The Russian invasion of Ukraine is affecting an unexpected community: embroiderers who buy patterns on Etsy. Board published a piece describing how American cross stitchers have been “devastated” by the recent suspension of Russian storefronts, including cross-stitch pattern shops that are, to the surprise of some artisans, heavily concentrated in Russia.
Cross stitch is a type of hand embroidery in which artisans sew designs onto fabric with Xs, often using a pattern as a reference. Designs range from fairly simple to incredibly complex, and start as low as $3, but can cost “a lot more” for complex pieces. Etsy is a popular place for cross-stitch embroiderers to find digital patterns, and a few weeks ago, cross-stitch embroiderers on Reddit began to notice that her favorite pattern shops had disappeared from the platform.
Board spoke with Russian artists and a historian to understand why so many cross-stitch pattern operations were based in Russia in the first place. One theory was that Russian Etsy sellers were hacking virtual patterns and reselling them, but designers attribute this to a rich sewing tradition in the country.
Maria Demina, owner of the popular LittleRoomInTheAttic Etsy shop, says, “The saddest part is that all the items are hidden away and no one can see the patterns I’ve been working on for the last seven years.” Demina connects the popularity of this hobby and the variety of digital designs in Russia not with piracy, but with national traditions, which were passed down from generation to generation. “I still have two shirts that my great-great-grandfather cross stitched,” she said.
Etsy did not say how many Russian shops have closed, but it is clear that cross-stitch is popular in the country and craftsmen abroad have benefited from Russian designs for sale online. Slate found about 3,000 cross-stitch groups on VK, a popular social media platform in Russia, and there are trainings and workshops beginners can take to learn the craft.
Store owners affected by the ban are understandably upset about losing their businesses and connections to global audiences. Vendors say they feel all their hard work was for nothing, with no end in sight to the restrictions.
Russia’s growing isolation is unlikely to cause a crisis in the country’s cross-stitch business and take it back to Soviet times, given the number of designers and their knowledge. But, as many pattern makers have admitted, the lack of cultural exchange and the inability to receive feedback from clients internationally have already affected their motivation. “I feel bad about losing the connection with people abroad, because it has encouraged me to continue working. These are stars, comments, messages from users. It’s all gone,” Alyona said.
the Board piece is a fascinating example of how supply chains can break even when products are digital. The story does a great job of demonstrating the unintended effects of Russian sanctions and war through a specialized but dedicated community, and the frustrations of sellers who have very few resources.