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Slovak Folk Embroidery

Embroidery is generally viewed as the most important part of Slovak folk cultural heritage. Richness of motifs hand in hand with a great variability of compositions and color schemes being used are the best proof of a talent of Slovak folk and the only evidence one can possibly ask for to prove the uniqueness and sovereignty of our folk culture. Within years, traditional embroidery has attracted attention of numerous foreign exhibition visitors, in many cases serving as a kind of "political agitators" during our fight for the state sovereignty and independence.

Slovak folk embroidery

Quality of embroidery, as it is known from the beginning of the 19thcentury, represents the eve of "Golden era" of this folk artistic means of expression. Of course, this period was preceded by a centuries long gradual development. Majority of specialists agree that functional stitching and edge trimming of textiles gradually turned to a form of art. The fact that clothes making belonged to one of "inevitable" home chores means that needlework was regarded as a necessary or crucial skill of women of the past, comparable to cooking, for instance.

In the early Medieval Period, more complicated embroidery was almost exclusively used only on ceremonial textiles. Portraits and epitaphs dating back to the 16th century gave evidence of embroidery forming an important part of merchant and nobility costumes. Although there is not a lot of evidence on the development of folk embroidery from this period, its existence has been confirmed in official written documents mentioning donations of embroidered textiles made by village women to churches. In some Slovak regions, home production of embroidery for sale dates back to the 16the century. Most common were embroidered pieces which used to be inserted into home-made flex fabric thus forming the adornments of sheets, tablecloths and towels. Zilina was considered a main center of this craft those days.

Since the 16th century, originally "cosmopolitan" motifs started gaining specific Slovak features. Contemporary western motifs were being mixed together with the oriental ones, chiefly owing to Turkish expansion and contacts with both Turkish and Greek merchants. The typical style of Slovak folk embroidery began to form in the 17th and mainly in the 18th century, encompassing the features of all the above mentioned "schools." Regional variability started to develop in the 19th century, allowing specific and unique decorations to be introduced in particular regions, many times giving the origin to unparalleled ornaments particular for sometimes single villages.

During the "Golden era" of folk embroidery tradition, needlework in general became a subject of a prolific trade and, of course, an income source of various merchants and middlemen. In some regions, especially of Western Slovakia, specialized categories of ornament designers and embroidery "ladies" were created. They were able to meat even the most complicated orders of their usually very demanding customers.

At the beginning, stitches were fairly simple, basic ones being just a few. Later on, they gradually developed into a great richness of techniques cherished to these days. Embroidery respecting the structure of material, namely cross-stitch and other peculiar, very often complicated stitches, found its use in domestic flex fabrics decorating.. The peak of skillfulness represented white embroidery with rich embossing and inserted sewn patches. Often, embroidery was combined with applications on leather and, perhaps surprisingly, on fur.

In the 19th century, first industrial workshops started to appear in some Slovak regions. We must say, that their influence on original folk embroidery was more negative rather than positive. On contrary, embroidery was in a center of attention of national enlightenment patriots who helped the origination of first institutions focusing on folk traditions and cultural heritage preservation.


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