Posted: 02.02.2023 17:48:00

Heartwarming folk craft of felting

People come from all over Belarus, Russia and even Australia for felt snow boots from Dribin

‘Mazherit’, ‘shkorni’, ‘shvaretka’... These funny words are not a set of letters, but the real secret language of fullers from Dribin, which was kept in the strictest confidence. Masters communicated with each other on it, so as not to give out the technology of fulling wool. The secret was kept, but the fame of fullers from Dribin spread throughout the country. For almost three decades, the regional historical and ethnographic museum, having revived, preserves the unique traditions of its region. In the season of excitement for handmade shoes, we visited the museum, whose team was awarded a special prize of the President for their great contribution to the development of folk art and the revival of the traditions of fullers.

Master of the Shapoval folk amateur association Vladimir Osipovsky

Not to lose valuables

People come from all over Belarus, Russia and
even Australia for felt snow boots from Dribin
In 2013, the museum staff was already awarded with a high award at the state level — it became the winner of the Spiritual Revival award. Ten years later —they received recognition again. It was unexpected, but well-deserved, says museum director Zhanna Klimova, “A special prize of the President is recognition of the merits of the current team, as well as those people who stood at the origins of the revival of the traditions of fullers in our district. This painstaking, methodical, targeted work began in 1995, when it was decided to create a museum. At that time, employees were collecting exhibits, made expeditions to the villages, and communicated with the craftsmen. And the museum received its first visitors already in 2004. Five years later, the work of local masters received the status of an intangible historical and cultural value of Belarus.”
Craftsmen and employees are doing everything to popularise the branded craft of Dribin District. Since 2018, a school of fullers has been operating at the museum, where everyone can learn the skills of fulling, “The Head of State declared this year the Year of Peace and Creation. The key directions in it are military-patriotic education, positioning creative labour as the main condition for the development of the Belarusian state. Our activity is consonant with these messages. We work with children and educate them in love for our culture, our land and country. As a cultural institution, we continue the traditions of our ancestors, passing on their skills to the modern generation. After all, without such work, you can lose what is valuable, what our nation is rich in.”

The thing is worth the effort

Tatyana Cherepovich, head of the Shapoval (Fuller) folk amateur association at the museum, folk craftswomen of Belarus, meets us in an outfit that is complemented by blue beads and a painted headdress. Tatyana learned how to make this kind of decorations, as well as toys and felt snow boots in her childhood, “My father Mikhail Artemov initiated me into the skill of fulling. When I was a child, he slowly filled me in. Over time, I mastered all the nuances.”

Head of the Katrushnik association Olga Krasnitskaya with pupils Anastasia Kochegarova, Arina Falkova, Evelina Danilovich and Kamilia Ryaposova

Her husband Yuri also became interested in fulling. Now the spouses are in the same amateur association.
“It seems that Dribin is somewhere far away on the map. But the whole country knows about us. This is the value of our work. It is especially pleasant that we are highlighted at the state level. We become laureates for the second time. This is a great success, and on our part — painstaking work. We participate in exhibitions of various levels to demonstrate the traditions of our country, which we carefully preserve. When we started, there were many more masters. But time does not stand still, someone leaves. Therefore, it is very important to pass on our unique feature, authentic craft to children,” Tatyana does not hide her emotions.
Today there are 13 people in the amateur association. These are people who not only master the skill of fulling, but also pass it on to others. While working with wool, Vladimir Osipovsky, a member of the Shapoval association, confirms from his own experience that it requires not only skill, but also strength. To full shoes, one need to perform up to 40 operations! ‘Mazherit, mazherit and mazherit’, which means ‘work, work more, work forever’, says Vladimir. This process is painstaking, but it is in demand — the master is sure that felt snow boots are a permanent trend, “Feet can always get cold. People come to us from all over Belarus, Russia and even Australia!”
According to various estimates, from one to three dozen craftsmen live in Dribin District. But once Katrushniks were in almost every home. The mystery of the craft was kept secret, communicating in a fictitious Katrushniks language. Vladimir Osipovsky speaks it, but, according to him, this is not exactly what a fuller master does: one need to feel and love the material one work with. And also — put one’s soul into each pair. Maybe that’s why the shoes are so warm in the cold.
“Guess how to tell the right felt snow boot from the left one?” Vladimir finally asks a provocative question.
It turns out that at first the shoes are identical. And only after a few days of wear, their owner himself determines which felt snow boot goes to the right, and which to the left foot.
Tatyana Cherepovich, head of the Shapoval folk amateur association at the museum, folk craftswomen of Belarus

Young apprentices

Ten schoolchildren are involved in the Katrushnik exemplary children’s amateur association. In the classroom, they master both theory and practice, introduces the head of the association Olga Krasnitskaya, “Children learn the technique of dry and wet felting. We also pay attention to the theoretical aspect. Together with our craftsmen, we tell the story of the origin of an ancient craft that dates back to the Dribin District since the 18th century. It is good to be able to make products with your own hands, but this is the final result of the work. It is more important to convey to children the features of our culture and traditions. From kindergarten, the guys already know that fullers are a showpiece of the Dribin District.”

By Tatyana Sedunova 
Photos by Andrei Sazonov