Shawls have always been an integral part of Russian women’s clothing. In a festive attire and in everyday life women covered their heads with them. To go out with your head uncovered was considered indecent behavior. This tradition is still kept in Russian Orthodox churches, where women must cover their heads with a shawl or other headwear. The most expensive shawls are made of silk and wool, cheaper shawls are made of flax and hemp. Shawls were worn not only to stay warm or uphold traditions, but also as a wonderful, beautiful accessory. Women in Russia still love shawls very much, and modern designers draw ideas each year from the traditional Russian costume.
The history of Orenburg down shawls go back generations. According to some sources, they was created before the 18th century, but there is no documentary evidence of this, while the book "Experience of Goat Down" by Rychkov, who had offered to organize the artisanry in the Orenburg region, was published in 1766.
The secret behind the gentle, fine and warm Orenburg shawls is the fluff of the Orenburg goat breed. It is lighter than any other goat wool in the world, even the Angora breed, with long, very durable fibers. The formation of such fluff in goats was influenced by the climate of the Orenburg Oblast with its snowy and frosty winters, and the vegetation of the Ural steppes that the goats feed on.
The shawls are made from goat fiber and cotton or silk based-thread. The artisanry began with the making of thick shawls from grey and white down, suitable for everyday wear. Those shawls are still made today, and they are incredibly soft, beautiful and warm. At the same time, you might wear them everyday and not care.
But spider web shawls and tippets are not intended for everyday use, and it would be a pity to wear such beauty every day. The pattern of the webs is far more complicated, they are incredibly beautiful and subtle products. A real spider web shawl (and a tippet) can be easily pulled through a wedding ring. For such products, the finest wool yarn from the best down is used.
Creating Orenburg shawls is a painstaking, usually manual process. It takes about one month to create a shawl and a little less to create a spider web or a tippet.
The goat down fiber is plied against a silk thread (if it is a spider web or a tippet), or a cotton thread for a thicker shawl.
When purchasing a shawl, you may be surprised by the fact that the product does not look fluffy. This should not confuse you, because Orenburg shawls become fluffy during the process of wearing the item.
Shawls are also knitted by knitting machines. Such shawls cost much less than handmade ones, but will not be as well made. So it’s not worth economizing on handmade souvenirs.
Nowadays, the product range doesn’t only include shawls and spider webs. You can buy ponchos, scarves, hats, sweaters and mittens. But shawls are the most popular product people buy.
The production facilities are dispersed throughout the Orenburg Oblast, and since 2012 the Orenburg Museum of Fine Arts features the "Orenburg shawl" gallery.