A Guide to Matryoshka (Russian Nesting Doll) Tattoos

Updated 04/16/19
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Matryoshka nesting dolls are popular throughout Russia, but odds are you saw them around as a kid, too. Whether it was the house of an older family friend, a grandparent, or just your house, they're whimsical and folkloric, which means they're collectible. They're also just sweet to look at. Matryoshka tattoos add a playful, and usually colorful, "storybook" type of theme to body art. 

Although often referred to as the grandmother doll (which is actually called a Babushka,) a true Matryoshka doll is a wooden set of rounded dolls with painted bodies and faces that stack within one another by size. Hand-painted in a beautiful array of colors, usually the initial doll is a woman wearing a peasant-style frock, leading the way to more the colorful nesting pieces within her. Lots of pretty dainty flowers and Russian-style artwork scroll across the dolls, making them a lovely choice for an artistic tattoo. Not all Matryoschka are women, though. Some Matryoshka dolls go so far as to represent global leaders, industry professions, and of course fairy tales.

Russian doll tattoos can represent friendship, family, next of kin, fairy tales, story books, travel, and culture. In lieu of a best friendship tattoo, or to Honor thy Mother, a Russian doll makes a fitting choice. If you want a tattoo design that represents siblinghood, Matryoshka tattoos are colorful and cultured, and the perfect idea for a family tattoo. Going in order of age, with the oldest child bearing the largest Russian doll of the set, the remaining siblings can wear the next size doll that fits their birth order. This unique tattoo idea will even work for just the two of you, simply make the initial doll a decent size smaller so that when placed side by side, the difference is evident.

Perhaps the best part of designing the piece, though, is all the varied colors and palettes you can use when. Don't limit yourself, but do try to stay within a limit of three to four colors for the most impact. Some color themes to consider are black, pink, ivory and blue, red, yellow, blue and white, or purple, green and red paired with yellow. If you need inspiration, find an actual Russian doll. There are plenty at thrift stores, or you can find pictures of them online. If you have an heirloom set of Matryoshka dolls, all the better. You can create a tattoo with meaning while displaying a family treasure.

Place your dolls where you can see their cute little faces often and you'll experience the joy they bring. The inner forearm, bicep and upper leg make pleasant places to stack a set of Russian doll tattoos. You can also opt for a side of the body tattoo, and place a single doll at your waistline for something different and unique. While you can depict the family in a row or just the largest doll of the group, size is of consideration. If you want color, you'd be better off opting for a larger Matryoshka tattoo than sacrificing small details for a petite one. Part of the lure of Russian dolls is the intricacy in their design.

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