Polish Folk Embroidery
Polish Folk Embroidery
“Those village nosegays, as we know, were piled high and steep. Their colours like those of an altar, their shape like that of a heart, or a fan, or a palette ”.
That is how Julian Tuwim in his „Kwiaty polskie” stimulated the reader’s imagination, directing it towards village gardens, towards meadows and fields with their multitude of gorgeous, dazzling flowers that delight our hearts. A bouquet in a vase is an ornament to any room and gives it a warm atmosphere, and blossoms depicted on canvas produce fine aesthetic impressions in the beholder. And what about embroidered flowers, especially those adoring the various parts of costumes? In the past they served to embellish the dress, to distinguish the wearer and bring him or her success, to commemorate certain events and to underline the special character of the place they came from. It is special character, this variety and richness of forms and colours, these regional features that the author and illustrator of the book „Polish Folk Embroidery” wanted to draw our attention to. And these are not only flowers – shaped like hearts, fans and rosettes, flowers white, gold and coloured, small and large, in bouquets, wreaths and garlands, or scattered all over. There are also other ornaments more archaic than plant motifs, ornaments that have been used in decoration from time immemorial. Jadwiga Turska has dedicated almost her entire life to embroidery. She has written several handbooks and several dozen works in which, apart from practical advice, she has included original peasant patterns.Such garments were first made of home-spun fabrics – linen, worsted wool and woollen cloth – and later of factory-made fabrics – wool, velvet, brocade, silk, etc. The author has taken pains to convey as faithfully as possible all the variety of material used, and also its texture – the softness, hairiness, smoothness, sheen, the denseness of the weave. She has been just as scrupulous in showing the cut of each garment which had a bearing on the shaping of the individual parts of the costume and on the distribution of ornaments on them. So in the pictures we may see such details as seams, cuts, fastenings, ruffles, folds, frills, waistbands, pockets, handcitffs, and collars. We may admire their authentic colour, the kind of thread used, the techniques and stitches applied, such as cross, chain, herringbone, half-cross, blanket, buttonhole, stem, satin, threaded, flat and raised stitches; we may admire drawn-thread and richelieu work, the minute eyes of the tulle (it seems hardly possible that they can be hand-painted), the loops of lace, the application of beads, sequins, buttons, all kinds of braiding and trimming, and many other elements which were used in the decoration of Polish costumes. The faithfulness to the original is photographic. It happens often that photography fails to convey certain details, the way some motifs are arranged or various complexities resulting from the technique of sewing. Folds in the fabric sometimes produce shadows in the photographs which makes the ornament difficult to decipher. The illustrations in this book reveal all that there is to see and thanks to the depth of light and shade make the patterns more plastic.
Among European books on folk costume, that is garments made of home-spun fabrics and decorated with embroidery, there are many that include plates produced by graphic artists. Such albums, notably those produced in Russia, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia in the first half of the twentieth century, represent varying artistic levels, but their value as documents is on the whole negligible. They are no match for the work of the eighteenth and nineteenth century painters who in their watercolours and prints depicted with the utmost accuracy so – called village types wearing their regional costumes. Such works of art coming from Norway, Switzerland, Italy and other countries constitute a document of the epoch and an important source for researches. Jadwiga Turska s illustrations have the same kind of significance, in addition to their artistic merits.
Polish folk embroidery owes its specific features to such elements as the kind of stitches used, the choice and composition of decorative motifs, the colours, raw materials, and the place and arrangement of ornaments. In the past these depended on various local and regional factors, including the natural environment. The type of economy determined the raw material used, and the colours and forms of ornament. These were also dictated by tradition, beliefs and magic. In addition, a certain influence was exerted by contacts with larger towns or religious communities, both of which passed on their skills and ideas to village women through craftsmen and nuns (Warmia, Kashubia, Upper and Lower Silesia).
It was in towns and convents that village girls learnt new stitches and motifs, often completely alien to Polish folk culture. This is how native ornaments were enriched with floral compositions of tulips, chrysanthemums, carnations and pomegranates rendered in a more or less realistic form and in considerably expanded colour schemes. This took place mainly in the nineteenth century when, following the emancipation of the peasants, there was more freedom in many fields of village life. Innovations were gradually adopted and became part of local tradition, which originally was much simpler as regards motifs. These original motifs were mostly executed on linen in single stitches, usually in the incredibly painstaking counted thread technique which involved counting the warp and weft threads. This served to produce geometrical motifs, usually with a local symbolic significance that was comprehensible only to the wearer and those closest to him or her. These included solar
symbols, such as rhombuses, Greek crosses, swastikas, circles and squares, as well as triangles, straight lines, zigzags, wavy or meandering lines, stars, horns, sickles, ram’s horns, spirals, esses and other motifs, their names derived from the surrounding world, often inspired by magic rites and beliefs. The colour schemes depended on the available natural raw materials: the whites, greys and golds of linen and hemp canvas, the thread of various thicknesses made of the same fibres, plus the browns, blacks and greys of sheep wool and the reds obtained from natural dyes. Other colours also occurred, but not very frequently.
The range of colours was enriched in the second half of the nineteenth century following the discovery of aniline dyes. In the late nineteenth century this invention reached the countryside. New thread of various kinds added colour to the embroidered motifs. On women s garments there appeared multicoloured flowers, often executed with the help of beads and sequins, arranged in nosegays, garlands, wreaths, etc. The more gifted of the village women followed the models of craftsmen, townswomen and nuns, but often their work still revealed a lack of expertise in composition and a fragmentation of forms that were afar cry from naturalism. The first attempts were also made at introducing plant motifs, especially in the embroidery on linen executed in the counted thread technique. Such motifs usually had a geometrical shape which makes them seem more archaic. This is confirmed by contemporary embroidery on linen in chain stitch from the Silesian Beskids and by multicoloured embroidery in cross stitch from the Lowicz area.
Traditionally, the sewing and decorating of garments was the work of women who as they grew learnt their skills from their mothers, grandmothers, aunts and friends. Embroidery as a village trade is of a fairly recent origin. Earlier it was a craft practised above all by men in small towns and larger villages, whose wares were sold at village markets by itinerant traders coming to Poland from as far away as Slovakia. Sometimes these craftsmen also worked directly to order. They produced men s and women s garments, often richly decorated, which were purchased by rich peasants, because the poor could not afford them, and satisfied their needs in this respect with home-produced clothes. The above mentioned embroiderers, who were well known in the area and who had a close knowledge of the community in which they were born and reared, respected the tastes of the local population, their beliefs and the laws that guided them. As a result, just like women embroiderers, they observed the time-sanctioned conventions in the field of decoration. They never departed from the accepted norms and aesthetics, including the symbolism of motifs and colours.
They knew that some motifs, such as red or white roses, befitted young woman and girls; that white, silver and gold suited brides; that larger blossoms were for younger women, smaller blossoms in bluish hues for older women, pink blossoms for bridesmaids, and purple blossoms for women in the final stages of mourning. Ornaments executed in way, sinuous line were meant to ensure prosperity, strength and health. Almost every motifs had its own name, and there was a regional term for almost every stitch. However, these have by now disappeared almost without trace, as the rapid changes of the twentieth century flooded the market with ready-made clothes and the demand for embroidered ornaments diminished.
And today not only outsiders but also women embroiderers themselves treat these stitches exclusively as traditional ornaments, and no longer understand their functions, and names, and the significance once attached to them.
In spite of the general similarities, each region of Poland, just like everywhere in Europe, had its own typical motifs, stitches and compositions. Cieszyn in Silesia could boast densely applied one-colour motifs in chain or half-cross stitch, white eyelets, hem stitches and flat work on linen chemises and kerchiefs, and plant ornaments in gold thread on velvet bodices (later in coloured silk or lace cord). In the Rzeszow region the old monochromatic meandering and solar motifs, mainly executed on linen aprons, were replaced with colourful plant ornaments adorning women s cloth aprons and, worked in chain stitch, on men s cloth garments. The Sqcz area has circular plant motifs embroidered in red flat stitch on linen kerchiefs and chemises, as well as asymmetrical compositions in chain stitch, worked in woollen thread on men’s overcoats and trousers and on women s jackets. In the Lowicz region the original modest volutes in chain stitch, which used to decorate chemises, developed into large geometric plant motifs worked in cross, flat and richelieu stitches, these motifs now being used to adorn the sleeves of such chemises. Podhale in the Subcarpathian region has a variety of motifs worked on both linen and cloth. Highlander s cloth capes and breeches are adorned with the traditional motif of „parzenica ” in flat, herringbone or chain stitches, and their capes often also bear stylised rosettes, while women’s bodices feature colourful branching carlines or other plant motifs worked in silk, beads or sequins. The contemporary Podhale dress is embellished with white-work embroidery, and eyelet plant compositions decorate the sleeves and collars of chemises instead of the previous modest flat and open-work embroidery in linen thread. Cracow embroidery of craft, town and peasant provenance also presents a rich variety both in the eastern and the western part of that region. We find not only white flat and open-work plant motifs decorating women s linen garments, but also multicoloured embroidery, especially on velvet and silk bodices, worked in silk thread, sequins, beads, woollen and cotton thread, and also ornamental braiding on cloth waistcoats and overcoats. The origins of such adornments were various, associated both with the traditional folk or craft ornaments and with design by such artists as Mehoffer or Wyspianski. The famous Cracow bodice is a multicoloured plant composition which has hardly anything to do with what was worn by peasant women before World War I. Its sumptuousness has inspired embroiderers in other, quite remote areas.
The enrichment of the traditional ornaments with new motifs and techniques which are alien to the local tradition, is not a characteristic feature of the Cracow region alone. In step with the changing fashions after World War II similar changes took place elsewhere, e.g. in the Rzeszow region, in the Cieszyn part of Silesia, the Lowicz area, Podhale and the Krzczonow region, even in those places where archaic ornamentation survived longest. Such was the case in the Silesian Beskids where the original simple geometrical patterns in chain stitch were enriched with geometrical plant motifs, especially motifs of roses and grapes. The same is true of the cross – stitch embroidery from the Opoczno, Piotrkow and Hrubieszow regions. The mid – twentieth century also saw the disappearance of some archaic forms, e.g. in the regions of Bilgoraj, Rzeszow and Lasowiacy (the fork of the Vistula and the San rivers), Spis, Orava, and the Opole and Kielce areas. In some parts, e.g. Kurp, Kuyavia, Great Poland, Zywiec or Cieszyn, white flat open – work embroidery on tulle has survived thanks to the orders of Cepelia cooperative or of various folk song and dance companies. Another reason for the survival of old traditional motifs and techniques is the fashion for folk art or else, like in Kashubia, attempts made by some local enthusiasts to popularize them – in the case of Kashubia, the motif in question was golden embroidery on velvet bonnets.
Professor Barbara Bazielich
This area is famous for its archaic embroidery and costumes of white linen.
Embroideries were once worked in red and black cotton thread, and more recently in blue thread.
The main, almost exclusive technique used was chain stitch which served to produce motifs of spirals and compositions of volutes or scrolls, as well as trimming stitch applied for edging compositions arranged in stripes.
Embroidered ornaments decorated the seams and the hems, the edges of collars, and yokes in women’s chemises, and the hems and the central seams of aprons, as well as the edges of thick linen shawls worn by married women.
In the early twentieth century simple cross stitch embroidery, sometimes combined with the old scroll motif, appeared on the cuffs, collar edges and the front of men’s shirts.
Composition of blue woollen cord adorned other garments, above all the collars, front edges, sides and cuffs of the overcoats.
Sheepskin coats were adorned with applique work of soft white leather as well as embroidery in red and green silk thread worked in the motifs of stems, cubes and crosses along the edges, on the sides and pockets.
Old chain-stitch embroidery featuring spiral motifs, which used to adorn linen head bands, called „zatyczki”. Worked in red and black cotton thread.
Late 19th and early 20th cent. Naklik and Potok in Zamosc province,
Lazory and Harasiuki in Tarnow province.
State Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw
The ornaments applied in the Włodawa area are unique, above all as regards the technique used. These are motifs worked with the needle and thread during the process of weaving. Such embroideries, mostly in geometric motifs in red, black and dark blue, adorned women’s chemises and the hem of skirts and aprons.
It was used to decorate the yokes, sleeves, frills and cuffs of women’s chemises and the fronts of men’s shirts. The broad bands of woven ornaments were often separated by patterns in flat or cross – stitch. The stand-up collar
featured flat embroidery which covered the whole surface in recurring bands and trimming stitch patterns.
In the Krzczonów area, apart from embroidery both women’s and men’s garments were adorned with applique work of braiding and ribbon which formed broad bands on the fronts of jerkins, the hems of skirts and aprons of fine wool, and on velvet bodices. Use was made of silver and gold threads and sequins. The other part of the costume, mostly of linen, were originally decorated with white embroidery in trimming stitch which covered the seams and edges. Later, chain, herringbone, zigzag and buttonhole stitches were applied to form linear compositions in broad bands on the turndown collars, cuffs and yokes of women’s and on the fronts of men’s shirts.
In the interwar period cross-stitch embroideries in yellow, red and white thread, arranged in bands of geometric patterns, began to be used.
In the area of Hrubieszów embroidery decorated mainly linen garments, such as women’s chemises.Black cross – stitch embroidery in geometric patterns formed bands on cuffs and yokes, while white flat-stitch embroidery in plant motifs covered broad turndown collars.
Later new colours and motifs were added. Geometrical motifs in rhythmical linear patterns covered an increasingly large area, and collars were filled with black cross – stitch embroidery in plant and geometrical motifs.
The edges of collars and cuffs were often finished with white crochet work. On women’s bodices of wool or velvet coloured embroideries in plant motifs – flowers and branches – formed vertical compositions.
The motifs used by village embroiderers in the Rzeszów area were influenced by court and town patterns.
The ornaments began changing fairly early and in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries broderie anglaise and plant motifs worked in satin stitch in colour thread appeared.
Older forms of decoration have been preserved in the Łańcut costume. These were worked in the drawn thread technique and trimming stitch in white linen thread, and adorned above all the seams and edges of linen garments, as well as in satin stitch to produce plant and geometrical motifs.
Special attention is also due to linen shawls, originally decorated in patterns in white thread and later in yellow, brown, black or red (always one colour). The basic motif were minute eyelets encircled by patterns of flatstitch embroidery.
Women’s chemises, skirts, aprons, ruffs and shawl’s corners were later adorned with combinations of eyelets arranged in plant motifs and minute floral patterns which covered densely the whole surface which was
Velvet bodices featured similar patterns worked in coloured sequins, beads and silk thread.
The original costume of the Lasowiacy, who inhabit the area in the fork of the Vistula and San rivers, was made of white linen and decorated with monochromatic embroidery, mainly on the yoke seam, cuffs and fronts of chemises, the edges of shawls and the hem and the central vertical seam of aprons. The patterns employed were modest, worked in linen and later cotton thread in red, black, rarely blue in trimming, chain and zigzag stitches. The most frequent motifs were spirals and zigzags in bands, which were always edged with linear contours.
Plant motifs appeared towards the end of the nineteenth century. There were composed of simple elements, such as branches, flowers, dots and crosses in cotton thread in satin, back and cross – stitches.
At the same time chemises began to be adorned with bands of red geometrical motifs (without linear contours), while the corners of shawls were embroidered in black cotton thread in stem stitch, the motifs being symmetrical flower bouquets of simple, unsophisticated form. In addition, the edges of kerchiefs had fairly broad bands of „lines” and „ladders” in trimming stitch.
In the Sącz area, which was differentiated culturally, the Lachy costume was particularly characteristic. This had several versions which disappeared almost without trace after World War II.
The yokes, cuffs, fronts and collars of women’s linen chemises were adorned with abundant plant motifs, often in red cotton thread in eyelet, satin and buttonhole stitches. Similar patterns, often with the addition of sequins,
appeared on kerchiefs and aprons trimmed with crochet work.
Similar ornaments enriched with heart-shaped in white or blue and red, adorned the yokes, cuffs and fronts of men’s shirts.
Another specific feature of the Sącz costume was coloured chain stitch embroidery, mostly in plant motifs, on jerkins and skirts of blue, black or green cloth.
Women’s and men’s jerkins and men’s overcoats had broad embroidered bands along the sleeve edges, the front and black, and their corners featured characteristic flowers on the shape of a circle on an asymmetrical branch.
These were worked in woollen or silk thread in red, yellow or white.
Similar colours were used to adorn breeches – the fronts of the legs by the ankle – with a heart-shaped motif.
Another costume worn in this area was that of the Sącz highlanders, which has become extremely rare since it stopped to be worn soon after World War II.
Only men’s cloth garments were embroidered, e.g. breeches with embroidery at the front worked in cotton thread in chain stitch or else applique work of woollen cord in the form of an oval „parzenica”. This motif was placed
symmetrically on both sides of the ankle slit, while the side seams were decorated with several straight lines. Ornaments also appeared on the fronts of brown or white capes, where they formed straight lines and spirals, mostly in red, yellow, green or white, worked in chain stitch.
A characteristic feature of the man’s attire was the so-called „ciosek”, a neckpiece in the form of a stiff semi-circle covered in silk, its surface decorated with coloured chained-stitch motifs of lines, arches and flowers, in
addition trimmed with sequins, golden braiding or fringes.
The traditional Szczawnica embroidery has become a rarity and today appears in a considerably changed form mostly on men’s cloth garments.
Dark or bright blue jackets of the older type were decorated at the front, on stand-up collars and by the buttonholes with vertical geometrical or plant motifs, e.g. red-end-yellow and green branches, worked in chain stitch.
Later, more ornate floral patterns were added to the vertical ornaments and appeared on pockets, the lower part of the back and the corners of the front.
Ornaments on white cloth breeches underwent a similar evolution.
Embroidered ornaments adorned at first the slits by the ankle and later the side seams, pocket and leg slits. The basic motif which appeared by the ankle slit a treble symmetrical loop in chain stitch gradually turned into a heartshaped
motif worked in chain or Janina stitch in red, green and yellow thread.
Women’s bodices, woollen and silk, were at first adorned with appliquework of factory-made tape, mostly over the seams and at the edges. This was soon replaced with embroidered floral patterns worked in satin stitch in pink,
yellow and red woollen thread.
The main decorative element of women’s sheepskin coats is applique work of white, red or blue morocco leather, with the addition of cloth and embroidery in cotton thread. Such adornments cover the seams, sides and corners of the front.
In Orava embroidery served to adorn linen and cloth garments.
White embroidery covered the cuffs, collars and fronts of men’s shirts, the cuffs and sleeve frills of women’s chemises and the hems of linen skirts. Its motifs were modest, mostly dots and small leaves worked in cotton thread in satin and chain stitches.
There is more variety on cloth capes. Embroidery in mostly yellow, red green woollen thread covers stand-up collars, the upper part below the collar and the edges of the front. The prevailing motifs are tulips and multipetal flowers connected by wavy branches, and the main techniques are satin, chain, zigzag, herringbone and stem stitches.
The motif that is characteristic for this region is a looped „parzenica” of black cord and braiding. It appears by the ankle slits on the legs of white cloth breeches, and also on bodices made of dark wool, where all seams and backs are covered in such patterns.
Sheepskin coats are generally used in Orava, like in other mountainous regions. They are usually red, adorned with applique work of white morocco leather in broad bands, toothed along the front, as well as on the stand-up collar, the edges of sleeves, cuffs and the hem.
The decoration of the Spis costume distinguishes this region from the neighbouring highland groups. The oldest and most interesting embroidered patterns adorning linen shirts and chemises are worked in chain and braid stitches in black or brown.
A popular pattern is a broad horizontal band of plant motifs: pomegranates, tulips, and multipetal blossoms covering the upper part of the sleeves of women’s chemises. Later geometrical motifs, mainly stars in cross stitch were applied. The neckline was completely covered in braid stitch embroidery and minute geometrical motifs stood out against the plain background.
In addition the cuffs of linen chemises and their edges were adorned with drawn thread work, which is still popular today.
Coloured embroidery appeared on cloth garments, e.g. the „parzenica” motif on the ankle slits of white breeches. Initially of a looped shape executed in black cord, it was later supplemented with minute embroidered patterns and today forms a large embroidered motif. Such „parzenicas” are usually in red, yellow, orange, and green, with the addition of numerous minute floral and geometrical motifs worked in herringbone and chain stitches.
Similar red and green motifs and applique work of red cloth or leather served to decorate white sheepskin coats. Leather applique work formed a unique kind of „pleated” decoration on the side seams and pockets.
The Podhale embroidery is extremely varied. Almost every village has its own motifs which have undergone various changes and are still used by local embroiderers.
Such ornaments decorate both women’s and men’s garments. They all share one common feature (with the exception of white embroidery) – that is, they adorn the same parts of the costume and are worked in the same technique.
In women’s costume they appear on bodices of wool and velvet. Initially rather modest, at present they cover almost the whole front and back, including the waistband. The most popular motifs are edelweiss, twigs, and circular multipetal flowers worked in satin, chain, feather and shaded stitches in silk thread or lace, with the application of sequins, glass beads and paillettes. Embroidery decorates also white linen chemises, ruffs, kerchiefs and aprons. In the early twentieth century modest plant ornaments with openwork were used to form wavy, circular and oval motifs, loops, twigs and leaves worked in flat, raised and buttonhole stitches. Later these turned into complex compositions of open-work ornaments only, recently machine-made, also in white thread.
In men’s attire, coloured embroidery is used to decorate cloth garments, such as breeches and capes, and its complex form dates back only to the interwar period.
A characteristic element is the „parzenica”, its colours and form different in almost every village. Some are heart-shaped, others are more circular with loops and pincer motifs. They decorate trouser legs on both sides of the ankle slit and are worked in coloured wool in chain, herringbone, zigzag and Janina stitches. The side seams of the breeches and the ankle slits feature stripes densely embroidered in wool. On cloth capes and coats embroidery is accompanied by applique work of red and green cloth with decorates the lapels, the lower rim, the stand-up collar and the edges of sleeves. In addition there are bunches of large flowers recalling roses or tulips on the upper part of the front. Similarly adorned are sheepskin coats and sleeveless jerkins trimmed with fur, but here embroidery is supplemented with applique work of soft leather. Such coats and jerkins have been worn by both men and women since the late nineteenth century.
The old Zy wiec costume distinguished itself by its wealth of embroidered ornaments, their origins sought in town and court fashions. There are two main kinds of embroidery: in gold and in white. White embroidery featured plant motifs forming bouquets of flowers, leaves and twigs and appeared above all on tulle garments such as ruffs, wraps, kerchiefs and aprons. It was worked in cotton thread in darned, flat, threaded and eyelet stitches.
Motifs executed in flat and eyelet work decorated linen chemises, skirts and head scarves.
Golden embroidery worked in raised, flat and applied stitches appeared on velvet garments, that is, red coifs and bodices, where use was also made of pearls and colour glass beads to produce floral motifs.
In the interwar period such sumptuous costumes began to disappear and toady they may be only admired in folk song and dance companies and on objects produced as souvenirs.
In Upper Silesia there were once several kinds of embroidery which decorated mainly women’s clothes. The most popular kind was white embroidery in satin, chain and drawn thread stitches, which survived longest on linen aprons in white and blue or more rarely white and pink stripes. Such aprons were trimmed with crochet work with a band embroidery above it. The basic motifs were roses, grapes, winding twigs and leaves. They were worked mostly in satin and raised stitches in cotton thread or chenille.
White embroidery from the Pszczyna area is particularly attractive. This was worked in satin, eyelet and drawn thread stitches in geometric and plant motifs and decorated the rims and corners of kerchiefs, the cuffs, ruffs and fronts of chemises and the hems of linen aprons and petticoats.
At present only aprons and wraps are adorned in this fashion – usually in coloured, more rarely white, plant motifs arranged in rhythmical stripes.
This embroidery became popular in the interwar period and after World War II. It was mainly worked in flat stitch in silk thread or lace, and featured floral motifs, usually roses with twigs and leaves. However, it did not recall the nineteenth century coloured patterns on children’s bonnets and bride’s bodices and coifs.
The women’s costume from the Opole region of Silesia was decorated with both coloured and white embroidery. Linen kerchiefs, aprons and coifs had rather small white ornaments, mostly plant and open-work, while the yokes and cuffs of chemises featured both white patterns and bands of black, brown or yellow embroidery. The motifs used were circular or fan-shaped flower bunches, often with a tulip, carnation or pomegranate in the centre.
Red, yellow and blue floral motifs covered above all the whole fronts and backs of cloth bodices, and today can also be seen on aprons, kerchiefs and wraps. The most commonly used techniques are satin, trimming, buttonhole and chain stitches.
In almost the whole of Lower Silesia, especially its south-western part, fine, costly coifs were worn still in the early twentieth century. They were made of velvet, silk or brocade and decorated in gold, silver and silk thread, glass beads, paillettes and sequins. The ornaments, which covered the entire horseshoe-shaped crown of the coif, featured exclusively plant motifs – multipetal blossoms, tulips, bells, pomegranates, leaves of various shape and twigs winding asymmetrically in a vertical arrangement.
Similar patterns adorned ribbons which, together with golden or white lace, embellished the coifs.
Another characteristic element of Upper Silesian women’s costume was white embroidery worked in chain and flat stitches and open-work on mesh or tulle. This embellished broad linen aprons, coifs and large white shawls.
Plant motifs were composed of eyelets and mesh of a circular or oval shape, linked by branches and twigs.
The folk art of the Cieszyn area was considerably influenced by the traditions of the townspeople and the ducal court, which can be seen both in embroidery and in unique silver jewellery.
In women’s attire, the most interesting element was a bodice of a special cut which over the years underwent various changes as regards the technique, colours, ornaments and composition of embroidery. It was made of velvet, its edges and neckline trimmed with braid, and it was richly embroidered in gold or silver thread. Later, braiding was dispensed with and embroidery covered the whole surface. The main motifs were large stylized flowers worked in flat and satin stitches.
After World War 1, in view of lack of appropriate materials, silk thread and lace were introduced, combined with sequins, paillettes, glass beads, etc. At the same time the composition of such ornaments changed.
Embroidery on chemises was worked in white thread and usually featured plant motifs composed of arrangements of eyelets, often filled with meshing. Such embroidery was executed in cotton or floss, in buttonhole or chain stitches.
On the Polish side of the border the characteristic costume has survived only in the villages of Istebna, Koniakow and Jaworzynka and it distinguishes itself by its embroidery which is unique as regards both its techniques and ornaments.
It is always monochromatic – black, brown or cherry-red – and worked in braid stitch in cotton and fine woollen thread. The entire background is covered with embroidery in the colour of white linen in geometrical or stylized plant ornaments. Such embroidery adorns women’s chemises, mostly the rim round the neckline and cuffs, as well as the corners of head scarfs, and the fronts and sleeve rims of men’s shirts.
The village of Wilamowice at the border of Silesia and the Cracow region boasts a uniquely original women’s costume and its ornaments. Embroidery appears exclusively on linen garments and features scrolls, tulip and pomegranates which form narrow, densely arranged rhythmical stripes. The yokes and cuffs of chemises are embellished with spiral ornaments, usually in yellow chenille worked in chain stitch.
On linen head bands, scarfs and coifs the spiral and plant motifs are executed in flat stitch in cherry-red or sometimes brown cotton thread.
Cracow embroidery is extremely differentiated and serve to adorn both women’s linen garments and women’s and men’s cloth, woollen and velvet clothes.
Its composition, colours and techniques depend on the locality, but it has some common features.
It was worked in woollen, cotton, silk, occasionally gold and silver thread with the use of sequins, beads, lace and ribbons, and the most popular techniques were chain, trimming and satin stitches and eyelet work.
The prevailing ornaments were floral motifs with leaves and twigs, either rendered naturalistically or stylized, arranged freely in stripes or filing a large surface. They appeared on the large triangular collars of men’s overcoats and on women’s bodices, as well as on head scarfs, ruffs, aprons and skirts which in addition had their hems finished in open-work.
Particularly noteworthy were women’s bodices and jackets decorated in woollen, silk or cotton thread and linen clothes embellished with white embroidery.
White embroidery on head scarfs, aprons, skirts and chemises was originally worked in linen thread, later in cotton and silk thread, in a number of stitches: trimming, chain, flat, buttonhole and blanket, often with open – work and drawn thread work patterns. The eyelets, at first round and later oval, formed the trimming of petticoats, skirts and the comers of head scarfs. With time such ornaments turned into large open – work patterns.
Coloured embroidery of various type appeared on men’s jackets and overcoats. Worked usually in chain stitch, it adorned the corners of the fronts and collars, pocket and the side seams on the hips and by the hem.
Of special interest are decorative elements in the form white-and-red peacock feathers which embellished the collars of overcoats from area of Skalbmierz.