Ukrainian Hand Embroidered Dress in Honor of My Babcha

Ukrainian Russian hand embroidered dress marusya marusya


Ukrain­ian hand embroi­dered dress in honor of my babcha 

My Babcha was a spe­cial woman. Her story is quite remark­able and the lessons she taught me were even more so.  I only hope to be as strong as her and pass on her spirit to others.

Aside from her wis­dom, her love of sewing was passed on to me. My babcha was an incred­i­ble seam­stress! She was self taught and used her skills as a seam­stress when she moved to America.

Before my babcha’s pass­ing in March (at the age of 93), I fin­ished my first Ukrain­ian embroi­dered dress. My babcha was very sick and it was uncer­tain whether she would make it to Easter. How­ever, she always wanted to die on Easter and we all believed she would make it to Easter day. (There is a Ukri­an­ian myth that if you die on Easter, you go straight to heaven.) But sadly she didn’t make it or see the ukrain­ian embroi­dered Easter dress. But I’m sure she got a glimpse of it up in heaven!  (And I have no doubt that she is guid­ing through my cur­rent projects!)

marusya ukrainian dress russian

Dress is hand embroi­dered (took lots and lots of time to stitch)


Fully Lined

Invis­i­ble Back Zipper

babcha 2 Ukrainian Costume

This is a com­pressed story of my babcha’s life (Writ­ten by my aunt but mod­i­fied to be in my voice). 

My babcha, Kataryna, was born in 1920 in West­ern Ukraine.  Her father, prior to World War I, voy­aged to Amer­ica to work in the coal mines of Penn­syl­va­nia, while he built a home­stead  for his fam­ily in west­ern Ukraine. My babcha’s par­ents set­tled to rear eight daugh­ters, farm­ing and wood­carv­ing in that quiet, pic­turesque vil­lage in the rolling foothills of the Carpathian Moun­tains. As a child, my babcha vowed never to leave her home or her fam­ily. Lit­tle did she know of the adven­tures that lay ahead!

My babcha’s faith in God and her spirit of self­less ser­vice were instilled early in her life. Early child­hood was a happy time for her. Those who knew her thought she was a bright and pre­co­cious child. Although her father had insisted

Babcha Ukrainian Costumethat his daugh­ters acquire an edu­ca­tion, his untimely death at the age of 46 brought those plans to an abrupt end. My babcha was nine years old. Within the next year and a half, she lost her sis­ter, Rose, to tuber­cu­lo­sis and her sis­ter, Sophie, who suc­cumbed to a virus. With the addi­tional deaths of three nephews and a niece, life in the her fam­ily became very sad.

Her mother, unable to cope with all the tragedy, sent my babcha away to work as a com­pan­ion to a Ukrain­ian priest’s young daugh­ter, who was recov­er­ing from a spinal injury. As a companion/nursemaid, Irena became endeared to the fam­ily. It was dur­ing this time, liv­ing on the church estate until the age of 19, and assum­ing more and more house­hold respon­si­bil­ity, that church became impor­tant to her.

When World War II broke out, Imy babcha found her­self liv­ing in one of the most tumul­tuous areas — the geo­graphic tri­an­gle con­sist­ing of Poland, Ukraine, and Czecho­slo­va­kia — with the Nazis to the west and the Sovi­ets to the east. At the begin­ning of the war, she was sent to a school for kinder­garten teach­ers where she excelled. Fol­low­ing her grad­u­a­tion, she man­aged a vil­lage pro­gram. How­ever, as the war inten­si­fied and the front moved to her town, there was more impor­tant work to do. The Ukrain­ian clergy were being exter­mi­nated and the Ukrain­ian churches and cul­ture were being destroyed. She spent the war years actively work­ing to help save the Ukrain­ian church and her her­itage. As a result, she was sen­tenced to ten years of hard labor by a Soviet war court, but, by mirac­u­lous cir­cum­stances, was retried and released. At that point, she fled on foot to a Czecho­slo­va­kian con­vent where the Sis­ters bought her a plane ticket to Belgium.

In Bel­gium, my babcha met and mar­ried her hus­band (deceased since 1980); She gave birth to her first daugh­ter, my “Cha Cha Ola”, in France. As a dis­placed post­war fam­ily spon­sored by inter­na­tional relief, my babcha, her hus­band, and my aunt were wel­comed to the United States by the radi­ance of New York Harbor’s Statue of Lib­erty on Christ­mas Eve, 1950. Their sole pos­ses­sions con­sisted of five dol­lars, a wicker trunk of cloth­ing, and a radio. After liv­ing their first year on the east coast, the fam­ily moved to Flint, Michi­gan, seek­ing work at the rec­om­men­da­tion of dear friends. My Deedo (grand­fa­ther) found work with Gen­eral Motors; My babcha gave birth to two more daugh­ters, my Cha Cha Nusha and mother; and together, the fam­ily joined a com­mu­nity of approx­i­mately 50 dis­placed Ukrain­ian refugee fam­i­lies. In addi­tion to being a devoted mother, my babcha was a mas­ter seam­stress, sewing cloth­ing for many peo­ple in her com­mu­nity. She also worked in the alter­ation depart­ments of Maas and Vogue stores.

My dad and brothers in Ukrainian attire for my babcha's funeral

My dad and broth­ers in Ukrain­ian attire for my babcha’s funeral

Ukrainian attire

Fam­ily in Ukrain­ian Attire at my babcha’s Funeral.


It was dur­ing this time that my babcha’s long rela­tion­ship with the Inter­na­tional Insti­tute of Flint began. She was per­pet­u­ally vol­un­teer­ing on myr­iad of com­mit­tees from the boom­ing post­war Flint inter­na­tional scene through the 1980s. High­light­ing that era was her par­tic­i­pa­tion in the inter­na­tional dance exhi­bi­tion, tele­cast from the IMA on Dave Garroway’s (t’s a Wide, Wide World and Flint’s cen­ten­nial parade. My babcha also was fea­tured annu­ally for her Ukrain­ian Easter egg (pysanky) workshops.

Whether bak­ing her tra­di­tional bread (paska) and pas­tries, mak­ing pyrohy, or sewing cos­tumes, my babcha was always lend­ing a hand to ensure that tra­di­tions were pre­served and handed down to the next gen­er­a­tion, which, in her case, now includes eight grand­chil­dren and three great grand­chil­dren. Ever hard­work­ing, my babcha lived a fruit­ful life, while serv­ing her fam­ily, com­mu­nity, and coun­try. Her spirit is still very present in the hearts of her daugh­ters and grandchildren.

I love you babcha <3

Ukrainian Embroidered Dress


Full embroidered Ukrainian dress anagrassia small


Marusya in Ukrainian Dress on Easter with Michael

Marusya in Ukrain­ian Dress on Easter with Michael

Marusya and Michael

Marusya and Michael



My beautiful mother and papa vino

My beau­ti­ful mother and papa vino

10 Thoughts on “Ukrainian Hand Embroidered Dress in Honor of My Babcha

  1. Chocha Marisya on 08/01/2013 at 18:44 said:

    Mary-this is won­der­ful. As I told you at the funeral, the dress s mag­nif­i­cent. Babcha, I know, is so very proud of you. Chocha Marusya

  2. Tricia Morton on 08/17/2013 at 16:28 said:

    Wow! What an incred­i­ble story about your Babcha! Thanks for shar­ing!
    Katie’s dress looks beau­ti­ful! And yours is a beau­ti­ful trib­ute to your fam­ily. You’re very tal­ented Mary Grace!

  3. What a beau­ti­ful memo­r­ial for your babcha, and such a deep, per­sonal mean­ing behind your busi­ness. Thank you for shar­ing this! As a fel­low Ukrain­ian (but Cana­dian) I really appre­ci­ate how you’re incor­po­rat­ing tra­di­tion into your very cur­rent sewing and cre­at­ing. So glad I dis­cov­ered you!

    • Thank you for the kind words Mel­wyk and espe­cially nice to hear them from another fel­low Ukrain­ian! I just clicked on your Mag­piemak­ery blog and really enjoyed read­ing your posts, so I’m glad I dis­cov­ered you too :)

  4. Lesya Danylyuk on 02/11/2014 at 16:54 said:

    This is so cool what you’re doing!!!
    May I ask you — from which city in Ukraine is your family?

  5. Wow, this is really good. Your work great. Maybe make it is long, but it is worth.

  6. I’m also Ukrain­ian. I absolutely love this dress and your story. Read­ing through made me miss my Baba. Her story sounds very famil­iar to my fam­ily. My fam­ily is from Lviv and Kiev. It’s always great to find another Ukrain­ian and one who loves sewing as much as I do! I’ve wanted to make more updated Ukrain­ian gar­ments but so far have only made one skirt for the fes­ti­val:

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