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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: 36-49-311-824
Szent Laszlo ter, Mezokovesd 

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!

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