Ponyava; Pan’ova; Panova; Poneva – Wrap around skirt

The 3 panel wrap around skirt that I frequently wear with my Early Rus clothing is a somewhat contested piece. This is something I’ve never shied away from stating when I’ve been asked about it. The existence of the garment is less contested (Kolchin gives examples of archeological evidence for the panova and there is a bracelet of a dancer wearing panel skirt from the Kievan Rus period) than what it was called, how it was made and, perhaps, how it was worn. As you can see from the title, even the word being used now to describe the skirt has many versions of spelling which I would guess doesn’t make the naming issue any easier. Ponyava (or other spelling variations) loosely means ‘to wrap, to embrace’.

History of Ukrainian Costume is the first book I used when I started in on developing my rus persona or, more specifically, when I first started trying to figure out what to wear. Now, when I started in the SCA and tried to work out a Rus persona it was…difficult. There was very little information out there and the internet wasn’t around. (Yes, that sentence did just make me feel a bit old). This particular book was in English which was enormously useful. I was in Winnipeg at the time and there is a fantastic Slavic section in the Elizabeth Dafoe library at the University of Manitoba but, alas, I can’t read either Ukrainian or Russian (or any other language other than English for that matter).

Anyway, that book talks about the Pan’ova being a wrap around skirt made of particoloured checked or diamond fabric, worn only by married women. It consisted of three unsewn panels held together similar to drawstring pants. Rabinovich claims that panova/poneva term for the checkered wrap skirt is a term that appeared in the 16th C and the name prior to that is not known. Pushkareva states that the checkered version of the skirt is known in the 12th -13th C and prior to that it could have been linen and the possibly the same colour (or different) as the shirt.

What I have figured out so far is that there is evidence of a wrap around skirt that existed in the time period I want to recreate. Given that in the 10th C the common fabrics/threads available consisted of; wool (mainly sheep), plant fibres (linen, hemp), felt and fur/hide, the idea that the skirt could be made of wool, half-wool or linen are all plausible. Tabby and twill weaves are common with checked, striped, diamond/rhomboid or geometric patterns. So, again, diamond, plain or checked fabric could have also been plausible. The fact that silk, brocades and fine wool broadcloth (not exactly sure what that means) was imported seems to make it less plausible that these fabrics were used since the garment appears very utilitarian/practical to me.

Archeological evidence supports the following common colour choices: brown, black wool, grey, red, green, blue, yellow, black and white with a predominance of reds.

Somewhere along my way there has been talk about the following construction ideas:
3 panels attached at the top (or slightly down each panel) and held at the waist with a belt/drawstring style.
3 separate panels held together at the waist with a belt/drawstring style.
1 piece split half-way and folded over a belt.
The panels are unlined.

I have made a few of these skirts over the years. I really like them. They give the costume something different from just a generic t-tunic (though the head-gear and the bling that’s worn with this kind of give the Rus bit away). They are very practical. I have used them to get things off the fire, to dry my hands, to quickly wipe up spills, etc. I do find they make a difference in warmth on chilly nights without making too much of a difference on warm days. Admittedly, I wear lighter wool at that point and I really need to make some linen ones for the summer.

This was the first panova I made and I still wear it. I probably should have ironed it before I took these photos but oh well. 🙂 This panova is made from fabric that is an unknown fibre content that was gifted to me. I had heard somewhere at that point that block printing for fabric was being used during the Kievan Rus period and I thought this would work. I liked the colour too. I have not been able to follow up on the block printing idea and I’m not sure when I’m going to get to it so I can’t tell you just how appropriate the pattern is. The width and length of the panels was decided by the amount of fabric I had. I’d never made one of these before and I was the only one around attempting it so I winged it. 😀 I divided the fabric in the best ‘3’ I could make and sewed up the top, put an inkle-woven belt through it and away I went. When I’m wearing this, there is another belt that goes over the panova that is used to hold a pouch, knife and/or charms.

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The next set I made, I constructed in the same 3 panel attached at the top style. I had found a diamond fabric on sale in two colours and decided to experiment a little. Again, this fabric is synthetic but it is pretty. The experiment had to do with the idea of lining the skirt. I had heard (and I do not have a reference for the statement) that the panels were unlined. That made me wonder why. So, since I had the same fabric in two colours I made one set lined with linen (red) and one without the lining (gold/yellow). Wearing them, I don’t find that the lining makes any difference in use. I do find that the lining of the red set slips quite a bit (which might be user error or not) and when I’m not wearing it against a white shirt, the lining is visible. The end result for this was..why waste fabric on something that doesn’t seem to matter if it’s lined? At some point in time I will be removing the lining of the red ones as I find it annoying to have it slipping over the edges.

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2014-02-17 11.22.16You can see in the above photo how the lining keeps peeking out. Even after I iron the crap out of it, once I’ve worn it for any length of time, the lining slips.

I’m always on the look out for appropriate panova fabric but it isn’t all the easy to find. Especially when you want fibre content and pattern. Then I found Wood-n-Woven (http://wood-n-woven.com/). I purchased a lovely red/black diamond twill with plans to make a panova from it. This time I decided to try to the three separate panels idea. This construction method requires a much longer belt in order to actually wrap the skirt properly. I ended up using a failed rigid heddle weaving piece (it was meant to be trim but I didn’t like how it turned out) as it was the only thing that was close to long enough to wrap 2-3 times around my waist. Unlike all the previous skirts, this one is entirely hand-sewn. Hand-woven fabric deserves nothing less. 😀 The panels of this one ended up being a little wider than I’ve previously used and that seemed to have worked well for this style. I do find this style much more fussy to put on. You line up the back panel, then wrap the belt with the other two panels around and then lay the two side panels on the second pass of the belt. The previous skirts go on really quick and easy. I am not sure if that’s due to unfamiliarity though. I first wore this at Birka this year so I have yet to see what other difference (if any) there are during wear.

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I am now working on another panova. Again with fabric from wood-n-woven. This one is in progress and is being hand-sewn. Though this time I am taking apart some extra bits of the fabric and using those threads to sew the piece. The panels of this skirt are the same width as my earlier attempts which means that they’re a little more narrow than the above panova. I am debating trying the separate panels idea (though I need to make a proper length of belt for it) to see if the width makes any significant difference in how it lays on the body. In the final photo below the panels are just tucked into the belt around the shirt.

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I haven’t tried the single piece fold-over construction method yet. Given the weaving technology of the time that I prefer (10th C) I would think a single piece would be implausible as that would be quite wide and beyond the ability of a single weaver. The looms being at the time were more likely the vertical style and fabric width (especially for home-spun) would be restricted by width a single weaver could move the shuttle. There is the possibility that the ‘single’ panel would actually be two panels sewn together half way down the length (which is much more plausible) and then folded over a belt. I haven’t decided if I’m going to attempt this yet. I can see some restrictions from that construction style that would negate how I use the apron aspect of my skirts as they are now.

Final thought: A quick search on Early Rus clothing or panova will end up showing you a number of other re-enactment groups with women wearing the panova. You’ll probably end up at the Pinterest site but if you dig a little further you can end up in a number of inspiring places. And in the absence of complete extant pieces and with very little pictorial evidence in regards to the panova, it’s nice to see others thinking along the same lines as I am. 😀



Barford, P.M. (2001) The Early Slavs. New York. Cornell University Press.

Kolchin, B. A. (1997)  Ancient Russian Costume. Drevnaia Rus’: Byt i kultura. Chapter IV. (Trans. Kies, L.)

Nahlik, A. (1963) Textiles of Novgorod. Works of the Novgorod Expedition. Vol IV. (Trans. Kies, L.)

Pushkareva, N.L. (1989) Especially clothing they created…(Clothing and ornaments of ancient Russian Women). Zhenshiny Drevnej Rusy. Chapter IV. (Trans. Kies, L.)

Rabinovich, M.G (ed). (1986) Ancient Russian Clothing of the IX-XIII Centuries. Drevyaya Odezheda Narodov Vostochnoj Evropy. Chapter 3. (Trans. Kies, L.)

Sherman, H. M. (2008) From Flax to Linen in the Medieval Rus Lands. https://www.academia.edu/859238/From_Flax_to_Linen_in_the_Medieval_Rus_Lands

Ukrainian Heritage Library. (1986) History of Ukrainian Costume: From the Scythian Period to the Late 17th Century. Melbourne. Bayda Books.

1 Comment

  1. Asrun said,

    April 9, 2014 at 10:26

    Hi, it´s nice to see that other reenactors have the same problems as I 😉 I also love the panova skirt, but it´s really hard to find some informations. The best book I had was from Kolchin, so I´m very happy about your references. I´ll try if some of the books are available here in Germany.
    Greetings from Germany, Asrun

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