The Lord Blessed Handicrafts

An interview with Tatiana Batura, a gold embroidery artist

"...This is a real salvation for a person to be doing church embroidery these days! It is first of all mental harmony, solitude and silence; it is constant, fervent, and sincere prayer, a conversation with yourself and with the saint whose image you embroider; it is fear, tears, and joyI thank the Lord for being so merciful as to allow me to learn this ancient and wonderful craft!"

There was a time when Tatiana Batura did not know anything at all about gold embroidery. It was thanks to the Lord's Providence that she heard about it fourteen years ago in St Elisabeth Convent. At that time, there was no place in the entire country where one could go and learn how to make gold embroidery. Nevertheless, Tatiana began dreaming of using this ancient technique to embroider icons. Her desire could not but come true!

I had been eager to see the icons embroidered by Tatiana Batura, a sister of mercy of St Elisabeth Convent, for a long time. Finally, we agreed to meet. It was a cloudy and chilly December evening. It was raining, which made it even harder for me to leave the comfort of my house and drive to the other side of Minsk. However, after I met Tatiana Batura and her apprentices, my mood experienced a radical transformation, as if I wasnt tired and the weather was perfectly fine.

We had an open and honest conversation. The fact that we share the same name instantly made us favourably disposed to one another. Plus, it turned out that Tatiana teaches icon embroidery and gold embroidery in St Tatiana Church.

When was your icon embroidery and gold embroidery club founded?

It looks like this is fairly recent but if you start counting, I have been teaching here for eight years already. We launched our needlework club with the blessing of the Most Rev Metropolitan Philaret in 2007.

How did you learn this ancient craft of gold embroidery?

It was the Lord who led me into this. Gold embroidery is the most important part of my life. I put a piece of my soul into each work. I learned about this rare type of embroidery in 2002 when His Holiness Alexis II, the Patriarch of Moscow, visited our city. I attended a service in the House of Mercy and then went to St Elisabeth Convent where I accidentally overheard a woman asking Father Andrew Lemeshonok where she could learn to do gold embroidery. I immediately thought,Although my legs ache, I can still learn to work with my hands, making something really valuable and necessary.Since that day, I started looking for a place in Minsk where I could learn this craft. I went around asking everyone where I could learn to make gold embroidery but I could not find a teacher. A nun I knew advised me to attend a handcrafts club of the House of Mercy.

Order Vestments from the Workshops of St.Elisabeth Convent

I spent a year studying there. There was little information about this craft at that time. We tried to find additional information in the Internet but we could understand very little without proper explanations. Anyway, I could not stop at that. There were several other people who, like me, were eager to learn this difficult and scrupulous craftpainting with a needle, as it is referred to poetically.

I thank God for meeting Valentina Vazhnova, a remarkable woman who taught needlework in the House of Veterans. She agreed to enroll into gold embroidery course in Moscow, organised by the Museum of Decorative and Applied Arts. She would travel to Moscow every week and then share her newly-acquired skills and knowledge with us. That was not unlike distance learning. It took us two years to study the nuances of gold embroidery in such a way. When the course was over, we sent our icons to Moscow in order to receive our certificates. Teachers in Moscow were surprised: our works were better than those of other students!

So can we say that the ancient tradition of gold embroidery continues in our country?

Unfortunately, there was a time when the craft of gold embroidery was completely forgotten in our country. There are museums of gold embroidery in Russia, for instance, and they have many places where one can learn this craft. On the contrary, we had to gather information literally from everywhere: we would look for and then order rare books from Moscow. Of course, we would be interested to see the exhibits of Russian museums. Those who are involved in this craft consider themselves lucky if they have the chance to see something new. In fact, there used to be various schools of gold embroidery in Russia in ancient times. In Belarus, St Sophia of Slutsk and St Manefa of Homel made gold embroiderythis is mentioned in their biographies.

Luckily, there are people who can do gold embroidery in our country, too. There is even a gold embroidery workshop in our St Elisabeth Convent. The fact that monasteries and convents are at the forefront of this revival of old traditions is wonderful. Gold embroidery is a very ancient and beautiful craft. It was mentioned in Russian manuscripts as early as the 11th century. It was originally invented and used in monasteries. Later people started using gold embroidery for decoration of clothes. It was then that court workshops appeared in the palaces of princes and aristocrats.

How difficult is it to master the skill of gold embroidery today?

If you are keen on it and if you possess a lot of patience and diligence, you will learn everything with time. The programme of our club covers three years, with classes every week. Eight people have already finished this course. Now a third group is about to finish the course, too. There are people who live in Minsk and in other cities and towns among our students. People come to learn gold embroidery from various cities and regions. I never work with more than five students because the technique is very complicatedartistic embroidery pales in comparison with itso I have to pay as much attention to each student as possible. It takes months to embroider just one icon.
We begin with samples, some specific elements. The feeling when we begin to embroider faces of saints, the Mother of God, Jesus Christ — it is very special: work turns into incessant prayer. You literally cringe under the burden of this huge responsibility and fear. Later, when the faces are ready, there comes grace.

Can you describe some of your works to our readers, please?

I've made quite a few of them in the recent years! I embroider icons, bookmarks for the Gospel and prayerbooks, vestments for priests, crosses for straw mitres, and Easter eggsI have embroidered faces of St Peter and St Paul, Mother of God of Vladimir, Mother of God of Kazan, St Euphrosyne of Polotsk. My works and works by my students are in many churches in our country, as well as in Jerusalem and on Mt Athos. I feel so happy when I can bring someone a gift made by my own hands with love and prayer for their special occasion.

Why do people continue to do handicrafts nowadays? It is so labor-consuming and takes so much time, you know

It was the Lord himself who blessed handicrafts. It is an essential, an integral part of a woman's life, especially the life of an Orthodox woman. At least, this is what suddenly dawned on me one day. I never did anything like that before, but now I cannot imagine living without it. Speaking in particular about church embroidery, this is a real salvation for a person to be doing it these days! I try to do some needlework every day. Church embroidery is first of all mental harmony, solitude and silence; it is constant, fervent, and sincere prayer, a conversation with yourself and with the saint whose image you embroider; it is fear, tears, and joyI thank the Lord for everything I have, especially for him being so merciful as to allow me to learn this ancient and wonderful craft!

By Tatiana Shimko

February 16, 2016