only a small variety of patterns existed at that time. They printed it neatly, placed boards according to the marks, and filled the grooves with fluff (which was taken in the weaving workshop), so that the paint would not spread. In order for the paint to be better imprinted, they hit the chock with a mallet. That's why it's called a printed shawl. The first "colourful scarf" was printed in 1860, it is kept in one of the museums in Nizhny Novgorod. The largest collection of branded shawls, about 40 pieces, is in the State Museum-Reserve in Sergiev Posad.
The Pavlovo Posad School of Designing Shawls has existed for a century and a half. And the artists fully follow the traditions. Flowers and ornaments on a scarf should be drawn in a very natural way. The main flower in the bouquet is a blooming rose. This canonical element is most often found on shawls. However, bouquets can be very different. Until the end of the 19th century, small flower ornaments were the trend; large ones began to dominate on scarves only at the beginning of the 20th century. At that time roses on shawls were in full bloom, on the shoulders of female merchants. It was these that the famous Russian artists loved to paint, such as Kustodiev, Malyavin and Vasnetsov. As for the colours, historically, scarves were printed on a dark background - black, dark green. Light backgrounds - beige, pale blue, yellow appeared at the end of the 20th century.
The most popular are wool shawls of the size 89x89 cm. The most expensive are the classic shawls at 148x148 cm. On the large shawls you can see iconic and the most classic patterns, with complex colours and compositions. Approximately 20% of the total number of produced scarves are replaced annually with new patterns in each size. The 'circulation' of shawls occurs constantly, but the old ornaments: "Horseshoe" by Stepan Postigov, "White Roses" by Lydia Shakhovskaya, "Roses and Rowan" by Ekaterina Regunova, are always popular. They always lead in sales. For example, the so called "haberdashery series” (all experimental designs with fashionable patterns) aren’t even close to being that popular! There are also popular shawls painted by one of the most famous artists Zlata Olshevskaya, who said that the Pavlovo Posad shawl should be so bright that it could stop a train.
If you suddenly find a perfectly preserved Pavlovo Posad shawl in your grandmother's chest, the old one, with the hallmarks of Labzin and Gryaznov, hurry up and bring it to the manufactory. They will buy it with great pleasure and for a good amount of money. Depending on the condition of the scarf, you can get up to 30,000 rubles. But such scarves are very rare, since 1995 the factory has bought only 15 rarities. Most of the products simply did not survive - they were frayed or eaten by moths. However, when old samples get into the hands of artists, they can restore them. They need to redraw the ornaments again, according to geometry and the lines.
It is easy to resume printing newer shawls. They just need to take the required set of templates from the storage and put it on the equipment. The factory has an archive that contains a large number of drawings and sketches, as well as samples of all the scarves printed since 1995. To restore a scarf, they need to draw the ornament again.
The Pavlovo Posad manufactory buys only wool yarn, everything else is done at the factory. In the weaving workshop, where huge cast-iron stairs lead, they work with threads and fringes, preparing the basis for future fabrics, and weave woolen cloth. The noise and vibration from 124 machines is unbelievable, but the design of the building, built in 1901, provides for special inter-floor structures. Only 5 people work in the weaving workshop, they control the process and reconnect the machines if a thread breaks somewhere. The manufactory makes a unique fringe, makes patterns and even mixes the colours - its own formula and shade for each scarf. The oldest sizing unit from 1958 still works, it is a grandfather of the manufactory! It spins five hundred bobbins at a time, winding the threads in parallel onto a reel of the future warp. By the way, in one spool there are 60 thousand meters of thread, you can unwind it from Pavlovsky Posad all the way to Moscow.
The manufactory buys only yarn from merino sheep, animals with very light wool. Only wool from the nape of the neck, with long, strong and soft fibres, used for producing shawls. Only 300 grams out of 4 kg of wool from one sheep will be used for shawls. Despite the fact that the color of the yarn is creamy, it will be bleached at the manufactory so that the dyes lay better on the cloth and the colours will not be 'greyish' i.e. dim. Before sending the fabric for printing, it is washed - the remnants of the sizing (the glue with which the threads are processed for the strength) are removed, then there is a plasma-chemical treatment, and then in a special machine, the fabric is stretched to the desired size and dried. This helps to make the shawl a stable size. After printing, the shawls are washed again. This time in a “zrelnik" - a steam-washing machine where excess dyes are removed from the fabric, and the dye is fixed in an acidic medium at a temperature of 90° C.
The factory has several printing machines and units that print scarves only on weekdays. The most inexpensive shawls are printed on a digital machine - it "creates beauty" day and night on silk and cotton. Mechanical printing is in-line. On an Italian machine, the templates are set in a row, and the rubber "carpet" on which the fabric is stretched moves under them.
The most expensive woollen shawls are printed with templates on tables. A set of templates is prepared for each ornament in a special workshop. Previously, scarves were printed using only 6-8 colours, today’s technology allows printing in up to 30 different colours. But usually between 17 and 25 colours are used. The cost of one set of these templates can reach $ 20,000.
The woollen fabric is stretched on a long printing table, an automated mechanism with the specific template moves and the dyes soak the wool from both sides. The templates are changed manually. The order is strictly defined, however, if the printers mix up the sequence, nothing terrible will happen. It is important to apply the outline with the first layer, and fill the background and border with the last one. The most important thing during this process is to control the accuracy of applying the ornament. It is important that nothing goes beyond the lines and there are no overlaps. Printed scarves are carefully removed and hung over tables to dry.
Craftswomen weave the fringes of the shawls by hand. They skilfully measure equal lengths with their eyes, and almost invisibly tie a knot in the silk string. The edges consist of “five squares", similar to the ideal size of a honeycomb, and are woven only on large shawls 148x148 cm in size; this is also the most expensive product that is produced at the factory. One craftswoman can weave fringes for only 2-3 scarves per day, each one takes at least two hours. Historically, the so-called “fringe women” worked at home. In the past, these home-workers worked with their whole family, many who grew up in Pavlovsky Posad still remember this – throughout their childhood, their parents asked them to weave fringes on scarves before doing any leisurely activities.
Their task seems simple at first glance, in reality it is rather difficult to draw a pattern in layers, keeping the templates in mind, and “building corners” – to do such work they need to think creatively. Artists draw sketches on Whatman paper with gouache paints. They draw the repetitive part of the shawl – the "quarter". Then the drawing is converted into a digital format and a special program collects all of the prints together for the shawl. Each artist is required to submit one drawing to the artistic council every two months, in other words, 6 works per year. They can't repeat any ornament, every time they need to come up with something new. They have to compete not only with their colleagues, but also with the artists of the past and their timeless creations.
Everyone wants love, even better earthly love. As well they want women's happiness and a dowry. Naming a shawl is like naming a child. That’s why only the designers name their works. Artists admit that it is sometimes difficult. They have already sorted out all the 'lovely names’: Love'n'dove, Darling and Desired, and Beloved; they already dedicated scarves to their mothers and daughters. Sometimes the name is already in the artist’s mind while creating the "scarf". Among the traditional names you can sometimes find very exotic ones, for example, "Pirate's Treasures". Bold names are welcome, but usually only on silk scarves. During the strict Soviet times, scarves only had a number instead of a name, with the exception of only a few large shawls such as "Gipsy Aza" or "Marya".
The artists work on the "recipe" for a new shawl for about two weeks, they are not allowed more than 4 trial versions before finalising each new shawl. For each sketch made on Whatman paper they come up with a few more variations of color schemes. In total 16, four per each color specialist, there are 4 of them in the department. Experts make hand-made samples of the whole print. There are thousands of shades in the library, but each scarf requires new shades. Previously, everything was done by eye, but now the color specialists use a computer. Even the formulas given by the machine are meticulously improved and corrected. By the way, I was surprised that the colours are not superimposed in layers on top of each other during printing, each color of paint prints separately. Trials are printed until a perfect sample is created. The process is endless.
The former co-owner of the Pavlovo Posad factory, Vasily Gryaznov, was canonised, despite the fact that the elder died with only the rank of a merchant of the first guild. But this canonisation happened only in 1999. The Holy Synod initially denied it two times, because it is not appropriate to build a holy monastery near a factory, where working people swear and drink vodka. Then the Bolsheviks intervened and nationalised the factory in 1920. The merchants were posthumously convicted. A book was even published for a propaganda effect, in which it was written that Gryaznov was a fake Saint and an old man, and an ideological film was released that ridiculed the merchants. But Vasily Gryaznov was a compassionate person in the world, he helped poor people, and donated a lot to churches and monasteries. In the '90s, the memory of Gryaznov slowly became good again, they returned to the idea of canonisation, and this time Vasily's merits were taken into account. By the time of his canonisation, the factory had produced a scarf dedicated to the Life of St. Vasily Gryaznov. Saint Basil of Pavlovo Posad is considered the patron saint of the Pavlovo Posad manufactory.
Almost none of the "fake scarf makers" produce shawls from wool, most fake shawls are printed on low-quality artificial fabrics. Also, they avoid printing on large sizes, because it is not profitable for them. The easiest way not to run into a fake is to buy a shawl either in an official store or on the official website www.platki.ru But even if you liked the scarf somewhere else, you need to check the details. First you need to study the size range of Pavlovo Posad shawls - 72x72 cm, 89x89, 110x110, 125x125, 146x146, 148x148. There are no other sizes made at the factory, so 100x100 cm is already a fake.
The second visible sign of a fake is the fringe. The fringe is sewn to the shawl on a fringe-machine, it is specially made for the Pavlovo Posad factory. There are no other such machines in the world. It binds the threads through a certain step. On fake shawls, the fringe is either sewn by hand where the length between threads is inconsistent and the product looks sloppy, or a trim is simply attached to the edge of the shawl.
It is a good idea to check the drawing carefully. You will never see contrasting transitions between colours on a Pavlovo Posad shawl. And as for the fakes, you will find completely unimaginable combinations. In addition, the curve and rough print will immediately be visible, where the patterns run over each other. You should also pay attention to the label - it will always contain the name of the artist of the drawing. The hallmark of the Pavlovo Posad shawl is the trademark - a rose in a diamond. It is printed on every scarf, without exception, at the corner and in same colours as the main print. There is also a radical way to check. If you set fire to a thread from a scarf, the wool one will melt and smell like a burnt feather, and the chemical one will smell like synthetic material.
In order to protect a shawl from moth larvae, scarves should be hung out in the cold. A temperature of about -5 to -7 ° C is sufficient for daily ventilation.
It is better to take the scarves for dry cleaning, but they will withstand light hand-washing in room temperature water. You can't rub the scarves. It is also highly recommended not to use any complex chemical detergents that might interact with the dyes. Dry the scarf after washing it on a horizontal surface. The manufactory advises not to get stuck in heavy rain or sleet while wearing the scarves.
The project "Four Seasons of Russia" is supported by the Russian Geographical Society www.rgo.ru
A trip to Pavlovo Posad is recommended by the Russian Geographical Society.
Additionally read about Russian artisan crafts here:
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Translation: Irina Romanova, Instagram: @astrabella1