Sunday, January 13, 2013

Costume of the Komanche region, Lemkovyna

Hello all,

Today I need to make myself clear. I am NOT  going to talk about the Native American nation known as the Comanche, but a Lemko village and region which is currently within the borders of the Polish State. In Polish it is spelled  Komańcza, in Ukrainian and in Lemko it is written
Команча or Команчe. 

Ethnic identity of the Lemki is somewhat controverted. Ukrainians consider them to be a branch of the Ukrainian Nation with very distinct dialects and customs. The Polish have at various times tried to alternatively suppress, cleanse, or assimilate them. Some insist on calling them Carpatho-Russians. Some claim that they form a micro-nationality who call themselves Rusyny, usually translated into English as Ruthenian. You will find individual Lemki who identify with each of these camps. 'Lemko' is a tern coined by their neighbors, referring to a word used in the Lemko dialect 'lem', which Ukrainians and Poles do not use. Some Lemki have accepted this term. This term is not used by the Rusnaks who live south of the Carpathians or by the neighboring Slovaks. 
In any case, they form a distinctive group of people with a distinctive group of dialects, whether they are considered to be a branch of the Ukrainians or a closely related brother nation.
Here is a map showing the historical range of the Ukrainian/Lemko/Ruthenian people in the carpathians. you will notice that they inhabited both slopes of the mid-Carpathians.The white and lightly hatched areas show the historic range of the Lemkos/Ukrainians/Ruthenians, the dark hatched areas show the regions inhabited by Polish and Slovaks.

The line in the center is the current Polish - Slovak border. You will see Komancha towards the right of this map, just west of the Oslava river, which traditionally forms the border between Lemko Land and Boiko Land. The costume of the Komancha region is perhaps not the most characteristic of the Lemki, but it is the one which is the best documented, and which is widely copied. the costume in the west of this region, and especially south of the border is different. [This map is not current, as most of the Ukrainians and Lemki were forcibly resettled by the Polish government in the years immediately following World War II.] The Ruthenian settlements in Slovakia are still intact, however.

This article will be about the eastern Lemko costume. The costume of central and western Lemkovyna are disttinctly different.

The painting at the top of the article was made by O. Kul'chytska, an artist who went around in the 1930's painting the traditional clothing of villagers in many parts of West Ukraine. Her work has been invaluable for those of us who came after. Here is a photograph of the same costume taken more recently, on the left. The woman on the right is wearing a costume from central Lemkovyna.

The basic garment for the women is the chemise, sometimes separated into two garments, the shirt and the underskirt. It is made with a standard Slavic cut, with a shoulder piece sewn to the top of the body fields, front and back.  This example shows the basic cut, even though the fold-down collar and the embroidery are not used in Komancha.

Often the shoulder piece and the sleeve were made in one piece.
In this area a narrow band of embroidery, perhaps an inch or so wide was done on the top of the sleeve, or the bottom of the shoulder piece. Most of the time this was in cross-stitch in red and blue. Minimal embroidery or hemstitching was done on the collar and cuffs as well. Here are some typical designs.

Here is one design from this area which i did on a sampler.

According to my friends who are experts on Lemko costume, cross stitch was a relative latecomer to this region, and was originally done across two threads and up only one, which resulted in the design being 'stretched' laterally. I have to wonder if originally the weft was heavier than the warp. Of course, when such designs were charted by collectors, they were made into the standard squares.

Occasionally a third color was added.

These charts were first made available in black and white, which resulted in the designs being copied in black and red, which Vasyl' assures me was not done in this region.

Later on, the embroidery was made more extensive and colorful, as happened in many areas, especially when DMC floss became available, but the old embroidery is still widespread.

The skirt was originally made of linen, from flax for dress and hemp for everyday. In the Komancha area the skirt was finely pleated.

Later the dress skirt was made of linen which was block-printed by hand, as in Boiko and Halychyna costume.

This was early on replaced by commercially available cloth. Cloth with woven-in damask designs were popular, as was printed cloth with fine designs.. Rows of ribbon were added above the hem.
In this region the skirt is called kabat.

The apron was likewise made of commercial cloth, and finely pleated. It had ribbons sewn on, and often a panel of contrasting material, as here. In this region the apron was long, sometimes as long as the skirt, or just slightly shorter.

The vest for the Komancha costume is called the Leibek. This is made of wool, usually of bought blue material, sometimes of black homespun for those who could not afford to buy, and is embroidered on the front with red spirals and floral motifs, and often has brass buttons.  The motifs in the corners and on the pockets vary.

 The sides are cut square, but the back is somewhat fitted.

 This example is from the village of Dolzhyca in Krosno district.

Some images show the men wearing the same vest. But Lemko experts say that instead they wore a vest with a much simpler design, with one branch as seen on the man in the first image above, by Kul'chytska. Here is an image of a man in such a vest. The second image shows a woman posing in this type of men's vest.

some detail, front and back.

Similar vests are worn to the east, by Boikos.

And to the west, by some of the Polish Góral groups, but only by the men.

 This man is wearing an embroidered blue leibek and matching cuffs. This is the costume of the Szczawnica-Shliakhtova region, and worn by both western Lemkos and neighboring Polish.

A broad collar-shaped necklace strung of seed-beads is often worn with this costume, this makes up for the modest extent of the embroidery. The Lemki call this kryvul'ka, but in Ukrainian books it is referred to as sylianka.

This is much larger than similar beaded necklaces worn by the Boikos, Hutsuls, and Bukovynians.

Girls wore a ribbon tied to their braids, or a simple kerchief. Married women wore a cap with ribbon sewn around the edge, or embroidered, this is called Chepets. This is in keeping with the old European tradition that a married woman must keep her hair covered.

When going out, a white linen kerchief with embroidered ornament was worn over this.

Here are two sketches by Kul'chytska showing how she observed the kerchief being tied and some details of embroidery from her trip to Lemkovyna. The drawing in the upper left is a wedding wreath. The second sketch shows embroidery on the kerchief, the leibek and the blouse.

Short sheepskin vests, similar to those worn all through the Carpathians were also worn. These are called kozhushok. The fleece is worn to the inside, the edges trimmed in lambs wool, the suede colored yellow, and a floral motif was embroidered on the two front fields. These were more common in Eastern Lemko Land. 

 A cloth imitation called kozhushanka  was also worn. 
Here is an image of one.

On more formal occasions, women would wear a long linen shawl around the back and over the arms. This was folded lengthwise and was called plakhta, obrus or rantukh.

Many people, especially women and children went barefoot, as so many peasants do. Othewise footcloths were worn, later replaced by knitted stockings, over which were worn moccasins, here called khodaky or kerptse. These were later replaced by shoes or boots by those who could afford them. Here is a pair shown with some boy's linen pants.

The men's costume tends to be quite plain, the summer outfit consisting of plain white linen pants and shirt. A blue vest which resembles the women's is worn. Notice in the first image of this article different embroidery on the men's vests. The most distinctive garment is the chuhania, which resembles nothing else worn by either Ukrainians or Poles. It is reminiscent of the Hungarian szűr. Similar garments are also worn by Slovaks and Croatians. It consists of a coat-shaped mantle, with a flap on the back in place of a hood, and short sleeve-shaped pockets attached at the shoulders. Here is a scene from a Lemko wedding, followed by a couple more images of the chuhania.

Wool pants, either light or dark were worn in cold weather. As you can see from the images, sometimes the cuffs were loose, and sometimes the laces of the moccasins were tied around them.

Just a few more images of the Komancha Lemko costume. 
One note, all of the images in this article are of costumes from the north of the Carpathians. I would love to find enough material of the Rusyn costumes in Slovakia to do another article. If anyone has information please let me know. Thank you.

Thank you for reading, I hope that you have found this interesting.

Feel free to contact me with requests for research. I hope to eventually cover all of Europe and the Former Russian Empire/Soviet Union. I also gratefully accept tips on source materials which i may not have. I also accept commissions to research/design, sew, and/or embroider costumes or other items for groups or individuals. I also choreograph and teach folk dance.
Roman K.


Here is an interview with an old lady from Komancha, telling how things used to be. She is wearing a modern Ukrainian blouse, but has Lemko embroidery and costume pieces around and shows them off towards the end

Here is a link to a website showing various Lemko costumes made by Vasyl' Jula
He has asked me to point out that these were made for the stage and real costumes would be somewhat more subdued.

Here is a flicker page showing various Lemko garments. 

Source Material:
Bohdan Struminsy, Editor, 'Lemkiwshchyna -The Lemko Land' New York, 1988
Tamara Nikolajeva, 'Ukrajinskyj Kostium, Nadija na Renesans' Kyjiw [Kiev], 2005
Iryna Hurhula, 'Narodne Mystetstvo Zakhidnykh Oblastej Ukrajiny', Kyjiw [Kiev], 1966
Oksana Grabowycz, 'Traditional Designs in Ukrainian Textiles', New York, 1977
Stanislaw Gadomski, 'Stroj Ludowy w Polsce', Warsaw, 
Oksana Kosmina, 'Traditional Ukrainian Clothing', Kyjiw [Kiev], 2007
V. Kubijovyc, 'Lemkos', article in Encyclopedia of Ukraine, Toronto, 1993
V. Bilozub et al, 'Ukrajins'ke Narodne Mystetstvo - Vbrannia', Kyjiw [Kiev], 1961
Peter Odarchenko et al, 'Ukainian Folk Costume', Toronto, 1992
Ewa Frys et al, 'Folk Art in Poland', Warsaw, 1988
M. Bilan, H. Stel'mashchuk, 'Ukrajinskyj Strij', L'viw, 2000
O. Kul'chytska, 'Folk Costumes of the Western Regions of the Ukrainian SSR, 1959


  1. Thank you for this post. I'd like to add that there's a private museum of Lemko costumes in Komańcza, so if anybody is going to Bieszczady mountains, it's worth to see.
    You should call the owner before coming (ask local Polish native speakers for help as she may not speak English :) )

  2. I have photo of 2 krivulka to add. My mothers from Czystohorb and another relatives. Also photo .of traditional costume This is nearby to Komancza My family from Komancza too

  3. This is a beautiful piece. I commend you for it. I am an American of Ukrainian descent and can certainly appreciate this. My parents emigrated to the US after World War II. I own a lot of embroidery that I inherited from my mother and her mother. This is really and truly Ukrainian art. I also have an aunt that is a Ukrainian embroidery expert that verifies that this in indeed Ukrainian art. Unfortunately as you mentioned, the Ukrainian population was forcefully moved from their homeland, including Komancha, and other nationalities were brought in. Thus the confusion of the nationality of the people.

  4. I have some fantastic colour photos of the traditional clothing from village Czystohorb near Komancha. Let me know how to send to you

    1. Thank you very much. I am always glad to have good photographs, especially when their exact origin is known. You may email them to me at the above address: