Shirt sleeve cuff, early 20th
century. -Matyo Museum, Mezokovesd, Hungary
Although most Matyo women and
girls did embroidery, not everyone could draw. The patterns were
drawn on the cloth freehand, and this was done by professionals called
"iroasszonyok" - writing women - or "rajzoloasszonyok" - drawing
women. They used a pencil for white background fabrics and chalk
for black. Many of the best writing women came from families of
szur-makers or furriers, including the famous Bori Kis-Janko. The
modest thatched-roofed peasant house where she lived her whole life is
now a small museum, where you can see samples made from her drawings and
a couple of her surviving illustrations.
The young women of Mezokovesd
were very fashion conscious, and clothing styles along with their
embroidery were always changing. In the late 'teens and early
1920's, expensive imported store-bought trims began to replace
embroidery on the aprons. As more and more of these trims - called
"ragyogo" or "glitters" were used on both the girls' aprons and the
aprons that the girls made for their fiances, the town's clergy became
alarmed. A substantial portion of the families' income was being
spent on these gold and silver-colored braids. They tried
regulating them, then barred those girls with too many "glitters" from
church, then banned them completely. On Ash Wednesday 1925 the
distraught girls dutifully carried their precious glitters to the town
square, where they were burned in a bonfire. The girls quickly
came up with a remedy for their now-bare aprons: they added rows
of embroidery done in the same shapes and colors as the trims.
Matyo embroidery first gained
national (and international) attention in the early 20th century.
It was featured in the Millenium Exposition in Budapest, and a few years
later there was a "Matyo Wedding" themed opera ball in the
capital. Suddenly Matyo embroidery was all the rage, and Matyo
women started to embroider for money. They adapted their patterns
for use on decorative pillows and table linens, and changed the motifs
and colors to suit the public's taste. At the same time, many
poorer Matyo men and women traveled to distant parts to work as farm
laborers, and they brought embroidery with them to sell.
Naturally, the embroidery the women did to sell was inferior to that
they did for their own use.
Mezokovesd is still a famous
folk art center, but today's embroidery is made almost exclusively for
the (mostly foreign) tourist trade. The table linens done on white
fabric are decended from the old sheet-border and shirt-sleeve
embroideries. They tend to have more background fabric showing
than the earlier pieces, and the motifs are almost exclusively floral.
Most pieces have hand-crocheted edgings as well - the shirt sleeves also
included crocheted sections, although it was a different style.
The articles done on black felt, and less-commonly black silk
or satin, hark back to the embroidery done on
aprons. Although you can find plenty of Matyˇ embroidery in
Budapest, it's worth a visit to Mezok÷vesd to meet the artists and to
find the best selection and prices.
Places to visit:
Matyˇ Museum: tel:
Szent Laszlo ter,
Kisjanko Bori Museum: Kisjanko
Bori ut, Mezokovesd
Local Artisans: Kovacs Family (handmade furniture, embroidery,
hand-painted Easter eggs) Go to our gifts
page to shop for some of their products!