Thursday, February 28, 2013

Rhaetian Costumes, part 1, Romansh Costume

 Hello all,
Continuing my series of articles on the minority peoples of Europe, today I am going to do an overview of the folk costumes of the Rhaetian Peoples. The Rhaetio-Romance languages were spoken throughout the southeastern Alps in the middle ages. Since then the various dialects have been in retreat from German in the north, and Italian [Venetian and Lombard] from the south. Today the extant dialects are generally grouped into three languages, Romansh in Switzerland, Ladin and Friuli in Northeastern Italy. Here is a map showing the current extent of these languages. I will do an article on each of these three.

Throughout this region, places tend to have at least three names, in Italian, in German, and in the local dialect. I will try to provide all three, I hope it will not get tiresome.
The costumes of the three peoples do not have much in common.


This is one of the four National Languages in Switzerland, but currently is only spoken in the canton of Graubünden [German], Grisons [French], Grigioni [Italian], or Grischun [Romansh].
It was formerly spoken over a much wider area, as far as Lake Constance in the north, and was spoken in Vinschgau in South Tyrol until the 17th cent.
As is the case with many minority languages, several distinct dialects are spoken, a Literary standard exists, but is not popular, the people who speak Romansh tend to be devoted the the speech of their particular area, again, as is typical for speakers of minority languages. Here is a map of the current distribution of native languages in Grischun.
For those who are interested, here is an article on the Romansh language in Romansh. 

 As you can see, the various dialects are no longer contiguous. 
The costume of Grisons is quite similar over the entire area, with minor variations. The only exceptions are the costumes of the Italian speaking areas in the south. There is no sharp distinction between the costumes of the German [Allemanic] speaking areas and the Romansh speaking areas, as formerly the entire area spoke Romansh. Elaborate graceful embroidery is worked on the apron, shoulder shawl, and often the plastron over the entire region. Jackets are smock-gathered on the upper sleeve. These are known as Spencers and are common throughout the Alpine region.

Surselva is the region around the headwaters of the Rhine River and forms the largest remaining Romansh speaking community.

 Schams / Val Schons is an island of Romansh surrounded mostly by Allemanic speakers. The tiny bridal crown is supplemented with myrtle leaves, and is also found in other parts of the Canton.

The costume of Herrshaft / Signuradi, on the lower reaches of the Rhine, downstream from Chur / Cuira. This and the following regions have only a small percentage of Romansh speakers.

 Schanfigg / Scanvetg left, and Prättigau / Partenz, right.

Rear view of the Prättigau / Partenz costume.

Albulatal /  Val d'Alvra costume on the seated woman. This is found between the Davos and Oberhalbstein regions on the map above. The standing figures are wearing the costume of the neighboring Oberhalbstein / Surses valley. This has a larger proportion of Romansh speakers.

 A couple closeups of the embroidered cap, [biretta] of Oberhalbstein / Surses. This is typical of the satin-stitch embroidery of the Canton.

 The most famous variant of this costume is that of the Engadin / Engiadina valley. This is the upper headwaters of the river Inn, in Romansh, En. This is the best known and likely the most elaborate variant of this costume. Older forms of the costume had a long pleated skirt, More recently the tendency has been to shorten the skirt and simply gather it. The wide lay-down lace collar and cuffs are one distinctive feature of this costume.


 The Lower Engadine costume has more black than red. This is an older widow, who has completely done away with the embroidery.

Some examples of the shawl embroidery on the upper Engadin Costume.

A dance group from  the upper Engadin.

There is one more costume which is a fairly recent innovation, a simplified everyday going-out costume which is meant to represent the Canton as a whole. The linen version of the apron features the cross-stitch embroidery which is a strong tradition on household linens in this region. It may be done in black, blue, red, or a combination of red/blue or red/black.


 A couple of prints of Grischun Costumes.

A video in Romansh explaining the Engadin Costume, The cameraman has the unfortunate habit of excessive closeups that hide more than they show, and I don't know why the opening sequence is so dark, but still worth watching. 

Chalandamarz is a tradition in Graubunden, especially the Romansh speaking areas. Boys in blue smocks and red stocking caps process through the towns, each carrying the largest cowbell he can carry, to chase out winter. Here is a documentary about this in Romansh.

Thank you for reading, I hope that you have found this interesting and inspiring. The embroidery of this costume could be adapted for any number of interesting projects of your own around the house.

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:
Lotti Schurch - Louise Witzig, 'Trachten der Schweiz', Bern, 1978
Louise Witzig, 'Sweizer Trachtenbuch', Zurich, 1954
Louise Witzig & Edwige Eberle, 'Costumes Suisses', Lausanne, 
James Snowden, 'The Folk Dress of Europe', New York, 1979

Friday, February 22, 2013

Costume of Brianza, Italy, and Mendrisiotto, Switzerland, and La Raggiera

Hello all, 

Today I will talk about yet another costume whose region is bisected by an international border. This is found in a region north of Milan, in the northwest of theregion of Lombardy, Italy called Brianza and the neighboring region of Mendrisiotto in Switzerland. Here is a map of Northern Italy and its neighbors. Lombardy is shown in orange in the middle.

The region of Brianza is more or less centered around the city of Como. Here is a map of Lombardia with Brianza labelled on it. Brianza is a historical region and has no current official boundaries, overlapping several contemporary provinces.

 Mendrisiotto is the southernmost part of the arm of Switzerland just northwest of Como, south of Lake Lugano. The traditional language in most of Lombardy and the Swiss Canton of Ticino is Lumbard. This has historically been considered to be a dialect of Italian, but recently linguists describe it as a language of the Gallo-Italic group, along with Ligurian and Piemonteis. The definition of Lumbard as a dialect was based mostly on political grounds, and the fact that it is somewhat similar to Italian, more so than Ladin or Friuli, for example. Lumbard is quickly being replaced by Italian on both sides of the border, a fate which is shared by many of the minority languages and dialects of Europe and the rest of the world. For those who are interested, here is an article about Lumbard written in Lumbard. For English or other language translation, click on the list at the left. 

We tend to think of languages as being 'divided' into various dialects. In fact, the opposite is true, Dialects are grouped into Languages. Each local dialect exists independently, having Its own history and its own life in its community. Groups of similar dialects are placed under the heading of one language or another, often for political reasons, and some very divergent ways of speaking are often shoehorned into a language for other than linguistic reasons.
This costume is found on both sides of the border, in fact, the only reason why Mendrisiotto is not considered to be part of Brianza is that it is in Switzerland. Switzerland is unique in the world in being a nation that is identified not with one ethnicity, but several. This is actually true of most nations, but most do not readily admit it. Often residents of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, etc, were told to take the Swiss as an example. This was not helpful, as there was one huge difference; the Swiss Confederacy was VOLUNTARY. 

Let us take a look at this costume. Here is the depiction of the Italian version of this costume by Emma Calderini, an eminent expert on Italian costume.

Here is a photograph of the Swiss version. The costume on the right is the everyday attire. The only significant difference which I see is the collar of the chemise.

 Here is my translation of Emma Calderini's description of this costume.

'This costume is worn for grand occasions, composed of a chemise of fine linen, ornamented with lace and silk ribbons.. - The bodice is laced up in front, and the skirt is very full, of heavy silk embroidered by hand.  - The sleeves are attached to the shoulder of the bodice by ribbons. - The apron is of fine linen with embroidery, openwork  and lace. - The shoulder shawl is in wool of vivid colors. - Knit stockings. - Wooden clogs with leather straps. - Coral necklace, silver spadini in the hair, hanging earrings of gold and coral'. 

For comparison, here is Emma's print of the everyday costume of this region.

You can see that it agrees substantially with the Swiss photograph above, chemise La camicia (camisetta), petticoat La sottogonna (suchin), bloomers  I mutandoni (moudant), skirt with bodice La gonna con corpetto (soca cul curpet), shoulder shawl Lo scialle (scialet),  apron Il grembiule (scusà), clogs Gli zoccoli (socur a la muntagnina), headscarf. [The first of each translation is in Italian, with the Lumbard term in parentheses]. The only differences are the colors used. I am sure that a variety of materials was used for the everyday costume. Red and black checked or striped material was popular in Lombardy among the peasants, here is an example of an apron in the Linen Museum of Lombardy.

The major difference between the everyday costume and the festive is the quality of materials used. I do not have any closeups of the embroidery on the bodice, skirt or apron, but they seem to be standard floral motifs. I am sure that brocade was also used, according to taste and pocketbook. Emma simply says that the festive apron is 'perforated', by which I suppose that she means cutwork. You can see in the print that the cutwork is distributed across the field of the apron.

 The separate sleeves are very common in Italian Folk Costumes, In other regions a gap is often left where the sleeves of the chemise puff out, but here they are tied right up to the bodice. Historians say that this was originally a way to circumvent either taxes on clothing or sumptuary laws, which were common in western Europe. The purpose of sumptuary laws was to prevent people from wearing clothing which was, in the eyes of the local authorities 'above their station', or a perceived waste of resources. Such laws were commonly ignored, flouted, or circumvented by those who could afford to do so.

This costume is a survival of the formal costume of the area going back several centuries.


 The most distinctive part of this outfit is the formal headdress, called La Raggiera (Sperada), or  Guazza (Cuazz). It has a long history in this area, dating back to the 16th cent. [it is obligatory when writing about la raggiera to note that it is explicitly mentioned in "I Promessi Sposi', the third most famous piece of Italian Literature, after Dante's 'Divine Comedy' and 'The Adventures of Pinocchio'. I Promessi Sposi was set in this region]. 

Originally this was composed of a set of large silver hairpins, a couple dozen or more, of three different types. [The first set includes a pair of matching earrings].

The hair was gathered into a chignon at the nape of the neck, and braids were attached in a circle on the back of the head. The 'spilloni' were arranged through the braid and into the chignon.

There is one large sticklike pin with olive or ball shaped ends, the Sponton, which secures the bun, 1 to 3 pair of larger pins which anchor each end, the Spadine, and the remainder are spoon shaped and usually smaller, the cucchiaini, the concave shape on the ends catch and scatter light.

Here are some drawings of the various types of hairpins used.

This was obviously difficult to assemble, so later on a fake braid was incorporated into the headpiece to hold the spilloni together at consistent intervals, and the ends were then pushed into the bun.

This structure may be embellished with a silk or velvet ribbon.

Some examples look suspiciously like they were made as one piece of metal.

 This is so striking and attractive that la Raggiera also forms a part of several other similar costumes in the general region.

Galliate in Piemonte

Germignaga in Lombardy

Locarno in Ticino

Lugano in Ticino

  A smaller version of la raggiera also figures in the less bourgious costumes of Parre in Lombardy and Belluno in Veneto, each of which I plan to do a future posting on.

A few photos of performing groups in Brianza wearing variations of this costume.

An informative article about la raggiera, in Italian

A couple of local performing groups of the region

Videos of these groups performing

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:
Emma Calderini, 'Il Costume Popolare in Italia', Milan, 1953
Lotti Schuertz - Louise Witzig, 'Trachten der Schweiz', Bern, 1978
Louise Witzig, 'Schweizer Trachtenbuch', Zurich, 1954
Elba Gurzau, 'Folk Dances, Costumes and Customs of Italy', 1981
Louise Witzig & Edwige Eberle, 'Costumes Suisses', Payot Lausanne