Matryoshka Dolls


Matryoshka Dolls

In Russia, the word, "Matryoshka," means mother. So why not honor your mom with our matryoshka nesting dolls? These dollies are handcrafted from Russia where they play a vital role in their culture.

Our matryoshka dolls come in various designs and styles. We have modern matryoshka doll sets wherein you will see famous Russian landmarks painted on their bodies. We also have traditional matryoshka dolls in which the figures wear babushkas and long dresses.

Browse our website and choose the set you want to get. In just a few days, we will have your matryoshka dolls delivered straight to your home.

What are you waiting for? Buy one of our Matryoshka nested dolls and make your momma happy!

What are Russian nesting dolls?

These popular toys are sets of hollow dolls, which fit perfectly one inside of each other. Each doll is painted with a design reflecting the theme of the set - usually ordinary people but sometimes animals, fictional characters, or natural scenes. They open via a seam in the middle and can be displayed separately or together. Nesting dolls primarily come from Russia and feature Russian-inspired designs.

What are Russian nesting dolls used for?

Nesting dolls are a popular souvenir from Russia, as the designs of the dolls often represent traditional Russian clothing. If you know someone who's into Russian culture, a set of nesting dolls makes the perfect gift. However, you can buy them for yourself too! Whether separate or all together, they make a lovely, colorful display anywhere in your home. Nesting dolls are also a popular toy - children can get endless hours of fun disassembling and re-assembling their doll set!

How many nesting dolls are in a set?

There is no one "universal number" of how many nesting dolls can be in one set. Here at Nesting Dolls, we offer both small sets in 5, 6, and 7-piece  versions and larger sets featuring 8, 10 or even 15 distinct dolls. The "correct" number of dolls in a doll set is "however many you want there to be"!

What kind of nesting doll designs can I buy?

Traditional nesting doll designs feature a family of men, women and children dressed in traditional Russian peasant clothing. Today, however, you can buy all sorts of unique doll variations. There are nesting doll sets which feature politicians, historical figures, celebrities, fictional characters, animals, natural scenes and abstract patterns. You can even purchase a blank set of dolls which you can paint yourself with any design you want!

What does "matryoshka" mean?

"Matryoshka" is a Russian word meaning "little matron" or "little mother". It is also a reference to "Matriosha", one of the most common female names among the Russian peasantry. Nesting dolls are also called "matryoshka dolls" because the largest doll often represents a mother or the head of a large family.

Why are nesting dolls sometimes called "babushka dolls"?

"Babushka" is another Russian word which refers to women, but it means "old woman" or "grandmother". Some matryoshka dolls have been marketed as "babushka dolls" in countries outside of Russia by sellers who are not aware of the symbolism of the largest doll as the mother. However, "babushka" is also the word used to refer to the brightly colored head kerchiefs worn by many Russian women. True "babushka dolls" are a particular variety of matryoshka doll where one or more of the dolls are depicted wearing a babushka kerchief.

Which is the proper name, "matryoshka doll" or "babushka doll"?

"Matryoshka doll" is the proper name for all Russian nesting dolls. "Babushka doll" only refers to a nesting doll set where the female dolls (or at least the largest female doll) are depicted wearing "babushka" kerchiefs.

What do nesting dolls symbolize?

Nesting dolls symbolize the fertility of the mother and her role as the protector and caretaker of the family. The largest doll is usually the mother, and she literally "contains" her children (and sometimes spouse, extended family members, pets and other relatives) within her. They also represent the Russian idea of a large family whose members live together and take care of one another. The older family members (larger dolls) have the younger family members (smaller dolls) inside them, thus protecting them.

Why are nesting dolls usually female?

Not all nesting dolls are female. However, there are more female than male nesting doll designs available, and, even in mixed gender sets, the largest or outermost doll is usually female. This is because the largest usually doll represents the mother, in her role as creator and caretaker of the family. Also, the first ever nesting doll set, which depicted a Russian peasant mother and her children, had only one male doll while the rest were female (except for the smallest doll, the baby, which did not have a clear gender). Today many nesting dolls copy or are inspired by the design of this original set, which also contributes to the large number of female dolls.

What does the shape of the nesting doll represent?

The round, smooth, "pear-like" shape of the nesting doll represents fertility and the appealing shape of a pregnant woman's body. The matryoshka doll is painted to be beautiful, colorful and appealing even though she is "pregnant" with the smaller dolls. She uses her distinctive shape to express the beauty of motherhood and creating a family from within her body.

What are Russian nesting dolls made out of?

Matryoshka dolls are made out of high quality, carefully selected and harvested wood. Woods are chosen for their soft, smooth texture, so that they can easily be carved into a round shape. Each doll is carefully carved using a machine called a "lathe".

What kinds of wood are best for making Russian nesting dolls?

The most common type of wood used to make nesting dolls comes from the lime tree. However, you may also see nesting dolls made from a number of other woods, including aspen, birch, alder, linden and balsa. In general, lightweight, light-colored woods are best for making nesting dolls due to their smooth texture and ability to hold paint well.

How many trees does it take to make one set of nesting dolls?

Traditionally, Russian wisdom holds that each nesting doll set is made from one single tree. However, it is often the case that not all of the wood from a tree can be used, due to rot, damage, splintering or other concerns. Today, most nesting doll sets are made from the wood of two to four different trees depending on how many dolls are in the set.

What kind of paint is used to paint nesting dolls?

Nesting dolls are decorated with a type of paint known as "gouache". It is made from dry pigments mixed with water and a thickening agent, usually glue. Gouache is similar in composition to watercolor, but it is slightly thicker and more opaque. This causes the colors painted on the doll to appear bright, bold and cheerful.

Is nesting doll paint toxic?

Like all paints, gouache contains pigments which should not be ingested by humans. However, it does not contain lead or any other highly toxic materials. In addition, all nesting dolls are primed with a coat of starch-like glue as well as finished with several coats of lacquer. This prevents the paint from chipping and flaking off. Therefore, all nesting dolls are considered nontoxic and safe for use by children.

Are nesting dolls painted by hand?

Yes. All nesting dolls are traditionally painted by hand.

What colors are most commonly used for nesting dolls?

Nesting dolls are typically painted with bold, bright, eye-catching colors such as red, yellow, green, and orange. These colors both reflect the traditional designs of Russian peasant clothing and make nesting dolls extremely beautiful and appealing to the eye. Here at Nesting Dolls, you can buy a set of nesting dolls in practically any color you want. Try our color-sorted collection pages to find that perfect hue!

Can nesting dolls get scratched?

It is possible, but highly unlikely. All nesting dolls are primed with a starch-based glue and covered with multiple layers of lacquer. This effectively prevents any scratching to the painted wooden surface of the nesting dolls.

How do I keep nesting dolls from getting scratched or damage?

Because nesting dolls are so well-protected from scratches by glue and lacquer, it is not likely that you will have to take much action to keep them safe. However, we do recommend storing them somewhere in your house where they cannot easily be knocked over to minimise the chance of damage.

Can I paint my own nesting dolls?

Absolutely! We have several sets of blank wooden dolls available for sale. Just choose the set size you desire, brainstorm a design, and paint away! Painting nesting dolls makes a great craft to do together with your spouse, siblings or children, and can create a beautiful family heirloom which can last for generations to come.

What should I paint on my nesting dolls?

Anything you want! There's no "right" or "wrong" answer to painting your own nesting dolls. If you're looking for suggestions, some popular ideas include: members of your family, your pets, characters from your favorite TV show, your celebrity crushes, or scenes of your family home during different seasons or holidays.

What do I need to paint my own nesting dolls?

To paint nesting dolls, we recommend using multiple brushes of different sizes. Larger brushes can quickly cover the entirety of the larger dolls in the set, while smaller brushes can be used for fine detail work on the tiniest dolls.  A good starting point is a broad, flat brush (large), a round brush (medium) and a slender-tipped detail brush (small).  You will also need paint - gouache is the traditional option, but tempera, oil, and acrylic will also work. Lastly, you need a sturdy lacquer or varnish.

How do I get started painting my own nesting dolls?

If you're new to painting nesting dolls, we recommend starting by painting the entire doll a solid color such as white. This will allow your chosen detail colors to show up more vividly and last longer. You can also use a soft drawing pencil to trace out any designs you want to do before beginning the painting process. It's recommended that you start with either the largest or the smallest doll, so that you can keep the theme of the set consistent.

How do I dry the paint on my nesting dolls?

Once you've finished painting each doll, leave it in a non-humid, temperature-controlled environment overnight to dry. Shelves, cabinets or countertops make great options. Keep the dolls away from any pets or young children who might be at risk of touching them while the paint is not dry. After the dolls are fully dry, apply the cover of lacquer or varnish and let them sit for a second night. Do not touch or play with the dolls until they are fully dry.

How do I prevent my homemade nesting dolls from getting scratched?

Make sure to cover each and every doll with a solid coat of lacquer or varnish. This is the number one way to keep them from getting scratched. You should also store them somewhere safe where they will not rub against any sharp edges or rough surfaces. Displaying them on a mantelpiece, shelf or countertop when they are not in use is recommended.

How do I get my child interested in painting nesting dolls with me?

Even if your child is too young to help with the actual painting, they can contribute by brainstorming ideas and themes for designing the dolls. If you want your child to help out with the painting as well, try painting a solid-colored circle on the belly of a few of the larger dolls. Then, let the child have that area as their mini "painting canvas" and let them paint whatever they want inside the circle. The result will be a doll with an elegant overall design which still displays your child's unique creativity!

Can I use the painting of nesting dolls as a learning experience for my child?

Absolutely! Nesting dolls can be used to teach your children several valuable lessons. For example, they can learn about Russian culture, the history of the matryoshka, and what traditional Russian families looked and acted like. But that's not all - painting nesting dolls can be an educational experience in many other ways as well. You can use them to teach young children colors, shapes, parts of the body or the names of different types of clothing. And, of course, painting, especially working with smaller brushes and learning to stay within the lines, can vastly improve a developing child's fine motor skills.

Do nesting dolls originally come from Russia?

Actually, the answer to this is both "yes" and "no". The traditional matryoshka dolls, featuring a family led by a doll representing the "mother," did indeed originate in Russia. However, these dolls were inspired by other objects from different cultures. In particular, ancient Chinese artisans created storage boxes which, when empty, fit neatly inside each other in order to save space. In Japan, series of stacking figures based on the "Seven Lucky Gods" were popular as both toys and religious items. It is believed that the first Russian nesting dolls were inspired by one or both of these items.

When did the first nesting dolls appear?

The Chinese stacking boxes and Japanese "lucky god" figurines have been reported appearing as early as 1000 AD. However, the first Russian matryoshka dolls were produced in the late 1890s and were first put on display in the year 1900.

What did other countries use nesting dolls for?

China used nesting boxes for storage. They thought of it as a way to save space. The boxes could be stacked when empty and then taken apart when they needed to be filled. Japan used an early version of the "nesting doll" concept as religious figurines depicting the "Seven Lucky Gods", seven of the most important gods in the Shinto religion. It was believed that having figurines of these dolls in your house would result in your family being blessed with good fortune. Russia was the first country to use nesting dolls exclusively as toys, rather than for a more practical purpose.

How did nesting dolls arrive in Russia?

Nesting dolls arrived in Russia thanks to a woman named Elizaveta Mamontova. She was the wife of a wealthy Russian entrepreneur, Savva Mamontov, and she loved to travel. She first encountered the "lucky gods dolls" while visiting Japan and brought a set back to show her husband. Savva was one of the founders of an organization called the Children's Education Workshop, which was aimed at educating children about Russian history and traditional cultural values. Mamontova thought that the doll was something her husband could re-work into an educational tool - and she was right!

Who made the first Russian nesting doll set?

The first set of Russian nesting dolls was made by two workers at the Children's Education Workshop in Russia. Their names were Vasili Zvyozdochkin and Sergei Malyutin. They were accomplished dollmakers, and Zvyozdochkin in particular was very fascinated by the concept of "hidden secrets," which is why the "nesting" design of the dolls appealed to him.

What year was the first Russian nesting doll set made?

The first set of Russian nesting dolls was made in the year 1890. However, it was not displayed to the rest of the world until the year 1900, with nesting dolls becoming available internationally following this point.

Why did the makers decide on a set of nesting dolls?

They were inspired both by the set of Japanese dolls Elizaveta Mamontova had brought back and by the concept of toys which "had something hidden inside of them". Toys with "hidden secrets" were popular at the time in Russia due to the use of hollow, opening eggs to celebrate the Easter holiday. They also liked the idea that the large doll could represent the mother, who was the most important member of the traditional Russian family.

Why was the first nesting doll called the "Rooster Girl"?

The first set of nesting dolls made by Zvyozdochkin and Malyutin was designed to be as accurate a representation as possible of a Russian peasant family. Therefore, many of the dolls were carrying common household items such as a broom for sweeping and a scythe for harvesting. The largest doll, representing the mother, is holding a distinctive black rooster in her arms, to represent how many families kept chickens and used them as a source of food or a way to make money through selling eggs. Because of the bold, distinctive appearance of the rooster, this doll came to be known as "Rooster Girl".

How did nesting dolls spread to the rest of the world?

Elizaveta Mamontova brought the "Rooster Girl" set to the Exposition Universelle, a World's Fair-like exhibition held in Paris in the year 1900. The dolls were entered into a competition along with other toys from around the world and they won a bronze medal. After this, the dolls became very popular and many visitors to Russia sought them out as souvenirs. Mass production and international export of nesting dolls began shortly after this.

What was the biggest nesting doll set ever made?

The biggest nesting doll set was made in 2003 and was crafted and painted by Russian artist Youlia Bereznitskaia. The set consists of 51 dolls in total. Lined up next to each other, the set spans approximately 11 feet, or 3.5 meters. It holds a record in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most nesting dolls in a single set.

Where is the world's biggest nesting doll?

Surprisingly, the world's biggest nesting doll is not in Russia. It can be found as part of a tourist attraction called the "Matryoshka Piazza" in China's Manchuria region. The plaza contains over 200 large and small matryoshka dolls. The largest one is 100 feet (30 meters) tall and is painted with designs of girls wearing traditional Russian, Chinese and Mongolian clothing.

How do I open a big nesting doll?

First, place the doll on a soft surface such as a sofa or bed. This will prevent the paint and lacquer coating the doll from becoming scratched. Then, hold the doll parallel to your body with one hand on the top part (above the seam) and one hand on the bottom part. Gently twist slightly and then pull the two sides apart. The doll should come apart easily with little resistance. Make sure not to drop the smaller dolls found inside once the larger doll comes apart.

How do I open a small nesting doll?

Sometimes, smaller nesting dolls can be slightly more difficult to open because the seam is smaller and it can be more difficult to get a grip on the two sides. If you're having trouble, you can gently apply pressure to the seam of the doll using your thumb and middle finger. This should create a small gap which will make the doll come open more easily. You can also insert a fingernail into the seam to gently separate the two halves of the doll.

Help! My nesting doll won't open!

If this happens, don't panic! Do not shake, hit or smack the doll - applying too much pressure to the wrong parts can only make any difficulties opening it even worse. Instead, remain calm and continue handling the doll carefully. Lay the doll on a soft surface such as a pillow, mattress or sofa cushion. Using your hand, gently apply pressure to the seam between the two halves of the doll. Continue doing this until a small gap is created. Once this happens, open the doll as described above.

Where should I store my nesting dolls?

Store your nesting dolls somewhere dry and room temperature. Excessive humidity can damage the dolls by causing the wood to warp and making them more difficult to open. If the dolls will be on display, pick a temperature-controlled area of your house such as the living room. If you have to put them into storage, keep them somewhere safe and dry where moisture cannot enter. Do not store them next to any sharp or rough objects which could cause the wood to become scratched.

Do nesting dolls make a good gift?

Definitely! Matryoshka dolls make the perfect gift for any and all special people in your life. They're a fun toy for children and a beautiful household decoration for the older crowd. Plus, because of their unique stacking capabilities, they can be easily stored and don't take up much space in the house. Want to show someone how much they mean to you, or congratulate someone on a special occasion in their lives? Give the gift of nesting dolls today!

Why are nesting dolls such a great souvenir?

Matryoshka dolls are one of the most popular Russian souvenirs, and for good reason. They're lightweight, easy to store and transport and extremely durable, so they will not become scratched or damaged during travel. Plus, their bright colors and traditional Russian flair add unique character as a decoration. Kids can also learn a lot about traditional Russian peasant life through a gift of nesting dolls!

What are some good occasions for gifting nesting dolls?

You can give a set of nesting dolls as a gift at absolutely any time you want! However, some particularly awesome nesting doll gifting opportunities include Mother's Day and housewarming parties. Show your mother, spouse or grandmother just how much she means to you with a gift that symbolizes the importance of the mother in running the family and keeping it together. Housewarming parties are another excellent occasion because nesting dolls make a fantastic decoration which can provide a splash of color on any mantelpiece, shelf or table. It'll brighten up any new house in an instant!

What You Ought to Know about Russian Nesting Dolls

Russian nesting dolls, otherwise known as matryoshka dolls, are Russia’s most popular souvenirs. These round figurines are used as a toy for children. Players need to get all the statuettes on each model by opening them. Indeed, this game requires patience because the smallest figures are the most difficult to open.

However, Russian nesting dolls are more than toys. It has been part of the culture of Eastern Europe for many years. That is why tourists from Russia have always bought these figurines as their souvenirs.

So, what is the history of matryoshka and the meaning behind its name? We will discuss these things later, but first, you need to know what these dolls are.

What Are Russian Nesting Dolls?

Russian nesting or matryoshka dolls are sets of wooden figurines of decreasing size placed in each other. They are round statuettes and painted as happy, kerchief-wearing women. However, these famous Russian souvenirs may also represent global leaders, fairytales, and pop culture icons.

Many people think that babushka and matryoshka have the same meaning. That is why some people call these dolls as babushka dolls. However, babushka and matryoshka are two different things. Babushka, in Russian, refers to an old woman, while matryoshka means mother.

Matryoshka models come in various styles. The popular type is the traditional design that looks like a young Russian wearing a national costume and a headscarf. In the traditional type of nesting doll, all the figurines are identical and the number of models in set ranges between five and 30.

Custom-made nesting figurines, on the other hand, have more dolls and designs. This type of matryoshka statuettes can be used for teaching children, depending on the design of each model.

Last is the blank Russian nesting doll set. This one is perfect for DIY projects, allowing you to use your creative juices in designing the statuettes.

Russian Nesting Doll History

The first matryoshka nesting doll was created in 1890. It was engraved by Vasily Zvyozdochkin and designed and painted by Sergey Malyutin. Both artists were from the Abramtsevo estate of Savva Mamontov.

The first Russian doll set had eight figures: the biggest figurine was a girl wearing a traditional dress and carrying a rooster. The smaller statuettes were girls and a boy, while the smallest model was a baby.

But the first Russian doll is not the first nesting concept because it has been around for centuries. The first nesting boxes were made in China in 1,000 A.D and then spread to Japan in a shape of the Fukuruma, a sacred icon in honor of Fukurokuju, the god of joy in Japanese mythology. This is where Zvyozdochkin and Malyutin got their inspiration for creating the matryoshka statuettes.

Thus, sources have different descriptions when it comes to the appearance of the doll. Some people describe it as a round, hollow daruma figurine modeled after a bald old Buddhist monk. Others define these dolls as a Seven Lucky Gods nesting doll.

In 1900, Mamontov’s spouse exhibited the Russian nesting models at the Exposition Universelle in Paris and received global exposure where the toy earned a bronze medal. Soon enough, several places in Russia produced and sent these dolls around the world.

Russian Nesting Doll Origin

We have already discussed the matryoshka meaning, but do you know the nesting doll origin?

Many academic and literary theorists believe that the word, matryoshka, comes from a Russian name, Matriosha. This name was common to the female peasantry of old Russia.

Matryoshka comes from the Latin word, “mater,” which means mother in English. Fertility, family, and maternity all influence the matryoshka doll meaning and significance. Having a big, close-knit family in Russia is typical and vital to their culture. This means that most Russian families have extended relatives, including grandparents, aunties, uncles, and cousins.

The Russian nesting doll is a symbol of a babushka, a powerful female matriarch and the primary figure in the family.

Russian Nesting Doll Meaning

Russian nesting figurines do not only indicate maternity and fertility, though these are the representational connotations of the doll. It now has different meanings in various cultures.

So, what do Russian dolls represent? It depends on where the wooden stacking dolls are made. For instance, the matryoshka figurines in the Soviet Union represent the country’s political history and vie with well-known Soviet communist politicians, such as Mikhail Gorbachev and Josef Stalin. Other dolls tell stories and legends like the life of the morning glory flower, in which the opening of the figurines represent the blooming of the floral.

Meanwhile, some statuettes embody the person’s life. The biggest doll is us, while the inner figures epitomize our soul’s innocence and the essence of ourselves.

Russian nesting dolls are now available in different European countries, such as Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, and Poland. Nonetheless, Russia is the center of the nesting doll industry, and the most massive variety is found here.

The Origins of The Russian Nesting Doll

You’ve probably seen them in antique shops and in some toy stores. If you’re a local Russian, then these should be undoubtedly familiar to you. With their recognizable corpulent figure and brightly colored patterns and designs, the Russian nesting dolls serve as many things: home decorations, house-warming presents, novelty collectibles, gifts for mothers and newborns, and even children’s toys. A set of Russian nesting dolls are created in a way that consists of a big hollow doll, inside is a small doll, and inside of that doll is another smaller doll, and so on.

The nesting dolls or originally called “matryoshka dolls” can vary from the classical family to modern politicians, to cartoon characters, and some are customized to the liking. Russian nesting dolls (traditionally called matryoshka dolls) can vary in design; from a classic family to cartoon characters, to politicians, to completely custom designs. The original setup symbolizes the Russian matriarch, associating the order of the dolls to a mother’s fertility and her family. This is why the early matryoshka dolls were mostly created in a way that the biggest dolls of each set are women or the “mothers”, followed by smaller dolls inside of her, which symbolize her “children”.

Creating the Nesting Dolls

The dolls are usually made up of wood from lime, birch, alder, and aspen. In most cases, lime is widely used. The process of creating the dolls has never changed. The smallest doll in the set is usually carved out first, then it is followed by another doll bigger than the last. The number of dolls in each set can vary from five to thirty, the most recorded number of dolls in a set has 51 dolls in total. Today, machinery is used to carve and sculpt the wood into hollow pieces turning them into the stackable dolls. Back in the early years, each doll was individually made and sculpted by the hand of a master craftsman with only the use of small tools to carve and shape them.

Before each doll is painted, they are first individually coated with a thin layer of starch to prevent the paint from drying out on the surface. They are then painted by hand by skilled workers. The designs may consist of classical Russian attire: women with scarves and animals, the men are sometimes drawn carrying tools. The designs often consist of classical Russian attire, such as women with scarves and animals or men carrying tools. Every detail, pattern, and color on each doll are so identical to each other that you would think it was painted by machinery. After painting, they are again coated with another layer of the layer of starch which results to their glossy finish.

False Origin of The Babushka Nesting Doll

The nesting dolls origin dates back to 1890 when it was first made by a craftsman named Vasily Zvyozdochkin at the Children’s Education Workshop-Salon in Abramtsevo. The nesting dolls came from the idea of an unknown type of doll in Japan. Long before the first matryoshka dolls were created, the nesting of dolls was already common and popular in the Asian countries, Japan and China (though China nested wooden boxes, not dolls). Sources believe that Vasily wanted to create a wooden doll with hidden toys inside of it. His resulting creation was the first set of Russian nesting dolls. In this first set of eight dolls, each doll was uniquely different from one another, unlike many modern sets. the biggest doll was that of a girl holding a black rooster in her hand, followed by another, then another girl, and so on until the smallest doll, a swaddled baby. There was only one boy in the set. They were painted by the Russian painter and architect, Sergey Malyutin. Upon completion, they were named the “Matryoshka dolls”, matryoshka meaning “little matron”.

The “nesting” part of the doll is associated with the Russian matriarch, with the woman being the central figure of the family. In Russia, having a large family is a common culture, with each individual having their own specific role in the family, included are their extended family members, relatives, and elders. The term “babushka doll” which is more commonly used in the west is considered an incorrect term due to the origin that “babushka” means “grandmother” or “old woman”, giving away the idea that the term babushka dolls mean “little grandmother doll” which to the locals—is considered as false analogy.

In Russian culture, it is very common to have a large family which includes not only your close relatives but also extended family members. Each member of the large family unit has their own roles to fulfill, with the matriarch being the central figure. This is why the name Matryoshka dolls was chosen, as the smaller dolls nest inside their matriarch. Often people in western countries mistakenly refer to them as Babushka dolls, which when translated means grandmother doll and is a slight misinterpretation on the real cultural significance of these dolls.

The Widespread Fame of the Matryoshka Dolls

Both artists of the matryoshka dolls, Zvyozdochkin and Malyutin, were under the support of the wealthy industrialist, Savva Mamontov, who owned the Abramtsevo estate where they created the dolls. The original matryoshka dolls were then presented to the Exposition Universelle in Paris by Mamontov’s wife, where the dolls earned a bronze medal. Shortly after their initial presentation, matryoshka dolls became very popular throughout Russia, before being mass produced for a global audience.

Today, the matryoshka dolls are still being made in Russia. The designs and patterns of each set still follow the characters with their traditional attire. Some are designed with images of politicians, others display nature with flowers and mountains. Whichever design is used, these dolls remain as symbols of respect and honor to the matriarch, as the mothers serve as the pillar and foundation of her family.

 

The Real Symbolic Meaning of Russian Nesting Tattoos and Dolls

When a person goes to Russia, he or she is likely to buy Matryoshka dolls. These figurines are part of the Eastern European culture. They are a set of wooden figures of different sizes placed inside of each other. Children and adults alike play these toys to kill time or teach their kids to distinguish sizes and colors and sort things.

Nowadays, Russian nesting dolls are not just a mere piece of a toy because you can also have them on your body as tattoos. In this post, you will find out the symbolic meaning of Russian nesting tattoos and dolls.

Russian Nesting Doll Tattoos and Their Meaning

The literal meaning of matryoshka is mother. Hence, you can put a matryoshka tattoo on your body to show your love for your mom. However, some Russian nesting doll tattoo designs do not just represent motherhood. They also embody femininity and sisterhood.

Adding roses to the design can epitomize femaleness. It can also symbolize seduction and pride of being a woman. Meanwhile, vibrant, cultured tattoo designs represent sisterhood. But some Russian doll tattoo designs represent industry professions, global leaders, and popular fairytales.

Nesting Doll Symbolism and Meaning

Now that you know the meaning behind different Russian doll tattoo ideas, it is time to talk about the symbolic meaning of the doll itself.

As mentioned earlier, a Russian nesting doll is a wooden toy played by children and adults. Players should figure out how to open the dolls to expose smaller figurines in each barrel without squashing them. The smaller the doll gets, the trickier it is to open.

However, matryoshka dolls are not just a tool for teaching children how to sort out things and learn different colors and sizes because they have a symbolic meaning.

The biggest doll is called mother; hence, the name matryoshka. The smaller dolls, on the other hand, are the seeds.

The biggest doll originally represents a powerful female matriarch who is the primary figure of the Russian family. The little dolls found inside the biggest figurine are its children. Therefore, matryoshka embodies maternity and fertility.

There are other meanings behind this doll in addition to motherhood and fertility. One of these symbols is the representation of Russia. The biggest figurine is Russia, where this toy originates, while the little figures are the people of the country as well as their emotions. In other words, a matryoshka doll is a mother who can host these things.

Matryoshka dolls can also symbolize life. We are the big figurines, and the little toys inside each statuette are our experiences, stories, and relationships. We are a human being with different experiences. The tiny toys inside the doll represent our soul, embodying innocence and the true essence of ourselves.

Nesting Doll Tattoo Ideas

You already have an idea of the symbolic meaning of Russian nesting dolls and tattoos, but do you know where to find inspiration for your ink design?

There are many nesting doll tattoo designs but coming up with the best ink for your body can be tricky. Do these following tips to help you choose the best Russian doll tattoo pattern:

  1. Look at Other Tattoos: One way to get ideas for your doll tattoos is to look at other people’s inks. Looking at other’s tattoos can give you an idea of the design of your babushka tattoo. Be creative with your layout but be sure to consider the designs of other tattoos.
  2. Check Out Pictures, Stickers, Posters, Etc: Another way to get inspiration is to look at stickers, posters, and pictures. These images can give you the concepts of how your tattoo should look. If you do not have photos or stickers to look at, you can use the Internet. Search for babushka design ideas to gain inspiration on the web.
  3. Consider Monochromatic or Colored Designs: Before going to a tattoo shop, ask yourself whether you want a vibrant or one-colored tattoo. Either way, the Russian nesting doll ink will look good on you.
  4. Be Creative: You still need to use your creative juices when designing your Russian doll ink, even if you get inspiration from others. Remember that your tattoo is more than just an art. It represents the story of your life, which is a symbolic meaning of Russian nesting dolls. Let your imagination run wild so that you can come up with your matryoshka ink.
  5. Remember That Tattoo Will Stay as Long as You Live: A tattoo is a temporary form of art. Though there are tattoo removal services, they can be painful literally and financially. Select a pattern that you will enjoy for the coming years. Don’t get a tattoo when you are drunk. Otherwise, you will regret it later.
  6. Get a Design That Fits Your Personality: Every person is unique. Hence, you want to get a matryoshka ink design that reflects your personality. There are many designs to choose from, and whether you get the pattern from an existing design or create it yourself, you want your character to show up.

A matryoshka doll is not just a souvenir from Russia. It is a handmade doll and a form of art that embody more than just a female symbol. The true symbolic meaning of this memento is ourselves. It represents our stories, experiences, and emotions.

So, whether you are creating DIY Russian nesting dolls or coming up with tattoo design ideas, make sure that your chosen pattern signifies you.,/p>

Step-by-Step Guide on How to Open Nesting Dolls

So, you bought a Russian nesting doll, but you found yourself asking how to open nesting dolls. We are here to solve your problem, as we will give you tips for opening these barrel-like figurines. But first, you need to know what this doll is.

A Russian nesting doll, otherwise known as matryoshka doll, is a set of wooden figurines of decreasing size placed inside of each other. It has wooden figures, seperating top to bottom to reveal a smaller figurine in it. Thus, playing Russian dolls is a fun way for kids to learn colors and sizes and to sort things out.

How to Open Matryoshka Dolls

There are ten steps for opening Russian dolls. These steps vary, depending on the size of the figurine. Follow these steps to learn how to open nesting dolls:

Opening a Large-Sized Russian Doll

  1. Open your doll on a soft surface to keep your doll in decent shape while releasing the figurines. Sofa beds and mattresses are the best places to play this toy.
  2. Place one hand on top of the figurine and your other hand beneath it. Bring the toy up to your chest in a parallel position.
  3. Pull both ends into your chest to “break” the toy in half.
  4. Pull the top and the bottom parts apart once you have separated them. Do it carefully so that you will not drop the figurine inside it.
  5. Repeat the process until you reach the smallest figurines.

Opening a Small-Sized Matryoshka Doll

Opening a small Russian doll is different from opening a massive nesting doll. You need to do a few tricks to get the smaller dolls out of the bigger ones. Follow these techniques to open small nesting dolls:

  1. Use your thumb and middle finger and apply light pressure to the doll’s dress. Do this procedure until it creates a small gap between the bottom and the upper part of the figurine.
  2. Insert a fingernail between the opening and carefully pry them apart.
  3. Repeat this procedure until you get all the dolls.

If the Dolls Don’t Open

There are cases when you cannot open the doll because the wood has somewhat expanded. If so, you need to follow these steps:

  1. Lay the nesting doll in a vertical position. Use a soft, flat surface to prevent the toy from damaging.
  2. Use the sole of your hand and place it on the seam. Apply light pressure until the doll opens. Do it gently to prevent the figurine from squashing.

Opening a Russian doll is not as easy as it seems. Learning how to open nesting dolls will make this task enjoyable.

How to Paint Russian Nesting Dolls

Matryoshka dolls, more widely known as Russian nesting dolls, are easily considered Russia’s best-selling toys and souvenirs. The country has been making them for more than a century, with the first set made as early as the 1890’s. After earning a bronze medal from an international exhibit, exposure for the dolls quickly spread globally. Since then, there have been countless matryoshka dolls seen in stores all over the world.

These Russian nesting dolls are mostly given as gifts, home decorations, and travel souvenirs. Patterns and designs vary from classical to comical, the earliest being local Russian peasants and members of a matriarchal family. Today, matryoshka dolls can be decorated to the owner’s liking. Some of them do not include pictures of people instead of animals and nature. Some paint politicians, cartoon characters, holiday-themed images, or even customize them to display their own family members.

Other matryoshka dolls for sale are blank, which is perfect for any family activity or school project. Painting is a great way for both children and adults to let loose, express themselves, and unleash their creativity. Before we tackle how to properly paint them, let’s take a look at how they were first painted.

How the First Matryoshka Dolls Were Painted

Though the process of creating and painting of the matryoshka dolls remains unchanged, some parts of the process have been slightly revised for faster production due to worldwide demand. The first sets of the Russian nesting dolls were most likely made by hand, as there wouldn’t be a machine readily available to make such a specialized product. After shaping and hollowing out the dolls, they are then coated with oil to retain the moisture of the wood thus preventing them from cracking. After that, a starch-like substance is applied as a primer to create a smooth surface for painting and to prevent smudging.

All matryoshka dolls are hand-painted. It takes exquisite skill and technique to make sure that all dolls are identical as if they were painted by a machine. Traditionally, nesting dolls are painted with gouache, a paint similar to watercolor that has a matte finish when dry. The original peasant characters would primarily use red and yellow colors, but the tradition has evolved over time and various characters and other colors can be painted on the wooden sets. Finally, when the painting and drying were finished, the dolls are coated with lacquer for a glossy finish and to seal the paint within it.

Painting the Russian Nesting Dolls Step-by-Step

While a mastery of painting skills is needed to perfectly paint characters and themes, this doesn’t eliminate the fact that most matryoshka dolls are sold in blank hollow blocks of wood to paint for recreational purposes. To start off with painting your own set, here’s what you will need:
  • A blank set of matryoshka dolls
  • Paints (gouache, tempera, oil, or acrylic)
  • Lacquer (varnish is also acceptable)
  • Paintbrushes (broad and flat ones for filling in the colors, small-tipped for the details, and a regular round-ended brush for those in between
  • A soft drawing pencil

Now that you have all the tools and things needed, let’s start painting your very own custom-painted Russian nesting dolls:

  1. To start, you need to plan your designs and colors, what each doll will represent, and so on. Line up the dolls in order from smallest to biggest to be familiar with the order. Originally, the first dolls were characterized by the typical Russian peasants: girls and boys clothed with traditional attire or farm clothes with animals or tools on their hands. You can have your family as your theme for the set (you can include pets if you want), or you can go for something completely different! Be creative with no limitations.
  2. For beginners (especially if you have kids in this activity), it’s preferred to paint each doll a uniform color. Painting them with one or two layers of white can act as a base layer for more vibrant colors. Others choose to paint the patterns and details directly on the dolls without a uniform color which also works.
  3. Using a pencil, create faint outlines for the details of your matryoshka dolls. A circle on the top part for the head will do. If you chose to go traditional for your nesting dolls, you might want to add a headscarf for your females. For kids, you can ask them to draw another circle on the doll’s belly let them draw whatever they want inside. This makes it easier for them, so they don’t feel overwhelmed with too much detail. Otherwise, feel free to design and “dress up” your dolls in any attire that you wish.
  4. Now it’s time to paint away! Starting from the head, fill in the outlined circle using a skin-tone color. Add in some fringes or baby hair if you’d like. Next, using the small-tipped brush, outline the headscarf and add some details like a knot, lace or some fur if it’s a hood.
  5. If you did not paint a circle on the doll’s belly, you can proceed to the next step. Otherwise, keep reading. Fill in the circle with any solid color of choice. Let the kids draw whatever they like inside. It could be flowers, a simple sunny scene, or their favorite cartoon character, their name or initials can also work well. The purpose of this step is to make the dolls a little less busy in the children’s eyes, which cause confusion and loss of interest for some.
  6. Begin painting on the matryoshka dolls’ clothes and other details. It’s best to outline everything with the fine-tipped brush to set boundaries and fill them in afterward. Add the facial features of your dolls and any additional details you might want. Be creative in this part and let your imagination run wild. Upon completion of the process, leave the dolls in a dry environment for a few hours (much better if left overnight) for the paint to dry.
  7. Once the paint has dried, give your nesting dolls a few coats of lacquer or varnish for a glossy finish. Leave them to dry and you’re good to go!

Playing with matryoshka dolls feels like traveling on a time machine. The nesting dolls bring memories of the days where entertainment never revolved around technology. Painting your own set can also teach the importance of why the dolls are treasured in the first place. Creating them takes complete mastery of skill, patience and time. Perhaps after this activity, you’d get a better understanding of what it symbolizes and the amount of work and effort it takes that made the dolls one of the most respected Russian recreational pieces in history.

How Are Nesting Dolls Made?

Do you have your own set of matryoshka dolls? Was there a time wherein you just paused and gazed at the wooden masterpiece and wondered how was it made? Have you ever thought it was made from wood at all? How can one piece of wood be as smooth, glossy, and shaped into a hollow oval? How is wood even shaped into an oval? Won’t it break?

It is fascinating to believe that the Russian nesting dolls are made entirely from wood. Given their glossy appearance and smooth finish, one might even think that they’re shaped from glass or porcelain. The people who buy them might never understand the process that it goes through to carve and how the workers are able to produce such a masterpiece. Carefulness, precision, and mastery of the skill are needed to create just one set.

The People Behind the First Set of Russian Nesting Dolls

In the year 1890, two men namely Vasilii Zvyozdochkin and Sergei Malyutin, carved and painted the first set of matryoshka dolls. This set consists of eight uniquely painted wooden dolls, each one different from the other. The idea was to create a wooden doll that had the capability to hide more toys inside of it: resulting in the Rooster Girl, which was composed of eight individually unique wooden dolls. She was named “matryoshka” which means “little matron”.

There was no clear process indicated with the making of the first set of Russian nesting dolls. Sources believe that the procedure remains unchanged; meaning most of the matryoshka dolls made today are still carved by hand with the help of a turning machine called a lathe, and painted by hand—no measurements, no templates.

Matryoshka Doll Making Process

To start, the process begins with the most important element of the dolls: the wood to be used. Naturally, limewood works best for the material of the toys. Wood for the dolls can also come from alder, aspen, balsa, birch, or linden. Each trunk is cut from the top and bottom, then examined by an experienced quality control personnel to see if the wood is fit to be carved into matryoshka. After inspection, the logs are arranged to get aired out for one to two years. They will only proceed to the next step when the woodworker decides that they are ready. Rejected wood is usually rotten or damaged, and those who pass the quality inspection are proceeded to be stripped and husked until only the almost white inner wood is left. Before turning it over to the carving department, the wood is placed on the lathe machine to shape the wood into cylinders. Most sources say that the whole piece of wood is used for the whole set. However, based on the largest number of produced nesting dolls factory in Russia, each cylinder of wood that is stripped and husked is only equivalent to one half of a single doll.

For this next step, it is unclear whether or not the carving starts from the smallest doll to largest or vice versa. It is safe to assume that the workers may start on either, it just depends on which size they are more comfortable to begin with. Using sharp tools and razors, the cylinder blank of wood is again fastened to the lathing machine to carve each part of the doll. The top part is usually carved out first, which will then be used to mark the dimensions on the second block of wood for the measurements of the bottom part to match. The challenge is to create a doll from the two different blanks of wood as if it was made with only one. After the carving process is complete, the two parts are joined and sanded together to complete the shaping procedure. The carver then moves on to the next size and repeats the same steps. No measurements are made during the carving process, it all depends on the worker’s skills and intuition.

Wood has this characteristic of absorbing paint and chipping over time. To prevent this from happening, the dolls are coated with a starch-like texture of glue before they are painted. The substance not only protects the wood, but it also substitutes to the modern primer, making the dolls non-toxic and safe for children. Two to three layers of the coat are needed for each wooden doll before it is taken to the next step.

All matryoshka dolls are painted by hand. Workmanship is so precise that all the dolls look like they’ve been painted by machinery. Gouache is used to paint the dolls, which is a type of paint that is opaquer than watercolor, giving the colors a bright, bold, and vibrant look. What’s painted on the doll first is usually the outline, then the blocks of colors, and finally, the details. The paint on the dolls is left to dry before taken to the final step.

For the last part of the procedure, each doll is coated in a few layers of lacquer. This is to protect the paint job from natural wear-and-tear. Lacquer is also responsible for the shiny and glossy finish that the doll has when it’s displayed. After the lacquer has dried out, the set is complete, which will be then shipped all around the nation as well as other countries.

Nesting Dolls as a Work of Art

No modern and state-of-the-art equipment are used to create the matryoshka dolls that are enjoyed and wondered all over the world. The time and effort that was given complete just one set is an astonishing factor, with the workers so skilled that they’ve been making nesting dolls for decades.

The matryoshka doll serves as a symbol of a woman’s fertility and her motherhood. Similar to the role of a mother in her family, the process of creating the Russian nesting dolls require hard work, dedication, determination, and a good amount of passion. The wooden toys have been an ancestral treasure to Russia for more than a hundred years, and with good reasons. Each doll represents a slice of life from the traditional times, letting the owners reminisce on how simple the days were. It is, in fact, true that matryoshka dolls not only bring recreational joy to the young ones, but it can also carve a permanent mark in someone’s memory, the way they were carved to preserve theirs.

The Meaning and Symbolism of the Matryoshka Nesting Dolls

One look at these colorful and beautifully painted wooden dolls, and you’ll suddenly feel a cosmic-like force enveloping your spiritual being. The Russian nesting dolls, which are better known as matryoshka nesting dolls in their country of origin, embody a young yet still a timeless depiction of a simple and fairytale-like early times. The traditional designs and patterns of the wooden dolls illustrate a scene that once existed in the 1800s. Each character seems to draw you into the earliest settings of a simple peasant life.

Whereas people have limited understanding of the nesting dolls, what they symbolize, and why they were made; very few have understood the tale that led to the creation of these wooden toys, as well as the reason they were named “matryoshka” in the first place. To find out the goal of the production of the Russian nesting dolls, it’s fitting to delve deeper into the story that led to their concept.

A Brief History of the Birth of the First Russian Nesting Dolls

Completed in 1890, the first set of the Russian nesting dolls were crafted by a woodworker named Vasilii Zvyozdochkin, and painted by an artist, Sergei Malyutin. It was believed that Vasilii wanted to create a wooden doll with hidden toys inside of it. They created a wooden peasant girl clothed in a traditional Russian attire complete with a headscarf. She was named “matryoshka” meaning “little matron”, also referred to as the Rooster Girl, since she is more known as the wooden doll holding a black rooster in her arm.

Inside the first matryoshka doll were seven more wooden toys, each having their own characteristic feature and attire: the second doll is of a female, the third another female holding a scythe, the fourth is yet another female holding a bowl of what people assumed is porridge, the fifth is of a boy holding a long object that is believed to be a broom or maybe a fork, another female doll is next in the set holding in her hands a sibling with no clear gender, the seventh is another young girl, and lastly, is a baby wrapped in a patchwork quilt.

In 1900, this set was then presented to the Exposition Universelle in Paris, France, where it received a bronze medal. Shortly after, the dolls gained popularity and began to be manufactured from many parts of Russia. Soon enough, matryoshka dolls not only became known nationwide but also exported worldwide.

Symbolism of the Matryoshka Dolls

When the early nesting dolls were created, all of them were presented with females as their biggest dolls. That is because a couple of the main symbols of the matryoshka dolls were of depicting a woman’s fertility and their motherhood. The shape of the big-bellied doll almost portrayed a mother’s stout figure and her significance in the family by the nesting of her “children” dolls inside.

Mothers play a big role in the traditional Russian family; being the bearer of life and her capability to multiply her seeds are just some of them. In the country, having a big family is considered as a common practice and even an important one; there are usually more than three children, as well as members of the extended family live under one roof with them. Each member of the family is believed to have their own unique role in the household, and it’s the mother who serves as the foundation of the home.

Babushka Doll vs Matryoshka Doll

Matryoshka came from the Latin word “mater” which means “mother”. So, it was more than fitting for the nesting dolls to be named “matryoshka dolls” because of who and what they symbolize. However, people of the west are calling them “babushka dolls” instead of the original matryoshka; and although the term babushka is still associated with Russia, the name behind that holds a completely different meaning.

Babushka means “grandmother” or “old woman”. With that being said, naming the nesting dolls as babushka dolls clearly give out the incorrect meaning of the Russian wooden toys. The dolls represent a mother’s fertility, so, it was not a fit for them to be called as such. However, some suggest that the dolls were erroneously called babushka dolls because of their headkerchiefs, as the piece of clothing is really called a babushka. Today, with the evolution of the appearance of the nesting dolls as they characterize modern people with modern attire, it wouldn’t make sense to keep calling them babushka.

Nevertheless, it is encouraged to refrain from identifying the nesting dolls as babushka dolls. Their original name “matryoshka” would do, or simply “Russian nesting dolls”.

A Piece of Russia in the Form of Dolls

As time constantly changes, so does the physical features of the matryoshka dolls change little by little. Each doll has evolved from uniquely different to identically the same for patterns and designs, just different in size. Modern times are beginning to demand modern characters. A set of Russian nesting dolls can represent modern national politicians, religious deities, a royal family, or a group of celebrities. If preferred, the designs can be fictional like the characters of a cartoon show or a children’s story. They don’t even have to be fictional or non-fictional as you can opt for animal designs or nature sceneries. For a truly customized wooden dolls set, one can have his or her own family as the design.

It’s not hard to believe that the matryoshka dolls are a sight to behold, and the act of breaking the doll apart only to reveal a smaller one inside is indeed a surprise for many. As they are mostly considered as decorations now and seldom as toys, people are able to relish the simple joys in the traditional times as if they were born in it. The classical style of the matryoshka brings memories of a life once appreciated, and the dolls are more than fitting to embody the significance of a mother and her role in the family as one of the backbones in society.