“It Keeps Me Warm It Brings You Close” by Etya Vaserman Krichmar

     My Orenburgskyi Platok/Orenburg shawl keeps me warm during the nippy months of Florida winter. During the year, the ecru-colored, hand-knitted, down shawl spends most of its time in the bottom drawer of the nightstand. But, when the weather gets chilly, I carefully pull it out of its safe place to wear.

     Holding the delicate wool scarf in my hands, I gently stroke the threads and remember Mama. I inherited it after her death, and it became my most valuable possession. It means so much. 

     As soon as I wrap the shawl around my neck, I feel Mama's embrace and sense her presence with every fiber of my being. I know Mama is here. She is watching over me, protecting me, and though I cannot hear her voice, the immediate warmth of the Orenburgskyi Platok around my neck and on my shoulders is a testimony to that.  

     It makes me sad not knowing how Mama came into possession of this delicate beauty. All I knew was that she bought it before she came to America and after I had already left the USSR. I am sure she would have told me a great story. 

     Like everything else in the former Soviet Union, these shawls were hard to find. In my twenty-three years living there, despite their high demand, I have seen none available in stores for sale. People who had money bought them on the Black market, where they charged inflated prices. Mama had little money, and I could only assume that she must have gotten it as a going-away present from a friend.

     The Orenburgskyi Platok embodies the excellent craftsmanship of the Russian people. It is one of those things that citizens proudly wear to show off. There is a history behind this craft. The technique of making these shawls has been around for over two hundred years. It takes almost three hundred hours to produce one shawl.

     The tedious process is not easy to learn. A knitter spends many years accomplishing perfection and earning a reputation for being "nimble-fingered." Only great talents can master this skill. The highlight of a knitter's career happens at thirty or forty years of age.

     It is no wonder that knitting extraordinary-looking shawls for the dedicated ones become the love of their lives and the work of a lifetime. There are no random people in down-knitting. As they create their masterpieces, each one shares a piece of their soul with the scarf because they know that what they knit will make a woman feel warm and happy. These extraordinary Orenburg ladies cannot imagine their ordinary lives without the presence of their favorite craft.

     The shawls produced by them are beautiful. They do not come in a variety of colors. I have only seen two—the ecru and grey, but none of it matters because I have not met an Orenburg Platok that I did not like yet. Each shawl‌ is a work of art and a cause for inspiration. To produce the beautiful web-like design, the craftswomen use yarn from specific goats that are natives of Orenburg. 

      These goats have a particular undercoat that makes a down with fibers about fifteen microns thick and eighty centimeters long. Nature gave them this type of underfur to survive the harsh winters of Orenburg.

      Orenburg has two opposing climates. It is freezing in the winter and sizzling hot in the summer. Nature also allowed the goats to eliminate all this fur to endure the region's scorching summers. To do so, the goats start shedding their hair around February and March to avoid being cooked in their own skin.

      People get involved in helping the goats get rid of the fur by brushing each animal for eight hours, sometimes even longer. It all depends on the size of the goat and the amount of down they produce. They use special combs to do that. After brushing, all the hair and down undergo the process of removing the impurities, such as balled-down hairs. Then everything gets washed a few times before it dries.

      The dried hair goes through a rubbing process to make the yarn necessary to knit the Orenburg shawls. The rubbing is done by hand using a supported spindle. Even though the Downy thread is strong, it can withhold over eight kilos of weight; people add either silk or cotton yarn to it to make a more durable and long-lasting shawl.

      To create a web-like Orenburgskyi platok, the type I inherited from Mama, the knitter adds silk. My shawl is small and weighs only 65 grams. The more oversized shawls, about 120x120 centimeters long, weigh between 250-300 grams. My platok is so light and whimsical that I could pull the entire thing through my wedding band, but even the larger ones could pass the same authenticity test or easily fit into a shell of a goose egg.

      The Orenburg shawl is a regional symbol, and the legend goes that no visitor leaves the city without purchasing it as a souvenir. People who received the downy shawl as a gift or bought it for themselves become proud owners of an authentic, top-quality product.

      Every Russian family appreciates the Orenburgskyi Platok because it does not lose its shape, relevance, or valuable properties. It is not just a warm shawl but a talisman for life. Since, in many families, these shawls symbolize the female and mother's warmth, it is a tradition to pass them from mother to daughter.

      In a mysteriously unique way, each stitch is the bridge connecting generations. The existing symbiosis between animals and people is based on love and care. Humans help goats to get rid of something they do not need and use these gifts of nature to benefit themselves. It takes an entire year of human care for one goat to grow about 500 grams of downy, the amount required to make one sizeable shawl. The soft scarves last for hundreds of years. There are historical accounts to prove that.

      The second I wrap myself into my shawl, I want to sit and enjoy peace and comfort as warmth, care, and love envelop me. The need to rush anywhere disappears, and having the shawl on my body makes me feel like a dear person just embraced me. I want to prolong this feeling.

      Mama's beautiful shawl has been in my possession for forty-five years, and it does not show signs of aging yet. I love looking at it. When I hold it to the light, I can see the intricate pattern, and the longer I stare at this whimsical creation, the more I think of a woman who dedicated hours of work to make this shawl. Every time I wrap the shawl around my neck, I thank someone who put a part of her heart and soul into something I continue to enjoy as the years go by. The warmth of the Orenburgskyi platok reminds me of Mama's unconditional love and presence. I hope that one day, one of my children will experience the same.

Copyright © 2023 Etya Vaserman Krichmar
All Rights Reserved

Etya Vasserman Krichmar was born in 1954 in Kazakhstan, the republic of the former Soviet Union. In 1977, claiming religious discrimination, her spouse and a two-year-old daughter applied for asylum in the U.S. The American government granted their request, and on March 7, 1978, they landed at International JFK airport to start a new life. Now a mother to two children and grandmother of three, Etya is retired and lives in Port Saint Lucie, Florida, with her husband and two miniature dachshunds. You can find her published work in print and digital media, such as the local TC Palm newspaper, White Rose, and The Write Launch magazines.

Featured Image: Etya’s photo of her beloved and beautiful Orenburgskyi Platok/Orenburg shawl

Editor: Barbara Harris Leonhard

MasticadoresUSA is open for submissions. Send your submissions to meelosmom@gmail.com.

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Three-Penny Memories: A Poetic Memoir (EIF-Experiments in Fiction, 2022)

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Divider Image: by GDJ on Pixabay

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3 Comentarios Agrega el tuyo

  1. Meelosmom dice:

    Etya, what a beautiful memoir piece about making this shawl, which of itself is memoir! Stunning!

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  2. jonicaggiano dice:

    What a beautiful story composed of so much history and love. Three hundred hours to make something for someone you love is an incredibly precious gift. I love that you have one from your mother, and even though you don’t know the story of how exactly she received hers, it is no doubt someone who cared a great deal for her gifted it. Every time you wear it, you can think of a hug from your mother. What a beautiful story, as well as the gift. Blessings to you, and thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story with us. Big hugs, Joni

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  3. Your words bridge love and understanding sharing the history of the love and gift of your mother through every word stitched Etya.. I enjoyed this immensely. Congratulations.💞

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