Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Costume of Kalocsa, Bács-Kiskun county, Hungary

Hello all,

Today i wish to introduce a costume from a new country, Hungary.
The Hungarians arrived in their present homeland in 895 AD. They split from their closest known relatives, the Khanty and the Mansi somewhere around the Urals. They themselves have a legend about following a mystic White Stag to the land which they now occupy in fulfillment of a promise made by their gods. They call themselves Magyar, but are referred to as Hungarians in other languages because they were considered by the Europeans  to be related to the Huns. There is, a story, in fact, of the ancient tribe splitting into two parts, each part following one of the two sons of the old chief, Hun and Magyar, the hotheaded warlike members following Hun,  and the rational, calmer, peaceful members following Magyar. Both made it to the 'promised land', but although the warlike part of the tribe arrived earlier, they were assimilated and are found no more as a people, and while the peaceful half arrived later, they are well established and still exist as a nation. [This legend does not seem to be borne out by historical analysis, the Huns were not actually related to the Magyars, but it is a good story.] 
The Kalocsa [pronounced Kalocha] region is not very large, but it has developed a beautiful and renowned form of very colorful embroidery which is often considered, along with the Matyo, to be representative of Hungary. It is found in south central Hungary, in Bács-Kiskun County, just east of the Danube. It forms part of the cultural area known as the Great Hungarian Plain. It is also a center of cultivation of the famous Hungarian Paprika.

 Here is a closeup map of the Kalocsa region.

The basic garment of the woman's costume is a blouse. As currently worn, the cut is quite modern, with short set in sleeves and an opening in the back. There is a small amount of embroidery on the front under the neck opening, and also on the sleeves. the sleeve ends are generally scalloped, with openwork, usually either Broderie Anglaise or Richelieu.

An alternate way of making the blouse is to cut it out of one piece, including the sleeves.. In this example, the blouse is embroidered in white on white in the old style. Also note that the fastening is on top of one shoulder, along the seam.

 Over the chemise, a white bodice is worn, of linen or cotton, with a front opening. This is covered with the typical Kalocsa embroidery, and extends only to the waist. Sometimes it is quite opaque.

Sometimes the embroidery is combined with openwork.

And sometimes it is embellished with so much Richelieu work that very little remains of the original cloth.

A narrow underskirt is worn, the former bottom half of the chemise, over which a number of full petticoats are worn, although relatively fewer than in other parts of the Hungarian Plain, where it was not uncommon for women to wear well over a dozen.
 The skirt is always pleated, in the early 20th century it hung to about mid-calf, but today usually to somewhat below the knee. Most commonly it is sewn from a solid mid-tone color, red, rose, blue, violet, green, etc. There are one or two bands of lace or ribbon sewn on midway, and sometimes along the hem as well. The pleats add a special kind of movement to the skirts when dancing.

Remember, never sit on your pleats!!

Occasionally, you will see a skirt made of flowered print material.

As you can see, there is an apron worn with the costume, minimally gathered at the sides on top, rounded on the bottom, and made of white linen or cotton. The apron serves as the major vehicle for presentation of one's embroidery skills. There is again a wide variation in the amount of Broderie Anglaise cutwork, or Richelieu. Take another look at the images in this article. The edges usually are scalloped, with cutwork. If you look at the woman not sitting on her pleats above, you will see that her apron has a gathered cutwork flounce around the edge.

This apron is embroidered in a more pure Richelieu style, white on white. It also shows a feature more common in the past, a row of cutwork with ribbon threaded through it.

This apron shows more clearly the embroidered flounces, and also shows the threaded ribbon and heavily embroidered ties on the ends of the waistband. You will also see an exceptional amount of embroidery in the next image down.

This photo also shows the traditional knitted stockings which go with this costume. Unfortunately, these are commonly omitted or replaced with white tights today.

The footwear for the women traditionally consisted of mules, small backless clogs with a short heel. It is quite amazing to see them dance the Ugros in these, hopping and bouncing all over the place.

Another feature shown by the photo behind glass above, is the girl's headgear, consisting of a ribbon folded multiple times to form a bow. You can also see these in several of the images above.

Married women wear a small bonnet. You can see a couple of examples above. These feature the typical embroidery, cutwork optional. Here are the front and back views of one.

The cut is the typical one for bonnets, a roundish back, with a rectangular piece on the front/top.
Formerly they had a ruffle on the bottom edge. Here is an old example with Broderie Anglaise and threaded ribbons as well as the ruffle.

Here are a few more examples, the cap continues to be richly decorated, with ribbon or ruffle, or without.

 And just a couple more images to finish.

Men's costume is one of the two types typical of the Great Plain. Black hat, black pants, traditionally with a flap in front and black braid, sometimes jodphur style. Black vest, also likely with black braid, black boots White shirt in they typical Hungarian cut with Kalocsa style embroidery on the front, collar, and cuffs.


In this last image, you can see the traditional black bridal outfit on the left, something which is also found among Germans. [The Hungarians wear white for mourning].

Thank you for reading, I hope you have found this to be interesting and inspiring. This type of work is commonly available, or you could use this embroidery style on many different articles.

Here are a couple of links to videos of Kalocsa dances. This first one has bad camera work, but good dancers, and it shows the costume even though we don't get to see much of the dance. They do Ugros, Csardas, and then back to Ugros.

Here is a group of women of all ages doing a series of Karikazos, and, of course, singing along. The resolution isnt as good as i would like.

Here is an amateur group doing a reasonable job of the dances. They don't have all of their embroidery finished yet. Notice they have the mens vests color coordinated with the women's skirts.

Here is a website about Kalocsa embroidery which features various articles for sale. She also gives some background and shows off her own work.

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.

Source Material:
Edit Fel, 'Peasant Embroidery on Linen and Hemp in Hungary, Budapest, 1976
György Martin, 'Hungarian Folk Dances', New York, 1988
Györgyi Lengyel, 'Kalocsai Virágok', Budapest ,1986
Imre Romsics, Élő népművészet Kalocsán', Kalocsa, 2002 
György Lengyel,  'Nagyanyáink öröksége', 1986
Alice Gaborjain, 'Hungarian Peasant  Costumes', Budapest, 1988
Károly Gink, 'Folk Art and Folk Artists in Hungary, Budapest, 1968


  1. Dear Roman K.,

    Big fan of your blog. Have a question about this post. There are some photos of women painting floral images. Do you have more information about that, or who it is, is it a well known tradition, like the embroiding?
    Thank you,

    Greetings Sabine Bolk

    Blog about Batik and traditional Dutch folk art:

    1. This is a characteristic tradition of Kalocsa (town) to paint the interior walls. (Pingal - verb, pingalok- noun plural for women who do this) Eggs are also painted this way for easter. bedding, table-cloths, etc etc are all decorated the same way in this region. (of course this is folk-art and not what to expect in today's household from floor to ceiling, however you will still find a table cloth or runner in most house holds)

  2. Hello Sabina,
    Thank you very much, your blogs impress me with your creativity. I did not get far enough to find anything on Dutch art, however. The batiks are gorgeous.
    Yes, the wall painting is a well known folk art form of central Europe, widespread in Hungary, The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukaine, and some other surrounding countries. It is obvious that there is mutual influence with the embroidery in the motifs used. I do not have the name of the woman kneeling, that seems to be a posed picture in any case, as the wall painting is obviously done.
    However, Here are some of the names of the artists from Élő népművészet Kalocsán'. Remember that the Hungarian tradition is to give the family name first. I do not understand why some of these names seem to be doubled, however.
    Toth Laszlone Torok Rozsa, Ven Lajosne Torok Gizella, Szvetek Antalne Ven Margit, Meszarosne Szabadi Amalia, Gal Tamasne Aranyeos Ilyona.
    It is not an art form which i have studied, but i have seen references to it in general folk art books. I hope that helps.

    1. the name is not doubled eg: Toth Laszlone Torok Rozsa= she is married to Toth Laszlo (Toth is family name, Laszlo is givenname) "ne" is added to say "married to". Torok Rozsa is her maiden name. (again family name first then the givenname, same order as the japanese names) some people only use the family name of husband and add "ne" then use their maiden name as Meszarosne Szabadi Amalia.

  3. Hello Anna,
    Thank you very much for that information.
    The problem I have in having such wide interests is that I cannot possibly be fluent in all the languages which I have to deal with. I will admit that i only know a few dozen words in Hungarian.
    Thank you again for your information

  4. hello,
    Awsome blog!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Hello:

    I love this blog! Clearly we have similar hearts. I love to embroider and had the great opportunity of dancing in an international folk dance group as a young girl in Toledo, Ohio where there is a large Hungarian community. This is where I fell in love with Hungarian costumes, music, food and dance. Of course I particularly am fond of Kalocsa and Matyo costumes and embroidery. I have painted several plates and platters in Kalocsa style

    About 40 years ago, at a dance festival in Toledo, I watched a young woman pleating skirt fabric for a
    costume. I seem to recall that she was using bricks to keep the fabric in accordian pleats and then used sugar water to keep them crisp. I've since wondered about that process and have been trying to find someone to tell me how it is done. I've also seen some interesting pleating methods like Japanese shibori that might work too. Do you have any insight into how it these skirts are pleated?

    In any case, I am eager to read more of your blog posts as I love alll forms of embroidery and am always trying to increase my skills.


    Tania in Boise, Idaho

  6. I have never heard about that huns-magyar story that you mentioned in the first part.

    Hungarians wear black for mourning, not white.

    Kalocsai embroidery is quite a new style, not as traditional as it looks. It has started in the late 19th century when we had new, colorful threads, and the people wanted to show their nationality. Women in that area embroidered these patterns as a job and many times they used sewing machines, too.

    In the 80s you could buy many pre-printed textiles with patterns, it was a nice era for women who loved to embroider.

    1. It is true that Kalocsa embroidery is relatively recent. It is still a beautiful and unique expression of Folk Art. I appreciate it because it has character and does not look like the embroidery everyone else does, as one sometimes sees.
      There is a book 'The White Stag', by Kate Seredy, which recounts the legend of Hun and Magyar. I do not know where she got the story, but she does a good job of telling it. She also wrote two other books about Hungarian culture for children, 'The Good Master', and 'The Singing Tree', in which Kate, a city girl goes to live in the country and discovers her countrie's peasant culture. She also wrote other books. I recommed these.
      I have read in many places that the Hungarians traditionally wore white for mourning. This has perhaps been replaced in the cities by the more general European tradition. I do know that as in Somogy, there are places in Germany, Spain and Portugal where the traditional Bridal dress was black, because black clothing was elegant, and good black cloth was expensive as it was hard to dye. It would be interesting to do more research on this and find out.
      thank you for reading, and if you have good information I would appreciate any sources. I should do more on Hungarian costume and embroidery, but I am having trouble finding detailed information. [also my command of Hungarian is very limited].

    2. georgiehowtonhi@yahoo.comDecember 28, 2015 at 11:46 PM

      Traditionaly WhITE is used for mourning, because it has NO COLOR. Hungarians wore NO colors when mourning. Kalocsa embroidery became famous around the first WW, because it became an official "export" item during the Monarchy.


    1. georgiehowtonhi@yahoo.comDecember 28, 2015 at 11:49 PM

      In any good export-import shop in New York, or Los Angeles. also: E B A Y is an excellent source to buy items from Hungary

  8. Wow! That is a lot of embroidery! Wonder how long it takes?

  9. Thank you for this beautiful collection...more Hungarian folk art please, I love it!

  10. Have you done any research into the folk costumes of Pommerania (now Germany and Poland)?

  11. Great post! I hope to visit Kalocsa next June. Do you have a recommendation for a good local artist or store? I would like to buy some authentic handmade shirts...not tourist machine made