Matryoshka Dolls, two



nest legend apply (2)
set (2) design countless
hide deliver identical
secret surprise legend has it
iconic lime (2) block (3)
wood kind (2) class (2)
carve durable attractive
stack capable withstand
grain identify blank (2)
supple friction will do (2)
lathe core (2) sharp (2)
rotten army (2) fall apart
razor raw (2) shave (2)
born strip (2) challenge
reject ensure dimension
fiction illusion eccentric
slot coat (2) humidity
tight science come apart
grip test (2) moist/moisture
noise smooth judgment
patent treat (2) comes down to
dozen shift (2) marvelous
blade absorb character (3)
luster process supposed to
glob pattern battalion (2)
brush draw (2) brushstroke
based outline regimented (2)
starch sand (2) in order to
fit (2) lacquer wear-and-tear
paste nesting ingredient
pack ship (2) souvenir






Few things say Mother Russia like the nesting doll or matryoshka.

Russia produces around 1.2 million of these iconic sets every year.

They come in countless designs . . . but on the inside, they are identical . . . only smaller . . . and even smaller . . . dozens of dolls can hide inside one another.

The process of crafting them has been a closely guarded secret — until now.

So how do they do it?

Semyonov, Russia. This small town produces more than sixty percent (60%) of Russia’s matryoshka. Most, around seven-hundred-and-twenty-thousand (720,000) per year, are made in this factory, Khokhlomskaya Rospis.

It’s no surprise it looks old: they’ve been making matryoshki here since the 1960s.

Legend has it that each nest is carved from a single block of wood. The true story however is much more interesting.

To carve the perfect doll, first of all you need the right kind of wood, and to make a top-class matryoshka, only lime trees will do. It might make up less than two percent (2%) of Russia’s forestland, but lime wood is perfect for the job.

It’s soft, easy to shape and durable. The ideal material to make a doll that has to be both attractive and capable of withstanding a lifetime of stacking and unstacking.

It takes the skilled eye of a master craftsman like Alexander Nikolayevich to identify the logs with the finest grain.

Wood Quality Controller: “I have to check the quality. This one is good. But those over there are rotten inside . . . they will be rejected. Only the best lime will do.

To make a matryoshka, only the supple white heart of the wood is sufficiently grain-free. The outer husk has to be stripped away before the inner core lathed into planks.

And here’s where the one piece of wood myth falls apart: each of these planks will become just one-half of one doll.

So it’s time to get carving.

The outer dolls are handmade by this army of woodworkers; and like the dolls they craft, the carvers’ just keep on coming.

Armed with a series of razor-sharp blades, they shave and shape the blanks with incredible precision.

The challenge is to make both ends of married together, as if they were born from the same piece of wood. In order to ensure this, they first cut out the top and then use it to mark out the correct dimensions on a second plant using friction to burn a line in the wood.

To complete the illusion, the two halves are tooled and sanded as one. Anya Nikolayevna has been making matryoshka dolls for twenty (20) years.

Anya Nikolayevna, Matryoshka Craftswoman: “Before sending products to the painting unit, we sand it one more time. We sand it so that it is perfectly smooth.”

Anya moves on to the next size up before slotting the smaller on inside, to check that it’s a perfect fit. But even her skills can’t keep the doll from coming apart without a little science.

The key is to select a blank for the top half that contains twelve percent (12%) more moisture than the bottom half. When it dries out, the top contracts and clamps onto the bottom half to form a perfect tight fit.

Anya Nikolayevna, Matryoshka Craftswoman: “Otherwise it would just fall apart. It wouldn’t hold. But if this bottom one is dry and this top one is moist, they will grip together when they dry.”

Anya and her colleagues don’t have time to run tests for wood humidity: it all comes down to judgment and experience.

Anya Nikolayevna, Matryoshka Doll Craftswoman: “I can tell by the noise it makes; it’s supposed to sound like this.”

Anya and her team handcraft thousands of dolls per day. But even with all their craft skills, they can’t carve out the smallest dolls.

The answer is the company’s patented carving machine. It’s a marvelous mini matryoshki production line. Four razor-sharp blades carve a doll from a wooden blank in under one-and-a-half seconds, delivering two-thousand (2,000) of these tiny, wooden babies in an eight-hour shift.

With the carving complete, it’s time for these dolls to be given some character in the paint shop.

The problem is that raw wood absorbs paint and robs it of its luster. The solution is one of the most unusual parts of the process: it’s all down to potato power.

The workers treat the wood with a good helping of potato paste, the natural equivalent of a modern day primer. When the potato starch dries, the wood is sealed. It’s cheap, readily available and highly effective.

They get through ten kilos of the starch based glob every shift. Each doll gets three coats over three days before it’s ready for its iconic paint job.

The workmanship is so precise that it looks machine painted. But in this workshop, forty (40) strong brush battalion complete three-thousand (3,000) matryoshki per day, by hand. That’s over twenty-thousand (20,000) brushstrokes and three kilograms of pain every twenty-four (24) hours.

Painters like Svetlana Vladimirovna are a highly regimented production line.

Svetlana Vladimirovna, Painter: “We work in threes: one of us draws the outline; I’m painting the blocks of color. Then Galya paints the flowers.”

Traditionally, all dolls follow the same classic red and yellow pattern. But today’s designs are more eccentric.

Finally, in order to protect the paintwork from wear-and-tear, it’s given a coat of lacquer. Like the potato paste, it’s made from natural ingredients, and safe to apply by hand.

At last, they’re ready to be packed up and shipped out to souvenir shops from Moscow to Miami, Brasilia to Bangkok.


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1. Are matryoshka dolls made entirely by hand in cottages, or in factories in industrial processes, or both?

2. The main manufacturing center is in Moscow and St. Petersburg. True or false?

3. The matryoshka dolls are made of different types of wood: oak, beech, pine, walnut. Is this right or wrong? Are they very selective of the quality of wood?

4. Do the crafts peoples carve the dolls entirely by hand, or do they use heavy machinery?

5. The manufacturing is a technically complicated process. Is this right or wrong?

6. Do the painters paint directly on the wooden figures?

7. Do the painters only use traditional motifs and designs?

8. The crafts persons are only men. Is this correct or incorrect?


A. I have a set of matryoshka dolls in my house. Yes or no? Do you know anyone who has matryoshka dolls?

B. Have you seen nesting dolls for sale in shops, markets, souvenir stands?

C. Are traditional crafts popular in your city? What are some traditional handicrafts in your country?

D. Traditional crafts are an industry in my country. Yes or no? Do they have a potential to become an industry?

E. What will happen in the future?

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