Recurrent geometric shapes are the most archaic element of Russian embroidery. Intricate patterns of squares, lines, crosses and circles are a distant echo of cultures long gone. Geometric patterns appear on some of the world’s oldest artifacts produced by humans before the earliest systems of writing came into being. These patterns are often regarded as a language, encoding ancient beliefs about the origins and structure of the universe. Russian village weavers and embroiderers, most of them illiterate, created complicated geometric designs. Believed to have protective powers, the symbols were meaningful within the rich tradition of peasant festivals.
Squares with dots are often interpreted as plowed and sown fields—a quintessential sign of fertility. Zigzagging lines symbolized water, and solar signs were represented by multi-petaled flakes, encircled crosses, and swastikas—a shape which was often referred to in Northern Russia as a winged sun-horse.