Russia’s invasion of Ukraine hits an unexpected community: embroiderers who buy patterns on Etsy. Slate published an article describing how American cross stitches have been “devastated” by the recent suspension of Russian storefronts, including cross-stitch pattern stores that are – to some crafters’ surprise – heavily concentrated in Russia.
Cross stitch is a type of hand embroidery where artisans sew designs onto fabric with Xs, often using a design as a reference. Designs range from fairly simple to incredibly intricate, and they start as low as $3 but can go for “much more” for intricate pieces. Etsy is a popular place for cross stitch to find digital patterns, and a few weeks ago cross stitch on Reddit started noticing that their favorite pattern stores had disappeared from the platform.
Slate spoke to 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 pirating virtual patterns and reselling them, but designers instead attribute it to a rich tailoring tradition in the country.
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 designs 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 sewn by my great-great-grandfather,” she said.
Etsy wouldn’t say how many Russian stores have been closed, but it’s clear cross-stitching is popular in the country and artisans abroad have benefited from Russian designs for sale online. Slate has found around 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 unhappy about losing their business and their relationship with a global audience. Sellers say they feel like all their hard work has been wasted – with no end in sight for restrictions.
The growing isolation of Russia will hardly cause a crisis in the cross-stitch industry in the country 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.
the Slate room is a fascinating example of how supply chains can break down even when goods are digital. The story does a great job of demonstrating the unintended effects of Russian sanctions and war through a niche but dedicated community – and the frustrations of sellers who have very little recourse.