Ariadne’s Thread: From Ukraine to the UK

17 June 2023, by Vidita Gupta

In this week’s blog, Costume Society Ambassador, Vidita Gupta, castes a spotlight on the incredible work of Ariadne’s Thread. Based in Tolworth, Ariadne’s Thread is a Polish-Ukrainian community group set up in response to the Russian invasion on Ukraine. The group creates a safe space where refugees can share their stories and do traditional crafts. With large scale embroidery projects always on the go refugees and volunteers can get involved to preserve Ukrainian traditional craft.

Ariadne’s thread refers to the Greek mythology around Ariadne, daughter of King Minos of Crete, who fell in love with Theseus. Theseus arrived in Crete to slay the Minotaur living in the subterranean Labyrinth. Ariadne gave Theseus a ball of yarn to enter the maze, which Theseus followed back after defeating the Minotaur. This story and the phrase Ariadne’s thread are often used to refer to solving an issue by various means. Drawing inspiration from this, we have a group of women that are contributing to the resurgence of Ukrainian voices amidst the Russian attack on Ukraine.

Following the Ukrainian invasion in 2022, Magdalena Glowacka began a Polish-Ukrainian community group, especially for the refugees, at Tolworth Station aimed at preserving cultural heritage. Creating a safe space for people to come together, share their happy and sad stories, and undertake traditional activities. Though this space is meant for people to share stories, traditions, recipes and crafts, Glowacka has chosen to celebrate the cultural heritage of this project through cross-stitch embroidery.

The starting project was the “Blue Cornflowers…” 2022, a large–scale cross-stitch embroidery honouring Maria Prymachenko, a Ukrainian artist whose museum was bombed by the Russians. This tapestry was launched on 23rd May 2022 at Hand & Lock in London and since then has become a regular embroidery activity which takes place every Monday. This project is open to anyone and so far, has had over 50 participants from different walks of life to join the group. Being a regular activity, this tapestry has some permanent embroiderers but the majority of the participants have been people that have visited the project during one of the exhibitions. Some of the refugees in Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Sweden and Norway have also chosen to lend a hand and are stitching smaller parts of the tapestry remotely. 

Ariadne’s Thread also has several different smaller-scale ongoing projects. The “Masha’s Blue Flowers” 2022 and “Sasha’s Yellow Sunflower” 2023 are both re-creations of artworks made by Ukrainian refugees. The former was the first in this ongoing series, inspired by Masha’s painting which she created following her evacuation from the occupied Kherson. This tapestry has been completed by seven Ukrainian refugees and migrants residing in Poland. “Sasha’s Yellow Sunflower” 2023 is an ongoing project, a part of which is being created by pupils from local schools in Kingston upon Thames, including children with autism and communication difficulties.

The latest project is “Masha’s and Natasha’s Flowers” 2023, which is a work in progress undertaken by Ukrainian refugees in the South of England. This work was based on the artwork created by Masha and Natasha, a mother-daughter duo, during their evacuation. This design of colourful flowers set against a black background is divided into 8 larger and 4 smaller panels, with 10 adults and 2 children involved in the creative process.

The idea behind the group was to develop Ukrainian artworks into cross-stitch tapestries and offer a therapeutic outlet to those displaced by the conflict. The significance of neither the art nor the use of cross-stitch must be lost. What makes this project a success is the internal values of the art of embroidery. Glowacka was inspired by the traditional Vyshyvanka (Ukrainian shirt) embroidery. Like other traditions worldwide, this folk embroidery varies from region to region within the country and is also associated with different beliefs and myths, especially those around protection and fertility. Unfortunately, this art was targeted by the Soviet Union’s attempts at Russification but its legacy as a personal talisman carries on. In addition, the use of a basic form of stitch makes this entire project inclusive for people, irrespective of their experience.

Over the course of this year, Ariadne’s Thread has evolved from simply providing a safe space for people to share their lives to being a powerful effort of resistance against forces trying to eradicate a culture. This resistance not only impacts the present but is sure to leave an indelible mark on the future of Ukrainians. Creating these tapestries has provided everyone involved, but especially the refugees an outlet for their grief and rage. For those forced to leave their homes and lives behind at the snap of their fingers, this symbolises their struggle for independence and a chance to preserve their culture and identities.

Glowacka has released the Ariadne’s thread of preserving the Ukrainian embroidery tradition into the world, and it continues to reach out to communities across the globe. If you want to know more about the project or help to complete the tapestry, contact Magdalena Glowacka at or visit the Baking Ideas space at Tolworth Station on Mondays from 12 to 2 pm. You can also join Ariadne’s thread facebook group.

This article was written by Costume Society Ambassador Vidita Gupta.

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