The Russian invasion of Ukraine hits an unexpected community: embroiderers buying patterns on Etsy. Slate a piece published describing how American cross stitches have been “ravaged” by Etsy’s recent delay of Russian storefronts, including cross-stitch pattern shops that—to the surprise of some artisans—are heavily concentrated in Russia.
Cross stitch is a type of hand embroidery in which craftsmen sew designs onto fabric using X’s, often using a pattern as a reference. Designs range from the fairly simple to the incredibly intricate, and they start as low as $3, but can go for “much more” for complex pieces. Etsy is a popular place for embroiderers to find digital patterns, and a few weeks ago also for embroiderers on Reddit started to notice that their favorite pattern shops 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 pirated virtual patterns and resold them, but designers instead attribute it to a rich tradition of needlework in the country.
Maria Demina, owner of the popular LittleRoomInTheAttic store on Etsy, says, “The saddest thing is, all the items have become hidden and no one can see the patterns I’ve been working on for the past seven years.” Demina connects the popularity of this hobby and the variety of digital designs in Russia not with piracy, but with national traditions, passed on from generation to generation. “I still have two shirts sewn by my great-great-grandfather,” she said.
Etsy won’t say how many Russian stores have closed, but it’s clear that cross stitch is popular in the country, and artisans abroad have taken advantage of Russian designs for sale online. Slate found about 3,000 cross stitch groups on VK, a popular social media platform in Russia, and there are trainings and workshops that beginners can take to learn the craft.
The store owners affected by the ban are understandably upset at the loss of their business and connections to a global audience. Salespeople say they feel like all their hard work has been wasted — with no end of limitations in sight.
The growing isolation of Russia, given the number of designers and their knowledge, will hardly cause a crisis in the cross-stitch business in the country and bring it back to Soviet times. But as many pattern makers have admitted, the lack of cultural exchange and the inability to get international customer feedback has already dented their motivation. “I feel bad because I lost connection with people abroad, because it has encouraged me to keep working. It’s about stars, comments, user posts. It’s all gone,” Alyona said.
The Slate part is a fascinating example of how supply chains can break even if the goods are digital. The story does a great job of showing the unexpected effects of Russian sanctions and war through a niche but dedicated community – and the frustrations of sellers with little recourse.