MOSCOW-Since the start of Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine, Western brands are rapidly leaving the country, which makes the search much more difficult. cars, furniture, Phone(s)and clothes. But the change has also affected more unexpected businesses. Early March, after PayPal announcement close its services in Russia, Etsy suspended Russian stores “due to expanding trade restrictions, including multiple payment processors and credit cards ceasing operations in Russia.”
That’s how many American fans of cross stitch – a needlecraft in which you sew tiny Xs over and over to create a pattern on fabric – have discovered that many of their favorite digital pattern makers came from Russia. Cross stitch will pay anywhere from around $3 for small, simple designs to much more for large, intricate designs, all of which can be instantly downloaded after purchase. They can also pay significant sums for custom designs. After Etsy unplugged Russia, stores with thousands of five-star reviews and a large number of sales suddenly disappeared. “Did the cross stitch pattern makers go through a purge or something?” a Reddit user demand. In a way, yes, and it’s a fascinating example of how even the digital supply chain can be concentrated in one geographic area.
Once online cross-stitch enthusiasts realized the change had come about because of Etsy’s store suspension in Russia (Etsy didn’t respond to questions about the exact number of closures), many began to wonder why so many of them were based there in the first place. Because of a Russian tradition of textile craftsmanship? Or, as another theory puts it, because of Russian Etsy users stealing virtual patterns? We spoke to some of the shop owners to find out why Russia is so rich in cross stitch pattern makers and what it is like to see their shops closed.
Maria Demina, owner of the popular Etsy shop LittleRoomInTheAttic, says, “The saddest thing is that all the items have been hidden and no one can see the models I’ve been working on for seven years. Demina connects the popularity of this hobby and the variety of digital designs in Russia not with hacking, but with national traditions, which have been passed down from generation to generation. “I still have two shirts that were cross-stitched by my great-great-grandfather,” she said.
Although Russians have been embroidering for centuries, cross stitch patterns were not originally created there. The tradition was introduced to Russia from Europe at the end of the 18and century, said Irina Churina, a historian and lecturer at St. Petersburg Technical College. According to her, it was first a hobby of aristocrats, who could buy expensive patterns and supplies for cross-stitching, but soon citizens learned to copy patterns and dye thread, making the affordable craftsmanship. “Empresses and noble women around them cross-stitched, as well as nuns and ordinary women living in cities,” Churina said, adding that towards the end of the 19and century, needlework became accessible to peasants. In Soviet times, citizens continued to cross-stitch despite the extreme shortage of supplies. “Cross-stitch threads dyed with tea, iodine, plant juices. The issues of Western Burda magazine, where antique patterns were published, were worth their weight in gold,” says Julia Pushkina, a collector and researcher of ornamental sewing from the 18and and 19and centuries. In the 90s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, cross-stitching exploded in Russia; according to Churina, one of the reasons was the interest in the lifestyles of the Russian noble class in the past: “A woman with an embroidery frame is a classic image of Russian literature.
There are now about 3,000 cross stitch groups on VK, the most popular social media platform in Russia. The largest of them has nearly 200,000 members. Designers, needlework and cross-stitch influencers, many of them young people, have recently begun to challenge the stereotype that needlecraft is an old-age pastime. They launched an Instagram campaign under the hashtag #вышиваютнетлькобабушки (“not just grannies embroider”), and around 1 million posts have been made using it. According to experts, there are hundreds of independent Russian designers selling their exclusive designs online. One of the reasons for the popularity of this profession is the availability of tutorials for model makers. Kseniya Adonieva said she and her colleague Natalia Orekhova had trained more than 800 designers since 2010. Another teacher, Lyobov Vodenikova, who runs her own school of cross-stitch patterns, said she had foreigners among his students as well as Russians: “Some of them know basic Russian, some use the dictionary. I don’t know of any other country that offers such workshops.
All of this supports the idea that there were so many cross stitch shops on Etsy because of Russian history. But now the rest of the world has been cut off from this rich ecosystem of cross stitch patterns, kits and training. Olga Lankevich, the founder of the ParadiseStitch shop on Etsy, also said she now feels that the time and money she invested in building her shop was wasted. Another designer, Alyona, who runs the Stitchingland store, told me that her account was blocked when she left Russia. “Our store was registered in Russia in 2018, but now we live in Montenegro. Many Russian sellers currently located in France and other European countries have also complained that they have been suspended,” she said.
But what about the hacking charges?
Because patterns are often sold as digital files – pay a few bucks and then you can download them – they can be easy to hack. The extent of this situation now depends on who you are talking to.
According to the authors of the cross-stitch courses, over the past 10 years, Russian seamstresses have become more aware of the importance of respecting property rights, and piracy is no longer a problem. “We pay artists for their illustrations. Most designers use licensed software. It’s hard to find communities now where copies are sold without the manufacturer’s consent. So everything displayed on Etsy is honest work,” Adonieva said. Demina said she never had any problems with hacking.
Alyona, however, disagreed, saying she only sold her patterns in English and her customers were mostly Americans. “I don’t feel safe selling my projects in Russia because many Russian artisans share patterns online for free, and you can’t stop them from doing so. Meanwhile, Americans care more about intellectual property, are more willing to pay, and tend to obey the law. She also added that she tries to create models that are difficult, hard to copy.
It is unclear if and when Etsy and PayPal will work with the Russians again. Market-hanging sellers who live outside of Russia can consider alternative international platforms like Shopify. Those based in Russia, however, see no way to sell their models overseas at the moment. (Mastercard, Visa and American Express blocked foreign operations for Russian banks; Western Union and MoneyGram have announced their intention to stop their services in Russia.) Russia’s increasing isolation will hardly cause a crisis in the country’s cross-stitch business and bring it back to Soviet times, given the number of creators and their knowledge. But as many modelers have admitted, the lack of cultural exchange and inability to get customer feedback internationally has already affected their motivation. “I feel bad that I lost contact with people abroad, because it encouraged me to continue working. It’s about stars, comments, messages from users. It’s all gone” , said Alyona.