Written art from Hungary

Happy St. Stephen’s Day! In celebration of this important Hungarian holiday, I’ve found a local entrepreneur to share a bit of Hungarian culture with you. Enjoy!

írásos pillows from ThreadWritten textilesHungary holds a rich tradition of textiles, including ornate and diverse embroidery work.  There are over 20 styles of Hungarian embroidery. Most include floral motifs in geometric patterns, and the majority of patterns are linear and symmetrical. Kalocsa, Matyó, and Kalotaszeg are some of the most well-known styles. I’d like to share some information about Hungarian Kalotaszeg írásos from Transylvania.

Írásos, “written” in Hungarian, received its name from the process of writing or drawing the pattern on the fabric before stitching. Similar to crewel work, the stitching creates a raised line, traditionally done on linen. Whereas British crewelwork uses wool thread, Hungarian írásos is made with cotton thread. The stitch itself resembles a double chain stitch.

blue Kalotaszeg írásos

Írásos are stitched in all one color, red, blue, white, or black. Red symbolizes youth and health, blue stands for adulthood, maturity, and wisdom, and black for mourning. Patterns were based on Renaissance and Baroque flowers and flourishes. The symmetry, full compositions that cover the space, and connecting vines and leaves were inspired by Persian Islamic art.

Women have sewn tapestries to commemorate births, graduations, and weddings in their families and for gifts to their church community, as well as pillowcases and tablecloths. Linens for the home were originally sewn as part of dowries. The written style was not traditionally made for clothing.

The style developed in the 1700s and became well-known internationally in the late 1800s and early 20th century, due to Kalotaszeg woman Gyarmathy Zsigáné, who promoted the embroidery in exhibitions in Brussels, Vienna, and St. Louis. Composer Béla Bartok collected textiles from the region in the early 1900s while recording folk music that influenced his work. Anthropologists and textile enthusiasts have since treasured Kalotaszeg írásos.

woman sewing in the Kalotaszeg style

Fewer and fewer women have been practicing the craft over the last 50 years. Today, apart from museums, one can find Kalotaszeg embroidery in the Hungarian Calvinist churches and the formal rooms in women’s homes. Some pieces are for sale at the market but they are often of lesser quality, stitched quickly to make money. The practice is disappearing due to the long, meticulous labor required and the pull of modern life.

Like many organizations around the world promoting ethnic textiles and traditions, ThreadWritten Textiles supports Kalotaszeg írásos and the women who still practice this beautiful craft. ThreadWritten makes modern bags and home décor that combine traditional embroidery with contemporary design using fair trade principles.

About the Author

Sarah Pedlow is the owner and designer at ThreadWritten Textiles, a Bay Area business that aims to support women artisans, their communities and cultures, by paying fair trade wages, preserving the integrity of traditional styles and techniques within contemporary designs, and educating consumers about lesser-known crafts that are disappearing. She currently focuses on the work of artists from Transylvania, meaning parts of Romania with a strong Hungarian cultural heritage.

She holds an MFA in Visual Arts from Rutgers University and a BA in Studio Art and French Studies from Scripps College. Her fine art work has been exhibited in the U.S. and Europe. Visit www.threadwrittentextiles.com to learn more about the women and visit the shop.  New bag designs are now in production!

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