Category Archives: Behind the Design

September 13, 2010

The Wolves of Transylvania


The Carpathian mountains of Romania are home to a very large population of gray wolves. Commonly called Transylvania, this region contains the largest popluation of wild carnivorous animals in Western Europe. Recent counts have estimated that approximately 3,500 grey wolves live in this beautiful mountainous region, which makes up about 40% of the wolf population in Europe.

Grey wolves are the second largest carnivore in Europe, and can reach up to almost 5 feet in length and 175 pounds in weight. They live in hierarchical packs, and hunt mostly deer, boar, and smaller wild animals. Despite the negative stereotypes around their species and their widespread presence in  Romania, they seldom come into contact with humans, preferring to keep to themselves in the deepest regions of the Carpathian mountains.


Copyright © 2009-2010 Victoria Hillman

Grey wolves are not currently at risk for extinction, but their environments are still being threatened. With human populations expanding, the large natural territories they need for hunting and breeding are becoming smaller. Negative perception of their species by humans lead to a vast extermination of them throughout central and Northern Europe during the 19th century.

In acknowledgment of this beautiful region and the wildlife that inhabits it, we designed our Mt. Tampa Wolf Graphic Tee this season:


In support of efforts to help save this remarkable animal, Tea will adopt a Grey Wolf through World Wildlife Fund‘s Adopt an Animal program for one lucky winner. To enter the contest visit our facebook page, and comment on our post about Grey Wolves. Share with us your child’s favorite wild animal by the end of the day and the randomly selected winner will be announced tomorrow! To read more about WWF’s program, click here.

August 30, 2010

A History of Nesting Dolls

Some of our fans pointed out that it might be confusing to show nesting dolls in Old World Hungary, since nesting dolls are traditionally Russian.  So we decided to do further research on the history of the nesting doll so that we could share it with our readers.


Chinese Origins

While the modern day nesting doll is most popularly associated with Russia, the first nesting dolls actually came from China.  The Chinese crafted nesting boxes that date back to the Song Dynasty, around 1000 AD.  These boxes were both functional and decorative. Sometime during the 1700s they applied this concept to a set of dolls and the first nesting doll was born.

Chinese nesting dolls are similar to the nesting dolls that are common today.  In the original Chinese sets the smallest doll held a single grain of rice.
image found on the Hidden Treasures of Famen Si

The above image is actually as set of nested caskets.  I am having a hard time finding images of traditional Chinese nesting boxes or the original Chinese nesting dolls.  Does anyone have any good resources?

Nesting Dolls in Japan

Soon after nesting dolls originated in China they made their way to Japan.  Japanese wooden dolls were made to look like the Seven Lucky Gods from Japanese mythology.  The outer most doll was Fukurokuju the Japanese god of happiness and longevity.  He had an abnormally long forehead, like in the doll below.
images found on:  Ingrid’s Nesting Doll Page (left),  MamaZakka (right)

It seems logical that the nesting doll concept would take off in Japan as they already had a tradition in similar dolls.  Like nesting dolls, kokeshi dolls and daruma dolls do not have arms or legs.  Both kokeshi and daruma dolls are hand painted with decorative bodies and simplified facial features.


images found onCuriosities of Japan (left), Blogadilla (right)

Daruma dolls are modeled after Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism.  Daruma dolls originated in the city of Takasaki, around the mid 1760s.  They are a hollow Papier-mâché doll and often have a wooden mold to create their shape.


images found on:  Vintage Goodness (top left), The Jasper (top & bottom right), Etsy (bottom left)

Kokeshi dolls originated in Northern Japan during the Edo period (1600-1868).  Kokeshi dolls are hand made of wood and have decorative painting.  Many Kokeshi dolls, are made also made as a nesting dolls.

How the Nesting Doll Came to Russia

Some stories say the earliest set of Japanese nesting dolls were actually made by a Russian monk. Whether this is true or not, the nesting dolls made their way to Russia in the early 1890s when Savva Mamontov discovered a set.  Mamontov was a wealthy supporter of the arts and wanted to revive Russian folk art.   One of his artists, Sergei Maliutin created the first Russian set with the help of Vassily Zviozdochkin.   Their concept was to turn the nesting dolls into a symbol of Russia.

fukurumaNestingDollsimage found here

The nesting dolls that inspired Mamontov and Maliutin would have been similar to the set above.

OriginalNestingDollsimage found on Wikipedia

Above is the original set of nesting dolls by Maliutin.  These dolls can still be seen at the Sergiev Posad Museum of Toys in Zagorsk, Russia.

RussianDolls2images found on: Yahoo (top left), Clementine (top middle), (top right), Children of the World (center left), Little Gypsies (center right),  StyleHive (bottom row)

The above are done in style of more traditional Russian style.  Russian nesting dolls go by many names, Matryoshka (and many variations of that name), Russian Nesting Dolls, Stacking dolls, and sometimes babushka dolls, though there are arguments that this is not actually a name for the dolls. Matryoshka comes from Matryona, a popular Russian name at the time.  Traditional dolls are meant to look like a Russian women in traditional Russian dress.

Throughout Eastern Europe

In 1900 Mamontov wife presented the first Russian nesting dolls at the World Exhibition in Paris.  Soon after nesting dolls were being made throughout Russia and the surrounding regions.  Nesting dolls today can be found in Eastern and Eastern Central Europe in countries like German, Poland, Czech Republic, Italy, Ukraine.  Many of these countries have created their own motifs that are common to their region.  Nesting dolls are popular souvenir items through Eastern Europe.


images found on Ingrid’s Nesting Doll Page
The dolls above are from Ukraine, they have unique bullet-shaped bodies.


images found on Ingrid’s Nesting Doll Page
These dolls from Poland have a more complex shape than the traditional Russian dolls.  Our Design Guru, Laura Boes, remembers fondly playing with her Polish grandmother’s set, which looked very similar to the set on the top right.


image from Tea
We found these pretty floral sets while traveling in Hungary.

images found on Ingrid’s Nesting Doll Page
This set from Romania have large childlike eyes.  They feel more playful than some of the more traditional sets.

Nesting Dolls Today

Today nesting dolls are popular all over the world.  So popular in fact, that our we already sold out of our Nesting Doll Tee.  Beyond the traditional motifs dolls, nesting dolls now come in sets of political leaders, pop icons, animals, and fairy tales, really almost anything you imagine.  They’ve transcended their traditional form and have become a very popular icon, especially in the the crafting community.  A search for matryoshka on Etsy yields more than 2500 results.

CrafterCollagesMicasita Etsy (top left), Bored Inc. (top center), Pulp Designs Etsy (top right), Kathleen Dames Etsy (middle left),  aimoobaroo Etsy (bottom left), Mountain of the Dragon Etsy (bottom right)

With all the variety in nesting dolls today it is easy to see why they would be so popular.  There’s a nesting doll out there for everyone.  A simple, but brilliant concept has given this toy universal appeal.


For the animal lover…
AnimalNestingDolls2images from:  Bella Fruitella (top left), Deviant Art (top right), Bits & Pieces (bottom left), Irina Troitskaya (bottom right)


for the arist…ArtistDollsimages found on:  Audree Lapierre (top left), Unedit my heart (top right), CB2 (center left), How Now Design Flickr (center right), ModaMuse (bottom left), the wurst gallery (bottom right)


For the fashionista…

found on:  Belleslettres Etsy (top left),  Russian Vogue (bottom left and center), unknown (right) – please let me know if you  know.

for the techie…

TechGeekimages found on:  Engadget (top left), ListsGalore! (top right), (middle left), Toys & Games reviews (middle right), Drysdale & Co (bottom left), GagdgetHER (bottom right)


for the music lover…
MusicLoverimages found on: NikkiShell (top left),  listsGalore! (top right), Amazon (bottom left), Amazon (bottom right)

sources and further reading
a nice collection of nesting jobs from all over the world:  Ingrid’s Nesting Doll Page
another good source of nesting dolls from different regions:  Nesting Doll Types
scroll to bottom of page for a great history:  The Russian Store
another good history:  Russia the Great
more history:  eHow, Russian Legacy
brief history of Matryoshka, Kokeshi and Daruma Dolls  Mama Zakka

August 20, 2010

Happy St. Stephen’s Day!


Today is a Hungarian national holiday, celebrating St. Stephen I, Hungary’s patron saint and First King (between 1000 and 1038 AD). Through his powerful role as King he helped to establish the Kingdom of Hungary, so August 20th, while commemorating his life, also celebrates the birth of Hungary. During the Soviet occupation of Hungary St. Stephen’s day was dismissed as being “too religious”, and was replaced with a celebration of the Stalinist constitution, as well as a “celebration of new bread”, referring to the beginning of the harvest.

Modern day Budapest celebrates St. Stephen’s Day with fireworks, air shows, and outside fairs, with stands selling bread and cakes.

This season we happen to be carrying a shirt that references King Stephen’s reign – our Knights Double Decker Tee was inspired by the Knights of King Stephen’s army:



Have you ever been in Hungary during St. Stephen’s Day? Did you celebrate it as a child? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments.

August 10, 2010

Nanaos Dragon Pullover

We found the inspiration for our Nanaos Dragon Pullover in the streets of Budapest on this amazing manhole cover.

Check out some other cool manhole imagery from Budapest.

We found these on a blog called Manhole Miscellany.

Here at Tea, we’ve been wondering whether the image on the pullover is really a dragon. Or could it be an eagle?

To us, no matter what you call it, the Nanaos Dragon Pullover is one sweatshirt boys will love to wear back to school and all throughout the fall. It’s sure to be warm, comfortable conversation-starter.

What do you think? dragon or eagle?

What do you think? dragon or eagle?

August 9, 2010

Nesting Dolls

TeaNestingDollsMy Nonna had an amazing set of nesting dolls when I was little. They were my favorite things to play with when I visited her house (or at least, a close second to crushing potato chips in her vintage coffee grinder),  so I was pretty excited when Laura and Emily brought back these beautiful nesting doll sets from their Old world Hungary inspiration trip. They immediately made way to my desk so I could ‘be inspired’ by them, but really I just wanted to play. Every time I played with my grandmother’s dolls I was always amazed that when I thought I had made my way to the smallest doll, there was even a tinier one inside.   Turns out even now, I still get excited by this. “Oooh, there’s an EVEN smaller doll after this one!”  I’d announce to my coworkers, who were actually working and probably not that interested in my toys.

This set’s tiniest doll even had a painted face!  Thrilling!

Tea’s Nesting Doll Tee

July 12, 2010

Károly Reich

When Laura and Emily brought back the below postcards from their inspiration trip to Old World Hungary, they could barely keep them away from me.  I was ready to start designing graphics immediately.

postcards of Károly’s Reich linocuts from Tea’s inspiration trip

I saw on the back of the cards that they were by Károly Reich, a Hungarian artist and children’s book illustrator.   I couldn’t wait to see more of his work.   Most of his work is in watercolor or gouache, which I found even more charming than his linocut pieces.  The more I found, the more obsessed I became.  I searched the internet for days trying to find every last piece of his artwork.  I was image searching   I found myself on a random assortment of Japanese book sites that collected his work.

just a few of Károly Reich’s watercolor/gouache children’s book illustrations

I managed to get my hands on two of his books.  I got lucky with an Amazon used book search.   Matt the Gooseherd a Hungarian story told in English.  I love the idea of sharing a Hungarian tale for an English audience, I think its a great way for children to learn about new cultures.   Let’s See the Animals teaches children about a variety of woodland creatures, most of which live both in Hungary and North America.  AND! It’s illustrated in crayon!  Crayon!?  A real, respected artist who uses crayon!  I was smitten.  I was ready to design our entire line as a tribute to this man.  While the rest of the team didn’t really go for that idea, there are a few pieces that are inspired by his work (see below).

Tea’s tops inspired by
Károly Reich‘s illustrations
left:  Folk Tale Graphic Top
right:  Knights Layered Sleeves Tee


Let’s See The Animals and Matt the Gooseherd covers

And if anyone out there knows how to get their hands on this Reich Károly collective book, let me know – I’m still searching for it!

fun fact: I was having a hard time determining if his name was Károly Reich or Reich Károly.  It seemed to be listed differently on different books.  I asked my aunt, a librarian, which she thought was correct.    Turns out that in Hungarian names are written backwards according to the Western way of writing names.  They are apparently the only country that does this.

June 5, 2010

The Korean Dragon – A Hodgepodge of Creatures

While looking through the travel photos from Korea, I noticed over and over again that all the dragons looked like they had antlers.  Now, I have seen dragons with horns, but these were definitely antlers – like Bambi’s father had.  At first I thought it was a little odd, but since I kept seeing it over and over again, I decided to do some research.

Dragons with antlers from Tea’s travels:

Korean Dragons and Kirins

(images from: Tea’s travel photos)

The first creature I came across was actually not a dragon, but the Kirin.  A Kirin has a dragon’s face, deer antlers, a lion-like body and hooves.  Since many of the pictures our team took were from Korean temples that only featured the face of the ‘dragon’ I figured I could have been looking at a Kirin and not a dragon at all.  The more I read about the Kirin the more intrigued I was.  The Kirin is a gentle, nature-loving creature.  It is said that the Kirin would never hurt anything in the natural world; in fact it is so gentle that it can walk across the grass without crushing a single blade.  The Kirin also has the power to walk on water.

Pictures of the Kirin:

Korean Kirin (images from: google images, Tea’s travel photos and Praying for the Happiness – Korean Decorative Painting)

I thought I solved the ‘mystery’ of the dragon with antlers but I was still curious about the actual dragons of Korea, so I decided to keep researching.  Like the Kirin, the Korean dragon is also benevolent and peaceful with a strong connection to nature.  There are three types of Korean dragons:  Yong, the most powerful, protects the skies, Yo is a hornless dragon who lives in the ocean, and Dwell is a dragon that lives in the mountains.  The Korean dragon is also a symbol of protection; it is believed the Korean dragon protects humans and wards off evil spirits.  For this reason dragon masks are a common feature in Korean homes, especially on doors to protect the household.

Tea’s dragon mask shirts and our travel images that inspired them:

Korean Dragon Masks

(images from: Tea’s travel photos, Tea’s Jeju Dragon Graphic Tee and Heem Dragon Polo)

It turns out the Korean dragon is also a mix of many different creatures.  Like the Kirin, the Korean dragon also has horns of a deer and scales like a fish.  Some sources say the Korean dragon also has the head of camel, eyes of a rabbit, claws of a hawk, feet of a tiger, and the belly of a frog.  Unlike most other dragons, Korean dragons do not have wings, but they can still fly.

Examples of Korea’s wingless flying dragons and Tea’s flying dragon tees:

Korean Flying Dragons
(images from: Praying for the Happiness – Korean Decorative Paintings, Tea’s travel photo, Tea’s Flying Dragon Tee and Yong Dragon Graphic Tee)

While the exact make up of the Kirin and Korean dragon is hard to determine, since different sources say different things.  It is clear that these wonderful peaceful creatures come from the imaginations of people who have great respect for wildlife.  By combining some of the most unique features of different animals, they create a powerful, God-like creature that embodies the love and respect the Korean people have for the natural world.

These Tea tees celebrate dragons with features from many different animals:

Korean Dragons are made up of many different creatures. (images from: Praying for the Happiness – Korean Decorative Paintings, Tea’s  Dragon Double Decker Tee and Seoul Tee)