Several years ago  in the old Don Cossack town  Urjupinsk  was erected monument to Don Cossack craftswomen.

In old times the life of the Don Cossacks was quite specific. You could say that the war was their way of life. Every man was a soldier. Cossacks were exempt from taxes and duties, but instead they were required to participate in all military campaigns. Moreover, the Cossacks in the 19th and 20th centuries were often used to suppress riots and disperse demonstrations.

On the vast territory of the Russian Empire there were always some events requiring of the Don Cossacks presence.  Thus most of the year Cossack woman was full mistress of the house. This way of life formed the peculiar character of the Don Cossack woman – a proud and independent one.

Cossack women watering garden

Photo by Ivan Boldyrev, 1875, Public domain

Woman’s life was not rosy and carefree. On this old photo of 1875 you can see  that the woman’s life was filled with labor and care.

There is an old Cossack anecdote.

 Cossack is walking hands in pockets. Behind him goes his wife. She leads the child by hand and drags  the  bag of wheat on her shoulder.  When asked: Why do not you help your wife?  He answer: What if tomorrow the war starts, but I would be tired ?

So women had to do all the housework. They had to care about food and clothing for the whole family.

 

Throughout the last 300 years the art of knitting was part of a mandatory set of skills for any Cossack woman. Every Cossack family had a lot of knitwear in daily use. Each Cossack woman had to provide for her family the whole set of knitted things – from socks to warm shawls.

 

Cossack shawl

Photo by Ivan Boldyrev, Public Domain, 1875

 

This photo of old  Cossack woman was taken in 1875.

But the the habit to tie a shawl like on the photo remaines unchanged. Even now in winter you can encounter women on the streets in such shawls.

Once these shawls were famous throughout all the Russia. Women in different areas of Russia prefered  these Don Cossack shawls to famous Orenburg shawls for their warmth and durability.

The secret of these shawls was the unique fluff from which women spun a thread. This fluff is the fluff of a Don goat. These goats are cashmere goats. Shawls from cashmere fluff are known for the durability.

There is one shawl in my family. It was a gift from my grandmother to my mother on the day of my parents wedding. My grandma made this scarf strictly according to the custom.

 

Cossack shawl

Photo by author

Knitting machines have existed since ancient times. But genuine Don Cossack shawl should be knitted by hands. It was believed that only in the process of hand-knitting the shawl gets its unique properties. Every inch of the thread should pass through craftswoman fingers.

My grandmother got the fluff from her own goats,  span the thread with her own hands,  knitted the shawl.

This shawl is over 55 years. This shawl survived use as a blanket for  two my daughters and one grandson in their childhood.

Even now my wife does not hesitate to wear this shawl  in a cold winter.

Those Don Cossack women who were able to make such  unique things really deserved a monument to their labor.