Nesting dolls are the best known and most popular of all Russian
souvenirs. The Russian word for these wooden dolls is matryoshka, but
they are also called matrioshka, matreshka, matriochka, babushka or
babooshka dolls, babushka's doll, matroshka, matruska, matryushka,
and stacking dolls. Whatever you want to call them, nesting dolls have
a fascinating history, and they are the classic Russian gift.
The most traditional nesting doll design is one that looks like a young
Russian woman dressed in Russian native costume with a scarf on her
head. In the traditional nesting doll sets all of the dolls look almost
identical to one another, and the number of dolls in the set ranges
from 5 to 30, but some custom made matryoshkas contain many
more. In other cases, the set forms a theme, such as the classic sets of
nesting dolls of Russian leaders, with each earlier leader nested inside.
That is a doll inside a doll inside another doll and so on.
Russian Nesting Dolls, Matryoshka,
• Originally called Matryoshka dolls, from the Latin word ‘mater’, meaning mother.
• Russia is a country steeped in history and has held a fascination for many of us over the
years. This interest pans from the Russian Revolution, which saw the end to Tsars, to
exceptional athletes (especially Olympic gymnasts.) World famous Ballerinas, circus troops
and of course Babushka Dolls!
• Did you know ‘Babushka’ means Old Women in Russia? The dolls were considered a symbol
of fertility, representing future generations.
• Babushka dolls were associated with the healthy, plump image of a peasant woman with a
large family. The colourful earth mother dolls have long been a part of our childhoods, with
the ever shrinking figurines fitting neatly inside one another to tell the story of a mother and
• THE BIRTH OF BABUSHKA
• Babushka dolls, or nesting dolls, began life around 1890 in Sergiev Pasad- a busy little village
near the famous Trinity St Sergius Monastery, about 73km outside Moscow. Sergiev Pasad
became famous for its wooden toys- in particular the Babushka Dolls.
• The Babushka dolls contain eight pieces; the first doll was called the ‘Roster Girl’ and
portrayed a peasant lady in native dress, holding a black rooster. Inside her was a boy
followed by a girl and then so, each painted differently from the others in the set.
• Traditionally Babushka dolls were made with a soft linden wood. (same timber still used for
all cuckoo clocks) The trees were felled during spring then staked for up to six years to
dry. Each family was made from the same chunk of wood to ensure the pieces reacted
equally to the climate. Each Doll was hand turned with skill, instinct and expertise rather
than using measurements.