Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Ethnographic Museum (Kraków, Poland)

Folk costumes at the Ethnographic Museum (Kraków, Poland).

The next day we spent the morning at the Rynek Underground museum (as I mentioned in an earlier post) and then walked back to the Kazimierz district to see the Ethnographic Museum, housed in the former town hall building.

The museum had reconstructed interiors and models of homes and workshops (e.g., a fulling mill), tools and implements related to agricultural work and craft, and displays of folk art, such as nativity scenes (more szopka!), decorated eggs, and a special exhibition of woodcuts. However, I was mostly interested in the costumes.

The museum had a whole room devoted to folk costumes, and I spent a happy hour or so there, taking photos of costumes and embellishment details. Luckily, there was also a comfy sofa, so that Q could sit and wait for me to be done ooh-ing and ah-ing over the costumes.

The exhibit also had a nice general summary of Polish folk costume, noting that: "Costume was of primary importance in folk culture. It helped to determine social status, area of residence, marital and financial status of a person wearing it. The function of a festive attire made people spare no effortmor [sic] expense on it. Costume is one of the leading elements in folk art."

See? My interest is justified, both at an artistic and anthropological level.

I'm always struck by the rich diversity of folk costumes.  You know how, in science fiction, people (and aliens) are sometimes depicted as wearing the same outfits, as though there is one planetary costume?  It never made any sense to me, since people don't even wear the same costumes within the same nation, much less all over the planet.  I think that clothing will always be, to some extent, an expression of cultural norms and individual preferences:  In short, I doubt we'll be adopting a worldwide uniform anytime soon.  Just look at some of the different Polish costumes displayed at the museum -- there is tremendous variety of styles and colors. (Note that you can click on the photos to enlarge them, if desired. Oh, and my apologies for the poor quality of some of the photos -- what with low lighting and reflections from the glass, it's hard to get good photos in museums, at times.)

I love the rich embellishment you can see in many of the costumes -- just look at the above vest.  (I think most of this is soutache/couching, but I can't tell whether there is also embroidery.)  I know the long hours it would take to do that much stitching.  You can see the embroidered runner in the lap of the woman above -- women would certainly have spent much of their time with needle in hand.  

Oh, and check out the amazing beaded necklace, too. 

Many of the costumes featured striped cloth, but the geometric lines of the above jacket are an interesting variant -- I can't tell whether this is reverse applique (as with a mola), or piping, or piecing. (What I wouldn't give to be able to actually hold these garments in my hands to see the details of their construction!)

I love a bold jacket -- these could easily be adapted for contemporary wear. The wide belt (above left) is interesting, as is the embroidery in the crotch/upper thigh of the pants.  Lest you think all the costumes were brightly colored, there were a few black-and-white outfits, as well (I just didn't get good photos). 

Short, embellished vests with overlapping petals at the bottom are a classic element of Polish folk costume.  I've made a couple, myself, from the Folkwear pattern.  But even here, where the basic design of the vest is similar, note the differences.  The shape of the petals differs: one has round petals, one has more triangular petals.  The embroidery on both is floral in motif, but the colors and design differ.  This is one of the reasons I particularly value being able to peruse a collection of costumes, rather than just seeing one costume -- one gets a better sense of the diversity and range of style from a large collection.  I am grateful that museums like this exist and maintain collections of folk costume. 

I know this isn't a great photo, but I really like this jacket -- the basic black-and-white, with just a hint of color, the sweep to a wide hem, and the geometric embellishment (which evokes the mud cloth designs I've seen) -- I think this would work as a contemporary coat.  I would wear it in a heartbeat (even though cream and red aren't really my best colors). 

Of course, we'll need some accessories with these outfits -- I adore the intricate metalwork of the belt above, and just look at the elaborately embellished shoes.  Wow.   

This display showed some of the tools and techniques used to print cloth. There were large and small wooden carvings used to create complex print designs on cloth. You can see that different carvings could be combined to create the final design.  They reminded me somewhat of the tjaps that are used in batik, although these were used to deliver ink/paint to the cloth directly, while tjaps (often made of copper) are used for wax resist. I suppose these are best thought of as carved wooden stamps.

As a side note, I suspect that the Ethnographic Museums are not as fully appreciated as they deserve. There were only a few other people touring the museum while we were there in Kraków (although a small group of young children came in and seemed very enthusiastic . . . well, at least they excited about something). So if you are looking to get off the beaten track, try visiting an Ethnographic Museum.

After we plumbed the Ethnographic Museum fully, we had a delightful meal of traditional Polish food at Chłopskie Jadło. So tasty.  Then the rest of our evening was spent at a laundromat/coffee shop (why don't these exist in the US?) and packing in preparation to go to Prague.

If you didn't get enough of the Polish costumes, never fear!  I have more photos from the Ethnographic Museum to share -- check back tomorrow to see detail photos of the clothing embellishment.  You can also see some photos of items from the Museum's collection in their online Ethnographic Pattern Book, which allows you to search through the photos with different keywords.  If you want a more scholarly treatise on costumes from Krakow, the Ethnographic Museum's online store offers a book on Kraków Regional Costumes which looks intriguing (I haven't read it, so I can't give a personal take on it). 


  1. Thank you for sharing this. Believe it or not I don't think that I got into the museum during our five days in Krakow.

    1. You are most welcome! There is so much to do in Krakow, it's hard to fit it all in. I hope you enjoyed your visit. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. Haven't been in Krakow since about 1998 and this museum wasn't evident then. Thanks for sharing your photos.
    Brenda in the Boro UK Janome 6500

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the photos, Brenda. Thanks for reading and commenting!