Friday, March 29, 2013

Nyz embroidery of Eastern Podillia, Ukraine

Hello all, 

Today I will talk about another type of embroidery from Eastern Podillia, specifically the southern parts of Khmel'nytska and Vinnytsia oblasts. This is called Nyz, which in Ukrainian means below, and is traditionally worked on the wrong side of the cloth. In English this is generally known as Darning Stitch. This is related to the Hutsul style of embroidery which is called Nyzynka, but is not as developed. 
This general technique is very old, which is attested to by its wide distribution, being found in Norway, Spain, Romania, Dalmatia, Voronezh, southeast Asia, and many spots in between, as well as in Podillia.
In Eastern Podillia this type of embroidery is usually done in black, as in the above example. These three photos are of the same chemise, the three part canon of the general region being visible on the sleeves: a wide band on the shoulder piece, a second narrower band on top of the sleeve, this often is of a contrasting color or texture, and then vertical or diagonal stripes down the lower sleeve. This arrangement is found in Podillia, Pokuttia, and Bukovyna, as well as in Bessarabia, Moldova, and parts of Romania.

This stitch is worked by running a thread crosswise across the entire width of the design, running under and over 1 to 5 threads at at time. This results in the clean diagonal lines which are the hallmark of this technique. An even number of threads is only taken when running into a horizontal edge. 7or more threads are rarely taken, as then the surface thread is too long.

This can result in a very elegant overall design.

 Here you can see the narrow design on the collar, a narrow design around the front opening just visible at left, a wide stripe down the front and a horizontal design on the shoulder inset. There is also a design below the shoulder seam, which is narrower, and is broken in the center of the sleeve to allow some gathers to be put in. 
Sometimes the black design is broken up with red, often in stripes which go all the way across the design. Here is an example, shown first from the front, and then from the back.

Variations on this are possible.This is a piece which I embroidered on a sampler to try the technique.

 You will notice on this piece that there actually is no collar. The top edges of the body pieces and the sleeves are either hemmed or selvages, then are smock-gathered with strong linen threads to the desired dimension. Then a narrow design is embroidered with running stitches over and under the 'tubes'. This variation of neckline is widespread in southwestern Ukraine, but is not common.
Sometimes the color composition is a bit more complex.

 When a thick strong line is desired for the composition, there are two choices, both of which are visible here above and below. You can go over three threads, under one, and then over another three, which results in a very fine white line in the middle of a wide colored one. The other option is to go over 4 threads, then take a backstitch under one thread, and continue forward over for another 4. This also results in a wide line over 7 threads, but instead of a thin white line there is a bit of a groove down the center of the line. You can see the result of the backstitched nyz in the red line framing the center motif above, and the other technique in the rest of the design. Here is a design done both ways so that you can see the difference.

On the back side, the backstich is visible, so it looks the same either way.

The horizontal gap in the embroidery may be left open, or it may be filled in with braid or herringbone stitch.

The embroidery can also be all in red.
You will notice that while the chemise at the top of the article has sleeves gathered into narrow wristbands, this piece has the sleeve ends gathered a short distance from the ends, forming frills on the wrists. Another noteworthy detail is that while the chemise at the top of the article has a separate shoulder inset, this chemise is cut with the sleeves and inset as one piece. Here the stripes on the lower sleeve have been omitted, and  a row of isolated motifs takes the place of the second band.

The red used may be of various shades.

Here is another example of the three part canon all in black. The top and bottom parts are embroidered with nyz, but the second part is worked in a different texture using the same design. This stitch is called by several names, one of which is kafasor. This is very commonly used for this second, contrasting band, but is very rare otherwise. Most often it is worked in a contrasting color, but in this region is sometimes done in black, the only contrast being in texture.

This technique consists of laying horizontal satin stitches across two or more threads, then continuing in columns, leaving gaps which form the design.

These stitches may all be laid in the same direction, as here, or they may alternate direction. This necessitates skipping one or more threads in between, and so results in a more open design. this also tends to pull alternate stitches in opposite directions, which I believe is the case here.

A closeup of the same chemise.

 Here is another chemise which uses this technique, in this case the bottom stripes are worked in a combination of cross stitch and holbein stitch.

Here are a couple more examples.

As elegant as the all black embroidery is, sometimes there is a desire to use other colors for accent.

 Or even make them a major part of the design.


The chemise in this region is worn with a heavy wool wrap around skirt in the shape of a  plain rectangle. This is called obhortka or opynka, and is held in place with a sash. A lower corner may be tucked up for ease of movement. On some of the chemises the lower hem is embroidered, so that means that  they were meant to be seen below the overskirt, others do not.

Thank you for reading, I hope that you have found this interesting and maybe inspiring. This technique could be used for interesting projects, owning a piece of old Podillia.

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:
Liudmyla Bulakova-Sytnyk, 'Podil's'ka Narodna Vyshywka', Lviw, 2005
Yevhen and Tetiana Prychepiy, 'Embroidery of Eastern Podillia', Kyjiw [Kiev], 2007
E. Hasiuk and M. Stepan, 'Khudozhnje Vyshyvannia', Kyjiw [Kiev], 1986
V. H. Bilozub et al, 'Ukrajins'se Narodne Mystetstvo - Tkanyny ta Vyshywky', Kyjiw [Kiev], 1960
Tetiana Kara-Vasylieva, 'Ukrajins'ka Vyshywka', Kyjiw [Kiev], 1993
Oksana Kosmina, 'Ukrajins'ke Narodne Vbrannia', Kyjiw [Kiev], 2006
E. M. Lytvynets', "Vyshyvannia i Nanyzuvannia', Kyjiw [Kiev], 2004
Olena Kylynych-Stakhurska, 'The Art of Ukrainian Embroidery', L'viw, 1996
Eudokia Sorokhaniuk, 'Nyzynka - Embroidery of the Hutsuls, Pennsauken, NJ, 2002

Monday, March 25, 2013

Costume of Montehermoso, Cáceres Province, Extremadura, Spain

Hello all,

Today I will return to Spain. I have found more materials, and am glad to offer more information on its rich culture. 
Montehormoso is found in the northwest of the province of Cáceres, not far south of the border with Salamanca province, whose Charro costume I have already written about. It is part of the traditional region of Extremadura. Here is a closeup map of the region, You will find Montehermoso in the northwest.

This area is home to the Extremaduran language, a descendant of the Language of Leon, which has slowly been displaced by Castillian since those two kingdoms were joined in the 1300's. 

This region is very rich in folklore. In the 1940's the costume was still in everyday use by most women, and is still retained for special occasions.The photo above is of a modern Folk-dance group, showing how the festive costume is usually worn today.

The most noticeable part of the costume is the Gorra, the straw bonnet. Straw hats, of course, are worn all over Europe and Asia, especially when outside in the sun, but the gorra of Montehermoso is exceptionally colorful, being decorated with straw braids, ribbons, colorful applique, buttons, pompoms and mirrors.

 Although you will see the gorra worn as part of the festive costume today, this was not originally the case. It was a sunbonnet, and was only worn when working or traveling outside in the sun. We have photos taken in the 1940's that show this

The gorra was worn by women from Montehermoso when selling or shopping in nearby towns, thus being immediately identifiable.

 You will notice that these women are wearing the gorra tipped forward, as the woman in the yellow kerchief above does not. This is a result of the traditional hair styling of the town, which involves a topknot at the back of the head. This is why the gorra developed without a brim in the back. Since this hairstyle has since been abandoned, it is now difficult to wear the gorra at the proper angle.

The gorra comes in three types. The one shown above in the color photo is the gorra galana. It is characterized by puffs of mulitcolored yarn and a mirror on the front of the crown. This is traditionally reserved for single girls.

 The second is the gorra mora. This is still brightly colored and highly ornamented, but lacks the pompoms and mirror. This is the normal bonnet worn by married women.

The third is the gorra de viuda. This is worn in times of mourning and by widows. It is still highly ornamented, but the applique is restricted to black cloth.

 As you can see, the gorra is always worn over a kerchief. The everyday costume consists of a chemise, white petticoat, a blouse with many pleats and tucks, a minimum of two skirts, a full apron and a shawl wrapped around the shoulders and tied around the waist. You can see this in the photos above.


The newer festive costume is shown in the first photo. The everyday kerchief tended to be plain black, but the festive kerchief is in bright colors, preferably of silk. There is a bodice with sleeves worn over the chemise. The sleeves are long, and the ends are folded back to make a cuff. This is faced with fancy cloth, and ornamented with ribbon and embroidery.

When a shawl was not worn, a dengue similar to that of Salamanca was worn over the shoulders, around the waist and tied. In this area it is called esclavina. It may be plain black, it may have a colored edging, and for gala occasions a red ribbon was appliqued in a zigzag pattern a short distance from the edge.

 Occasionally bought trim was used instead of the ribbon gathered into a zigzag.

 For the newer festive costume, a chemise, petticoat and at least two wool skirts are worn. The skirts are laid out, pleated, tied, left to dry, and then the pleats are sewn together with a herringbone stitch in a couple of rows at the top of the skirt, as you can see in the above photo.  A flat front panel is then sewn on, and the entire skirt has a number of tucks sewn into it not far from the bottom edge. The number of tucks varies from 4 to over 20. This results in the skirts standing away from the body and in being rather shorter than is usual for Spanish Folk costumes. For some reason the skirt in this area is called mantilla, likely a diminutive of manteo, the word used for the overskirt in old Leon to the north. Two ribbons are sewn on to use as ties. There is a facing in a contrasting color sewn to the inside of the hem.

 The topmost skirt is black for everyday, and for holidays is traditionally mulberry colored. The underskirt is of a brighter color, but is sewn the same way.

 In the older ceremonial costume the tucks were not made, which made the skirt longer. Fullness was achieved by wearing 6 or 7 such skirts, in  a traditionally determined order of colors. You can see here the fine silk of the kerchief, as well.

For less important occasions a full gathered apron was worn. For festive wear the mandil was a single panel of cloth, with a ribbon sewn near the bottom edge. The ribbon is traditionally woven in stripes of blue and red. The top was folded over, and two more ribbons were sewn on as ties.


A loose pocket, the faltriquera is worn on the side, as it is in Salamanca. It is made of black or mulberry wool, and may be edged with applique. Formerly it was usually ornamented with cut loop or punch-needle embroidery, forming three dimensional flowers.

Today it may be embroidered in the same manner as the women's cuffs and men's lapels.

Four streamers hang in back over the top of the skirt. These may just be brocade ribbon, or patterned ribbon sewn with trim, or they may also be embroidered.

 Medium blue stockings are worn for both everyday and festive wear. They are held up by garters made of the same ribbon which serves as ties for the skirts and aprons.

The knees were traditionally left bare.
Shoes  may be plain black, or more or less ornamented depending on the occasion. Women would sometimes have the shoemaker cut out velvet or other cloth for the shoes, embroider the pieces and then have them assembled.

When in mourning or widowed, the costume is the same, except that the colors used are restricted to black, violet and dark blue.

The kerchief may be tied in many ways, but often it was just placed on the head, one or both sides folded back, and kept on, as one observer put it 'by force of personality'.

There is one more type of headgear which was worn for ceremonial and church occasions, when the gorra was considered inappropriate, and a kerchief insufficient. This is a mantle which was worn over the head. It is a half circle of black broadcloth, with a lining of challis along the front edge and on the top where it sits on the head. On the facing side it is edged with a deep border of velvet all around. It is stored folded, so there is a crease on top of the head.

 The costume is finished off with locally made gold jewelry, especially earrings and a large cross.

One reason that the local costume tradition has survived so well in this locality is that in Montehermoso they do not have the tradition of burying people in their best traditional attire. They consider that to be a waste, and I wholeheartedly agree.
Just a few more images to close the article.


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

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:
I would like to thank Marcos León Fernández for providing me with information and some of these photographs.

Ruth Matilda Anderson, 'Spanish Costume Extremadura', New York, 1951
M. de la Vega Garcia Ballestros et al, 'La Indumentaria Tradicional de Extremadura', Merida, 1998
Jose Ortiz Echague, 'Espana, Tipos y Trajes', Bilbao, 1953
Manuel Comba, 'Trajes Regionales Espanoles', Madrid, 1977
Cesar Justel, 'Espana, Trajes Regionales', Madrid, 1997
Lilla Fox, 'Folk Costumes of Southern Europe', Boston, 1972
R. Turner Wilcox, 'Folk and Festival Costumes of the World', New York, 1965
Robert Lee Humphrey, Jr., 'Spain and Portugal', Broomal, PA, 2003