A specific type of needlepoint talisman existed in Russian tradition. It was a long and wide towel-like piece of cloth decorated with sacred symbols. Each dialect of Russian language used a special word for such a talisman. Northern Russians said “plat”, people of Central Russia knew words “roushnik” and “shirina”, Ukrainians and Southern Russians called these talismans “ubrus”. Plats must be used for ritual purposes only; it was strictly prohibited using them as regular towels (e.g., for wiping tables or drying hands). These talismans could be of enormous size (up to 7 meters long).
Usage of plats for village rituals was diverse. People tied plats around their bodies, hanged plats on carriages, gates, or roofs (depending on a ritual), or exchanged plats as a proof of a pledge (e.g., for a ceremony of engagement). Special type of plats (bozhatka – “dedicated to the God”), decorated with church-approved patterns, embellished bozhnica – a family altar with Christian icons.
Farmer’s lifestyle included many ceremonies and rituals. Any of these rites required usage of plats. Therefore, each village family should possess an array of plats embroidered with different symbols. In the 19th century, villagers told researchers that middle-class family usually had up to 100 plats (for rich people, up to 300 plats).
A set of plats came to a family as a part of a dowry. It was a responsibility of young girls to supply their future families with ritual embroidery. Village girls started studying needlepoint at their age of 7-8. First, their elder sisters taught younger ones in stitches and techniques, which were in use in this particular region. Then, when girls became 12-13, senior women let them into a core part of magic: symbolic meaning of patterns and colors. To their 15, future brides became experts in “needlepoint wizardry”.
Even after 1917, when Russians started to forget ancient knowledge, some details and symbols persisted. For instance, village people remembered that the hemline of a young man’s shirt should be decorated with floral motifs. However, symbolic meaning of such decoration was totally lost. Consequently, embroidered patterns became “modern-looking”, and changed their archaic and magical red-and-white palette to insensible multi-colored mix.
Plats were believed to work as talismans- they could protect a child from disease or spiritual harm, bring love and harmony to a family, help to find a good job offer, etc. The patterns of Plats were treasured and passed on to other generations with care to ensure minimum change in the pattern. It was believed that this helped retain the magic in the Plat. Russians believed that the most important places of people’s homes such as a baby’s cradle, newlyweds’ room, or workspace of a craftsman should be decorated with these Plats. A dowry of a peasant bride ordinarily included 30-40 plats with different symbols for various situations and purposes. Plats were traditional gifts used to express respect, gratitude, or friendliness.