What is a Motanka Doll?
Motanka doll is a handmade doll popular in Ukraine, Belarus, Poland and Russia. She is created with natural fabrics, often beautifully ornamented materials commonly made back in the day, and materials that hold special personal meaning to the maker – in modern terms, she is recycled artistic self-expression.
Created without sewing nor waste, technically by reusing, upcycling and revaluing fabrics, and generally in a smooth, delicate manner with a positive mindset only !
We could still find traces of such a tradition in all parts of the Earth, in many cultures: “Martisor” in Romania and Moldova, “Martenici” in Bulgaria, baby comforter “Träumerle” in certain regions of Germany, faceless dolls in Mexico and in the Dominican Republic, etc. However, it is in Ukraine where Motanka doll has been preserved and cultivated for centuries to become an institution, an integral part of its culture and its contemporary artistic life.Ivanna, dollartist and designer – https://en.motanka-art-doll.com/a-propos
Motanka has no face – as for the reasons why I will speak later – and she is created without sewing. Everything is tangled and wrapped in a way that makes her sturdy and strong. Motanka means entangled – you spin your yarn round and round until the body holds together.
Magic and Perseverance
What makes Motanka special is that she survived the pressure of time, and as a healing and spiritual practice, went unnoticed by the Communist regimes keen on removing any type of self-help movements and ideologies.
Tucked away in the villages of Ukraine, kept as a creative practice, she almost went into extinction as an obsolete and passee form of entertainment. Luckily, she was re-discovered by folklorists and craftspeople interested in reconstructing the old ways, and she found herself helping art therapists and many other professionals who use process-oriented art as a form of self-analysis and self-help. She has crossed the borders to central Europe and the West and is now a popular therapy-like practice in Poland, Germany, France, and many other countries.
Motanka can be of course created just for fun and that was often her only raison d’être. But on a deeper level, when she is created with an intention, in a ritual way, with lots of positive energy, she can truly become a talisman, friend, and guide in times of need, and change.
This is because the process of creating her is an internal expression of our emotions, feelings, dreams, and hopes and during the process, we enter a delicate dialog with the doll, as we try to express what’s in our hearts in the best possible way, she sometimes changes the plans to points out to us what is truly meaningful and what we are unaware of.
You see, what happens during the making of Motanka is rather difficult to explain. The best way to describe it is that she becomes a mirror of our soul – she understands what’s good for us and what needs to be changed and transformed. That’s why you might find yourself choosing completely different fabrics and colors during the process of creating her than you originally anticipated. Your delicate blues are now replaced by a vivid orange textile adorned with roses and kittens, her aprons are full of sparkles and her headdress is a bright red you can see from the moon! She will fuss about the ‘obsolete’ necklace you wanted her to wear and choose a splendid flashy hand purse instead! She looks like a fiesta doll, not the calm and quiet one you have planned on making. Why? Perhaps she is trying to let you know it is time to open up to the world, celebrate, show off, and get in touch with that brighter, joy-loving, quirky and slightly unpredictable self.
When you listen to your doll and you follow her guidance, I can guarantee you, you are going to love her and she will inspire you endlessly.
There must be at least 10 types of Motanki Dolls!
There are many types of Motanki dolls, depending on the intention and purpose with which she is created. In a more pagan tradition moon cycles, special days of the year like equinoxes or solstices, would play a role. Some dolls would have been created for special occasions like coming of age or childbirth, marriage, or travel. Some would have been passed down from generation to generation – and those dolls held a lot of magic and were highly revered as special talismans for the whole family.
Some dolls were meant to keep the evil spirits away and were placed over the fireplace in the house, some were created purely for the pleasure of gathering together, telling stories, and using up those old fabrics no longer suitable for wearing. nothing went to waste. All dolls, no matter the intention, are at their heart protective talismans.
The biggest difference between the dolls is how they are created in their core.
A Grain Doll called Ziarnushka is a nesting protector of the homesteads. She brings good luck, love, prosperity, and protection. Her belly is filled with grains that symbolize wealth and abundance. Rice and buckwheat husks are commonly used. Sometimes beans and other heavier grains can be added as well as dried herbs like lavender, rose petals, fir, sage, marjoram, and so on. In modern days we can also add resins, crystals, and whatever brings protection, prosperity, and abundance 🙂
Another Doll that is really interesting is called the Zadanica- a Task Doll. Her job is to help you with the law of attraction. I know I know, the people back in the day wouldn’t know what that was, but they had the system for it! The task doll has a wooden core – a birch stick would be traditionally used, that represents her masculine strong aspects of self – the clothing would be her feminine aspect. She is created with the intention of bringing something fort, manifesting a specific outcome and she would often give us feedback as we create her with those intentions on our mind.
There are dolls created specifically as a love charm – called the Lovers – this Motanka is actually two Motanki combined with one arm to represent unity and harmony. They were offered to the newlyweds as a good luck charm and protective talisman.
Other dolls include the Mother, with seven babies tucked away behind her belt, and many more.
The Motanka doll doesn’t have a face. The Slavs believed that if you gave a doll facial expression she would become a person of her own, and her job is to advise you and be a part of you, in tune with you and your needs. , not her own being. Sometimes a cross made of colorful yarns is placed on her face for protection, but still no eyes or mouth – she is devoted to you and a part of your creative spirit.
The history of Motanki dolls is fascinating and only in recent years has the information started to come to the surface. For the history of Motanki from a Ukrainian source please go to https://three-snails.com/:
If you are interested in learning how to make your own Motanka doll, feel free to check out our classes and the schedule right here or sign up for our newsletter to receive a pigeon with fresh news and articles 🙂 https://www.meetup.com/intuitive-art-life-co-creators-group/