Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Traditional Moravian Wallachia Lace

Illustration: Moravian Wallachia cap lace, c1905.

The area Of Moravian Wallachia, not to be confused with the Wallachian region of Romania, today lies at the eastern edge of Moravia inside the Czech Republic on the border with Slovakia. Today it is perhaps better known by its Czech name - Valassko. It is said that the original name of Wallachia comes from the association with the word Vlach another name for Romanians who settled in fairly large numbers in the area between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is this influx of Romanians, their culture and their craft skills, which has inevitably blended and harmonised with the local indigenous Moravians, producing a defining cultural mix that in some respects separates the region from the rest of Moravia.

The textile crafts of embroidery and lace have always been strong in the area, though perhaps embroidery more than lace. In Moravian Wallachia lace work has often been a subservient craft to that of embroidery. Lace was often found as either panels between embroidery work or as decorative borders on the edge of embroidery. However lace did exist in its own right and although often playing a secondary role to that of embroidery in the region, it has been recognised firstly as particularly a fine example of Austrian, and then after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as Czech lace craft work.

Illustration: Moravian Wallachia lace panel in a Churching shawl or headress, 19th century.

Much if not all of the original lace work was produced by amateur women and was often produced for church services where women would wear lace veils over their heads as a sign of respect. Moravian Wallachia was a particularly traditional area of the then Austro-Hungarian Empire. Whereas many people within the empire began to reject national and regional costumes in favour of Western European dress codes, this particular area hung on to their traditions much longer than perhaps others around them. This does not imply that the people of Moravian Wallachia were backward or indeed timid of the contemporary world, but had more to do with the separate identity that the region had built up for itself over centuries. Factored into this were also the traditions of the Vlach segment of the population, who, although spread out across the Carpathian Mountains from Romania proper, through what was then Hungary and is now Slovakia, to Moravia itself, largely maintained the same or at least similar traditions throughout the region.

Illustration: Moravian Wallachia lace panel in a Churching shawl, 19th century.

Regional costumes are an interesting phenomenon and their discarding in favour of standard Western European dress codes is even more interesting and deserves an article in its own right. However, for now it is important to say that traditional costume, in Europe at least, signified a sense of belonging to a specific geographical area, but also to that of a continuation of a cultural journey that took place over many generations. It is this combination of being rooted in a specific landscape, connected to the ancestors that went before you and the continuation of that journey through present day descendents that marks out traditional regional costume as being a marker of confidence in a shared cultural heritage and also that of being a symbol of ownership of the landscape.

By relinquishing these markers of collective ownership and belonging, in favour of Western European standard clothing, the connection with regions began to falter. To some extent, with standard clothing came the standardization of humanity. This meant that the extremely complex nature of regional cultural societies in Central and Eastern Europe inevitably began to decline. Although there were indeed a number of other factors involved in the decline of regional costumes, it can be said that to a certain extent at least, the industrialisation of Europe also led to the industrialisation and downgrading of the individual.

Illustration: Moravian Wallachia cap lace, c1905.

As to lace production in Moravian Wallachia, much of it was produced on an amateur basis purely for domestic consumption and therefore managed to avoid the boom and bust cycles that affected so many of the traditional lace making areas of Europe. Because of their over dependence on the foibles of the fashion industry, lace makers could never really build up a substantial platform on which to base their craft. However, despite its boom and bust associations, the lace making craft in general has seen an inevitably gradual and long term decline through most of the twentieth century. What revivals their have been tended to be brief and generally lacking in impact. However, lace making in all its forms and across all the various regions of Europe are vital elements of both the craft tradition and perhaps more importantly still, that of the journey through so many succeeding generations of craft makers both professional and amateur. For us to lose the connection with those past generations would be a crime in itself, and a denial of the continuation of the journey for all those future generations that come after us.

Illustration: Moravian Wallachia cap lace.

Reference links:
Czech, Moravian and Slovak Costumes Paper Dolls
Peasant Art in Austria and Hungary. Edited by Charles Holme
Traditional lace making
Bobbin Lace: An Illustrated Guide to Traditional and Contemporary Techniques (Dover Books on Needlepoint, Embroidery)
Traditional cutwork made easy

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