Sunday, March 17, 2019

Costume and Embroidery of Wymysorys or Wilamowice, Poland.

Hello All,
     Today I will talk about the costume culture of the village of Wymysorys, which the Polish call Wilamowice. This village lies in south central Poland, between the Wisła and Soła rivers, just northeast of Bielsko-Biała, on the edge of Silesia and Malopolska. The culture of this village does not really fit into either one.

The village was founded around 1250. Local tradition says that the original founders came from West Friesland and Flanders, with an admixture of Scots and others. The local dialect, however, seems to be mostly from Middle High German. The language, culture, and costume of the village were suppressed under the Nazi occupation [for not being German enough], and then under the Polish Communist government [for being too German]. It is noteworthy that the inhabitants were not relocated, however. The language is moribund, with fewer than 100 speakers today, but the costume has been remembered and revived. It is found only in this one village.
For more information, see this article:

This image above shows the range of variation within the women's costume. From left to right,  a married woman in Lenten Sunday costume, a married woman in an outfit suitable for a regular Sunday, a single girl dressed for Sunday, a woman dressed in her best ready to become a Godmother, a single girl in everyday costume, a bride, and a married woman in her second best outfit dressed for a holiday. This division of dress according to the specific occasion is a sign of a living tradition, and is typical especially of Germanic costumes.

The foundation garment is called ciasnoche, a type of chemise which does not show when fully dressed, unlike many other costumes in Poland. Originally it had one strap only, was gathered on the sides and back, and looked like this.

In the 20th cent. it was modernized under the influence of city fashion.

Over this are worn 3 or four linen petticoats, podluczka,, and often underskirts. These are to give shape to the finished costume; 'so it shouldn't look like it's hanging on a fence'.

Over this is worn a short blouse with long sleeves, called kabotek or jypla. This is of shoulder inset cut, with a stand up collar, gathered cuffs and gussets under the arms.

Silk embroidery, usually in a golden yellow, is done on the shoulder inset and cuffs. This is executed in chain stitch, satin stitch, and french knots. Often these pieces are made to be removable for laundering. Here are some common designs. This type of curvilinear embroidery is more typical  of Slovakia than Poland. The cuff is usually decorated with lace, or eyelet embroidery.

Here are a couple of girls showing off this embroidery, one of whom seems to be embroidering a handkerchief.

Note that the embroidery is done ON THE SHOULDER, and not on the sleeve. You will sometimes see this mistake in in Ukrainian costumes as well, where the embroidery is placed too far down on the sleeve. Here is an example of incorrect placement.

Over the petticoats and shirt is worn a skirt, the generic word for which is ryk. Like many germanic peoples, the Wilamowcians have rules for when which skirt may be worn. The skirt is smock-gathered at the waist, and often pressed into wide pleats on the body. The most highly regarded, worn for the most important occasions, are the ruterouk, made of red wool, and the blewerouk, made of blue wool. The woman on the right above is wearing a ruterouk. The front part of these skirts are made of a cheaper material, which never shows, as it is covered by the apron. There is a band of gold lace worn some 7 cm above the hem, and a contrasting facing that shows for about 2 cm at the hem, and lines the hem of the skirt for some distance.

The blewerouk, the blue skirt, was originally bought in France by a trader from the town for his wife, and has now become traditional for married woman and for bridal attire, and both Elzbieta Piskorz-Branekowa and Barbara Bazielich claim that it is not to be worn by unmarried girls. The girl above apparently has not heard this. No other solid color skirts are worn.

The second best skirts are made of red wool cloth woven with many colored stripes, called strimikerouk, or plesnerouk, as the cloth from which they were made came from Pszczyna. These are worn on Sundays and lesser holidays. These have a contrasting facing, but no appliqued galloon. The girl and woman on the left above are wearing this type of skirt.

The front of this type of skirt is also made of lesser quality cloth.

Here are examples of cloth considered suitable for this type of skirt.

For Lent, Advent, and periods of mourning, these were considered to be too ostentatious. The cloth used for skirts in these times had fewer colors and simpler stripes. Here are some examples of such skirts.

This woman is wearing a Lenten outfit. The main concern is that the materials used be of lesser quality.

Everyday skirts, for going to church, market, or visiting, are often cotton, and are made of gingham, or cloth with very simple stripes. They usually had a sewn in pocket. They might have appliqued ribbons. These girls are wearing this costume. Work clothing would be very plain and utilitarian.

Bodices, oplece or gystalt, were made separately, but were always sewn to a skirt when worn. and could be moved from one skirt to another. They were made from plain, printed, tibet cloth or brocade, depending on the occasion. The best brocade bodices often have a gold colored background. They have contrasting seam binding, and are laced up the front. Here we have a festive bodice on the left, and a more everyday bodice on the right. Bodices worn under a jacket were usually very plain.

Aprons, siyc or schertz, were wide and full, generally being 2.5 m at the hem. They were gathered into a waistband which had ribbons attached to it that wrapped around the waist and tied in front. They were just as long as the skirt, and covered the cheap cloth used on  the front of them. The grandest aprons, griene scherz,  were made of green silk, which today is usually replaced with taffeta.  These were worn with the red skirt, blue skirt, and sometimes with the striped skirts. They never have applied ribbon or a tuck.

The second best aprons were made of white linen printed with floral designs. These were sewn the same way, but often had a tuck perhaps 20 cm up from the hem. There are historical records of embroidered aprons, but none have survived. This cloth was imported from Vorarlberg or the Sudetenland. It was not used in surrounding areas.

The size of the print determined how they were worn. The aprons with large roses or bouquets, like the one on the left above were considered to be fancy enough to be worn with the red or blue skirts, almost equivalent to the green aprons. 

Those with medium sized designs were worn with the striped skirts.

The ones with very small designs were considered to be appropriate for mourning.

Cloth of lesser quality, often cotton, with simple vertical stripes are worn for Lent, Advent, and everyday church or going to market.

This woman is dressed for a Sunday in Lent or Advent.

 This girl is in an everyday outfit.

A length of Czech ribbon in a bow is often pinned to the front of the shirt for dress under the colal necklace. This is called koroln bynzela.

A necklace of 5 strands of coral beads and a silver cross is typical for this costume. Unmarried girls wear it like this.

Married women wear the the same necklace, but with the other side of the cross uppermost.

For Lent, mourning and everyday, it is proper to wear only a three stranded necklace, often without a cross.This woman is dressed for full mourning.

On Festive occasions, a larger Czech ribbon is pinned across the shoulders. The center is tied to form a sort of bow, and the coral strand is attached to this center.This is called oxul binzela.

The women used to wear red stockings, but this changed over the last century or so to striped stockings, as you can see here above. This accompanied a rise in hem levels. Younger girls and women use brighter colors than older women.

High button shoes, low lace up boots or leather shoes may be worn with this outfit.

Unmarried girls wore their hair uncovered, in two braids mostly, but for festive occasions in one braid, or two braids joined at the back. Colorful ribbons were attached to the braids, and floral wreaths might be worn.

For weddings, the bride and bridesmaids wore their hair up with a wreath of myrtle with imitation flowers, white for the bride, and pink for the bridesmaids.

Comparing the two, the bride is in her best attire, blue skirt, green apron, brocade bodice. The bridesmaid is in her second best, striped skirt, apron with big roses, tibet cloth bodice.

After the wedding, the wreath is removed, and the married woman's cap is put on. This is an important ritual throughout the wider region.

Married women, of course, kept their hair covered, in accordance with ancient European  tradition. They braided their hair and put it up on the head.

They then put on a cap, czepek or houa, or rather a series of caps, so as to make a good shape. Everyday caps were made of cotton print, better ones of tibet cloth, but the best ones were of brocade, preferably matching the bodice.

The front was sewn into corners like a box, to form a square shape like two horns. The back was gathered with a drawstring, the ends of which tied the cap onto the head.The shape of the two horns was reinforced by the cotton caps worn underneath.

An embroidered length of cloth, zawiazka or dremla, was wrapped around the sides of the cap, tied in back, and allowed to hang over the shoulders. This was about 150 x 25 cm, trimmed with bobbin lace, narrow on the long edge, and perhaps 10 cm wide on the short edge. It was folded lengthwise for use, and the embroidery is usually golden yellow, red-burgundy, or white.

There is a narrow band of embroidery all down one long edge, and halfway across the short ends. A field of embroidery was executed on both ends within the corners. This garment was folded in half prior to being worn. The narrow bands are very similar to the designs used on the cuffs and shoulders.

The rectangles within this border are embroidered in very dense curvilinear designs, with satin stitch, chain stitch, stem stitch, and sometimes couched cord. Gold metallic embroidery was sometimes used in between .

Here we can see a red embroidered dremla and a golden one.

Here is a woman dressed in her everyday going to church clothes. Note the cotton print cap, limited embroidery on the dremla, and the cheap machine lace. The corners of the cap are prominent.

Contrast with the headgear on this woman, dressed for a festive occasion. Gold brocade cap which matches the bodice, dense red embroidery with gold thread in between, and real bobbin lace.

When in mourning, a wrap with white embroidery was worn for a minimum of 6 weeks. After that, it was acceptable to wear one with cream colored embroidery, then straw colored, and finally, yellow again. Widows would continue to wear white embroidery.

For the most important occasions, like being a Godmother at a Christening, and Corpus Christi, a veil was worn over the cap and dremla. This is called slaja and is made of extremely fine, white cloth about 220 x 90 cm. Later, it was sometimes made of tulle, as the craze for tulle took over Poland.

For cooler weather, and for women 'of a certain age', jackets were worn. These are made in many colors and qualities of cloth. They are buttoned closed, and the front panel, cuffs, and lower edge are of a contrasting material. They are ornamented more or less richly, depending on intended use, with ribbons, trim, galloons, passementeries, etc.


Kerchiefs were worn in cool weather as well, tied over the caps and dremla, and for girls, over their braids. For dress, they were tied under the chin, and the points were made to stick out to the sides. The older ones were of white linen with red designs, generally borders with scattered designs in the center, which seem to have been imported from Vienna. These are called wajsy tihla.  Kerchiefs with multiple colors were worn most of the time, but in times of mourning, it was only allowed to wear kerchiefs printed in one color, red, burgundy, or black on white.

This is a girl in everyday costume, wearing a red kerchief, tojruty tihla.These became available later.

 This woman is in Lenten costume, with the kerchief worn over the drymla. Note that the kerchief only has one color, this would also be appropriate for a woman in mourning.

For warmth, and as a result of the fashion trends of the mid 19th cent., shoulder shawls of plaid or paisley were also worn.


Heavier, warmer versions of the jupka are called bajka, and usually of plaid material. Here are a couple examples above.


A longer version of this garment also exists, and is called kacabajka.


One more type of jacket was sometimes worn. This is called jakla.

This is a somewhat citified version of the jupka. It was not really considered to be part of the national costume, but was available to be worn by women who married into the village, who were not allowed to wear the local costume.

Many of the men of the village were traders and travelled widely. If ever there was a distinct man's costume, it has been lost to history. All of the records show men wearing a version of the western  suit, often in a very elegant way.

Here is a man dressed for his wedding, in a frock coat and top hat. Notice the boutonniere with ribbons, also worn by the men above.

Here is a modern bridal couple with the man in a cheap black suit, but still wearing the boutonniere.

The local performing group has made a more colorful outfit for themselves, based on the men's dress of neighboring regions.

There is apparently also a local mumming tradition, and the men wear that outfit for performances as well. These characters are called Smiergusnik.

Mostly today men wear some version of a modern suit.

These images are of some dance group not from this area. Likely the dancing was well done, but the costumes are wrong in many details, including the aprons, the cut of the blouses, the position of the embroidery, the shapelessness [no horns] of the caps, the bodices on hooks instead of being laced,  the beads, etc. do not base any reproduction on these images.


Here is a photo of another dance group from Toronto that did not do sufficient research.

The blouses are completely wrong, and in fact look Lithuanian. Young girls wearing married womens' headgear, the caps shapeless without horns, skirts in colors never used in Wilamowice. Tucks on the skirts and trim on the aprons. All these details are incorrect.

A few more images from Wilamowice. 

 Here the local dance group is posing with some stilt dancers from Gascogne in France.


Here is a performance of the local dance group from Wilamowice. This performance is only by young people.

Here is a video about the local dance group [in Polish], there are good examples of the costume, and especially of the men's mumming outfits.

Here is a performance of the dance group featuring older people. The quality of the video is not as clear, however.

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

Roman K.


Source Material:
Jolanka Danek, 'Stroj Wilamowski', Wilamowice, 2009
This is in Polish with a bad English translation.
Elzbieta Piskorz-Branekowa et al, 'Polskie Stroje Ludowe', V 3, Warsaw, 2007
Barbara Bazielich, 'Stroj Ludowe w Polsce, Opisy i Wykroje', Poland, 1997
Stanislaw Gadomski, 'Stroj Ludowe w Polsce', Warsaw
Barbara Bazielich, 'APSL Stroj Wilamowicki', Wroclaw, 2001
Timoteusz Krol, ' Stroj Wilamowski', Wilamowice, 2009