Sunday, July 15, 2012

Costume and Embroidery of Kujawy, Poland

Hello all,
I will be covering more of the Balkans and Scandinavia, but today I am going to cover an area that needs less research, the region of Kujawy or Kuyavia in Poland.
Kujawy is sometimes considered to be part of the Macroregion of Wielkopolska [Greater Poland], and sometimes considered to be a region in its own right. It was an independant duchy in the past, but the costume is within the sphere of Wielkopolska, and typical of Western Poland, although the music is closer to that of central Poland.
It is the center of origin of one of the five National Dances of Poland, the Kujawiak.
Here is a map showing the location of Kujawy within Poland.

 The pink shows the area which is ethnically Kujawiak, while the yellow shows areas which were at some time politically part of the duchy of Kujawy. 

There are various regional sub-groups within Kujawy, but I have not been able to find any information on costume or embroidery differences between them.
Today there are considered to be two costumes, one for younger single people, and the other for older married people, but this distinction is somewhat exaggerated, and in the past people mixed it up more, especially since the costume for older people mostly consists of putting on an extra layer of clothing.
As far as those who wish to perform Polish music or dance, this is a good choice, as the costumes are completely made of bought materials, and as such would be relatively simple to make, and yet are attractive.
Here is an old plate of the young people's costume.

And here is a plate from the same series of the older people's costume, as is the image at the head of the article.

The most distinctive part of the woman's costume is the jacket with shoulder cape which is called Kabat. Often you will see the men in the first costume and the women in the second, as in this photo from the Polish dance group Mazowsze, although, in effect, it just means that the men left the overcoat off.

The chemise is of white linen, and was originally long, forming a single layer under the outer clothing. Later it became cut in two and the shirt was made separately from the first underskirt.
It is of the type typical of Slavic peoples, with a shoulder inset. There is no embroidery on the chemise

Over the chemise are one or two underskirts, as you can clearly see in the photo above. These are called Halki, are less full than the skirt, and may have hand embroidery on them of the type used on petticoats in western Europe.

The skirts are  long, full and of a single color. There are ribbons sewn onto the lower part of the skirt and an edgeing on the hem.

The skirt is often blue or green, but may be of other colors, and in the past was also made of patterned material.


 Girls wear the skirt shorter than married women, and often sew a strip of contrasting color to the bottom of the skirt.

Aprons are of three kinds, one is the type seen here above, which is generally worn by unmarried girls. They are made of very light linen or tulle, with tulle embroidery. This use of tulle became very popular in many regions of Poland at the close of the 19th cent, notably in Wielkopolska,  Żywiec and Krakow.

In the 19th cent. the apron was very full and long, and was made of percale or often of a patterned cloth, either a print or a brocade. This is seldom seen today.

What is most commonly seen today is an apron made of a single color, usually red, sometimes blue, occasionally red and white striped, with white floral embroidery around the three free edges, and the tie ends. This is one of the main foci of embroidery on this costume, and there are many variants of the embroidery. The embroidery is satin stitch, stem stitch, both of which are sometimes padded for texture, and not uncommonly tulle is appliqued in some motifs for additional texture.

The bodice, Gorset, comes in two forms, with square lappets around the bottom edge at the waist or in one single piece that flares at the waist. Either may be laced closed with ribbon or may close completely on hooks. There is minimal ornamentation on these, often just the edges are bound with gold or red. Scan the various images in this article to see examples of both.

 You will occasionally see a gorset with more ornamentation on the front. Here is a contemporary example and an old print showing this type. You will note that when the apron is blue, the skirt is then made of a contrasting color.

 Red beads, korali, amber, and other necklaces are worn to complete the costume.

 For unmarried girls, the headgear is either a wreath of flowers, such as girls almost anywhere might wear, or a  wreath made of pleated ribbons, perhaps with feathers or flowers or tassels added on top. Thus the hair is left uncovered in good weather. Scan the various photos and you will see examples of each.

For cooler weather, or for older women, a jacket called Kabat or Kaftanik is worn. This is generally either blue or black, and is edged with either golden yellow or red. Often performing groups elect to wear this onstage, as it is much more distinctive than the gorset. It has a shoulder cape, pointed lapels, and a full peplum which leaves a gap in front. This may be worn over the gorset. Here are two possible cuts.

A wide lace collar is often worn with either the gorset or the kabat. This is usually a separate piece and is another focus for embroidery in this costume.They may be of linen with broderie anglaise, the form of openwork known in Polish as snutky, or may be of embroidered tulle.

Married women in Kujawy, as everywhere else in Europe, covered their hair.
The Czepec, a form of the 19th cent. mob cap which was so common in Western Europe is worn with the Kujawy costume. It consists of a round piece which is gathered around the edge, and a flap that hangs down over the neck in back. A kerchief is rolled up and tied around the cap. The back of the cap is the third major focus of embroidery for this costume. The range of embroidery is as great as that for the collar, ranging from quite opaque to embroidered tulle. Ruched lace or tulle may be sewn onto the front. Some tulle bonnets had linen applique.
Originally it completely covered the hair, but later some hair was allowed to show around the edges.

 The range of embroidery designs and techniques is quite extraordinary.

 The costume is worn with typical Polish lace-up boots in red or black, or shoes.

 Other outerwear is worn at need.

The men's shirt may have a couple of different cuts, but as only the collar and sometimes the sleeves show when fully dressed, it makes little difference. It should be linen and the sleeves should be full. Here is one typical cut showing town influence. A scarf is often worn tied around the collar.

The pants are usually blue, although some older artist's renderings show striped pants.

Usually, a jacket, Jaka, is worn over the shirt. If you look at the artist's drawing above, The men seem not to be wearing it, but the rest of the images they do. It is made of wool, and is red. In the photo immediately above, this group decided to make them out of the same blue striped cloth as their pants, but this is unusual. [in fact, if you look closely, the sleeves are fake and are just sewn onto the kaftan].
Here is the cut. This garment is decorated with topstitching on the cuffs, collar and front opening. This garment is worn over all of Wielkopolska.

Over the jaka is worn a vest called kaftanek. This is usually dark blue, sometimes black. It  is cut full in the back and the length varies from hip to mid-thigh or so.The shortest cut looks much like a vest. This type is worn by boys.

Men wear a more fitted version of the kaftanek. It is also longer, and has prominent buttons and/or frogs. It is closed with a belt or red sash worn over it.  It may also have short sleeves.

A short felt hat may be worn with this costume, a top hat, either straight or with a bulbous top, or a rogatywka, the typically Polish square topped hat with lambswool around the brim.

For formal occasions,  a coat sukman is worn over the shirt, jaka, and kaftanek. It also may have a shoulder cape, is closed with straps that cross over the chest, the cape, cuffs, closing straps, back belt and fake pockets are often edged in black or another color.

The red sash, or another one, may be worn over the sukman if desired, or it can be worn open. 
Thank you for reading, I hope you have found this interesting. I will close with just a few more images of this costume.

If you don't feel like trying to make the costume by yourself, or only want to do the embroidery, here are two different companies which make Polish costumes that you can order from.

Here is Mazowsze, a Polish dance ensemble presenting a stage piece from Kujawy.

The Kujawiak is a flowing slow dance in 3/4 time, with a gentle spring and pulse
Here is a group of young people performing a medley of Kujawiak followed by Oberek.
They are not wearing the Kujawy costume, but do a pretty good job of the dance. 

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:
Dorota Kalinowska, 'Strój Ludowy na Kujawach',  Włocławek, 2002
Halina Mikułowska, 'Strój Ludowy', Torun, 1971
Aleksander Blachowski, 'Haft Ludowy', Torun, 1979
Halina Mikulowska, 'Atlas Polskich Strojow Ludowych - Strój Kujawski' Poznan, 1953
Elzbieta Krolikowska, 'Polski Strój Ludowy', Warsaw, 2000
Stanislaw Gadomski, 'Strój Ludowy w Polsce', Warszawa, 
K Burza et al, 'Rekodzielo Ludowe i Artystyczne Cepelii', Warszawa, 1989


  1. May I say that I'm totally in love with the design of the coat? I should try making one for myself... but I have several questions first.

    On the first picture of the coat pattern, there's a little rectangle at the back labelled 'l'. Is it there as a design element or it is actually something useful?

    And on the second image, I understand that the pieces labelled 'c' are the closing straps for the coat, but I'm confused where 'a' and 'b' should fit in the coat...

    Thank you very much as always for the amazing blog! :D

    1. Hello Kashi,
      I am glad that you are enjoying the blog.
      I assume you mean the men's coat. The piece labelled L in the first drawing is the same as that labelled B in the second drawing. It is a placket at the opening for the pocket. It is often sewn on even when there is no actual pocket. The piece labelled A in the second drawing is the same as that labelled K in the first drawing, It is a belt which holds in the fullness at the back. Each half is sewn into the side seam, and then they button together.
      All three of the elements shown in the second drawing are traditionally edged in a contrasting color, red, gold, or black.
      The photo which follows shows the coat a bit on the short side. It would traditionally be boot-top length as shown in the later image. Of course, you are free to make it however long you like.
      I hope this answers your questions

    2. Loved the line drawings showing the individual pieces of the costumes. The sleevless gorset is quite similar to pictures I've seen of Russian women's vests, which I've dreamed of making for ages. With your permission, I'd like to print the drawings as a construction guide.

      By the way, I came across a booklet many years ago which showed similar line drawings and had detailed instructions for making both a man's and woman's costume, from the inside out, in 3 languages (one of which was, fortunately, English!), the costume being from one of the southern Slavic regions. What a prize.

    3. Hello Jane,
      thank you very much. I always try to include such a schematic when I have access to it. I have to wonder which type of Russian vest you are referring to, as I am not familiar with any Russian costumes that include such a vest. Of course, anything from the Old Russian Empire or Soviet Union was often incorrectly referred to as 'Russian', Such vests were worn in Lithuania and Bielorus, but if you have evidence of Such being worn by Russians, I would love to see it.
      There is an entire series of booklets such as you describe printed in Zagreb covering many of the costumes of the former Yugoslavia, of which I have several, and am looking for the remainder. A great find for you.
      Thanks again for your appreciation.

    4. Jane,
      feel free to print out what you need.
      I do not have ownership of the material, and the original publication is long out of print.

  2. Very interesting and really completes the description of Kujawy costumes. I am preparing a monograph on the history and customs of the ancient Eastern Poland and I do not have data or drawings and Volynia Polesie, and I wonder if you know any costume or ayuendo of the dresses used in the 18th and 19th century, or maybe some source you can turn to. Thank you very much Karol Sawicki, Argentina.

  3. I have written three articles on Volyn', and more on Polissia. Only the extreme western end of Polissia is currently in Poland, where it is called Polesie. Polissia is solidly within Ukrainian ethnic territory, although it had been part of the Polish empire, and part of it is currently in Belarus. I have not done a study of the Polish minority within Polissia, and I think there is little material. The Polish which moved into the area mostly lived in towns or on plantations. Here are the three articles.

  4. Thank you for this informative blog. I want to comment on the lack of 'underwear'. I know that 'drawers', 'panties', and such things as 'bras' were impractical when working in the fields, and cumbersome, and useless at best any other time. There is one article that I noticed missing, a Quilted underskirt for Winter. In the Poznan region it is called a 'wato'wa' or 'wato'wka'. 'Tights' or knitted stocking were also essential to warm the body and protect feet from shoes, which were never worn in the fields. Thank you again for the great blog.

    1. Hello Paul,

      I do not generally write about underwear because there is so little written about it. Most sources of folk costume do not mention it at all. There are those who research such things, but i have little knowledge and so i do not adress it.

  5. Nice blog!
    Perhaps useful supplementary info regarding Kujawy costumes: This region was part of the Prussian partition, and all things Polish were deprecated - sometimes forbidden. German was often the only language taught in schools, etc. I'm a graduate of the Lublin course for instructors of Polish folk dance. (My first year was actually in Plock, just upriver from Kujawy) In one of the sessions there, we were taught that due to that Germanization, full peasant costume examples didn't survive. Many of the costumes from this area are reconstructions from fragments. That's why you see so many examples of czepce (the lace caps) and collars. That's the kind of thing someone might save as a souvenir of their wedding. The clothing that did survive was servants' livery. It's pretty obvious, looking at the man's coat with capelet. It looks like a coachman's coat from England, or anywhere. Even the women's jackets look like uniforms. It may be that most people's "best" outfit was the one provided by their employer for work. The peasants (as opposed to employees) were probably too poor to have anything worth saving, I recall (though I won't swear to this) that the embroidery on the red aprons came from table linens rather than actual clothing examples. The prevalence of blue is probably "Prussian Blue" based on the color preferences of the lords and masters. When Poland was reconstituted after WWI, some areas felt "left out" amidst representatives of the regions with wonderful costumes and living folk cultures, so they "invented" themselves regional costumes. They did it with care and research, but there was a certain amount of invention. Think about the difference in dress between the servants and the rustics in historical shows like Downton Abbey or the Jane Austen movies, to imagine the difficulty of the task!

    The embroidery examples that you show are real - "authentic" - but most of the costume images are quite new. The older ones are rather vague, or don't look much like the modern examples. That's because there aren't many in existence, and they mostly don't show the whole costume.

    By the way, here are a couple of better videos. The first is a group from Kujawy, although they are doing a "national" Kujawiak/oberek in Lowicki costumes:

    The second is the only suite of Kujawski dances I could find being done by a Polish group in Kujawy costumes. Unfortunately, although the dances are regional Kujawski, the group is a "junior" ensemble from Lublin, so they aren't exactly virtuoso:

  6. At my High school we are doing a play called "The Survivor", costumes aren't that difficult but our Drama department has always prided ourselves with historical accuracy. Our play takes place in and out of the Warsaw Ghetto this has been a great help with the "aryan side" of things. Our two girls who are disguising themselves as Poles found this post and our costume crew breathed a huge sigh of relief. THANK YOU FROM J.R.R HIGH!!

  7. Hello, just found your blog. Our family was from Makowarsko, Prussia/Poland and my sisters and I have been wondering if there was a distinctive costume for that area? Or were the above pictured costumes the closest to what our great-great-grandparents wore? Our great-grandfather was sent to America to avoid the Prussian war draft in 1870's or 1880's. At least that's what we've been told.