Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sad News to the Czech American Community

The Czech community and our family are saddened at the loss of a very dear friend...Zora Pergl. Zora passed away suddenly on Friday, December 12 and her passing leaves a deep void to her family; to everyone who had the pleasure of knowing her and to all the readers of her online newsletter. We met Zora in Ennis, Texas in May of 2006 and became fast friends. Her wonderful personality; love of life and love of all things Czech will be remembered by everyone who knew her. Our deepest sympathy is sent to her family and especially her precious granddaughter, Nymani. God bless.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Starting on the Hanacky Vest

Well, as I mentioned, I am anxious to start on my daughter, Sarah's, Hanacky vest. I was given some great suggestions from a friend, Alice Vida. (See the image of her design below.) I would like to say that I went to the store and bought a vest pattern, but no such luck. I had to trace around a vest from another costume and trim it to fit this design. This vest will be a shorter vest with a one hook closure instead of ribbons or buttons. After laying the pattern I made on the fabric, I basted along the cut lines instead of cutting out the fabric the size of the pattern. (See the yellow basting stitches on the rust colored fabric in the picture.) This allows for me to embroider all the way to the edge of the vest. The design Sarah chose was found in a book of Czech-Slovak embroidery designs (see photo).
Sarah and I chose DMC floss in the colors of the ribbons that will be worn with the costume. The green ribbon will be the belt and the dark red ribbon will be used to trim the stiff lace collar.

I scanned the design in to the computer and printed it out on vellum to allow me to line up where I want to trace the design. The vellum is semi-transparent. I use Saral (see photo) tracing paper because it seems to do a better job printing the image. I only trace a very, very small piece of the design at a time because the tracing lines do not last long and wear off easily. As I have said in other posts, do not rush. When making a reproduction costume, your patience and attention to detail pay off and your costume will become a family heirloom.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Hanacky Handkerchief

Some of you have been asking me how I am doing on the kroj that I am making. I am making a Hanacky kroj representing the region of Hana. So far I have finished the blouse, skirt and apron. You can see pictures in some of my past posts. Now I have just finished the handkerchief. (Click on any picture to see detail.) I have looked at countless pictures of these kroje and in almost all of them, the women wear a handkerchief pinned to their apron or skirt. The next time Sarah wears her kroj, I will take a picture and post it here. What next? A good friend, Alice Vida, has given me great advice on a vest design (see other posts) and I am anxious to start on it. I plan to start on the vest over the holidays.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Insights on Czech Kroje by Jana Vaculik

Jana Vaculik is pictured here with her grandmother, Ludmilla Vaculik. Jana's family is from the Czech Republic. She is a first generation American Czech. She has been a tremendous help to me, and others, with her vast knowledge of Czech culture, costumes, food and traditions. She wrote a piece about Czech kroje and with her permission, I am reprinting it here for you.

Information on Czech Kroje
Submitted by Jana Vaculik of West, Texas

You will have to make the most of your decisions about buying a kroj before you leave the Czech Republic. The most important step is taking the time to do the research before you leave, which saves you time and frustration mainly finding out the location of shops and the expert help. Once you are in the country you might not have time to find out everything and get everything you need unless you plan to stay two or more months, but typically people stay less than a month. I have gone through this process in my experience in getting kroj for others or helping my grandmother. I have been wearing a kroj since I was two years old. The following is several things to think about kroj ownership.

Special note: Most of the people in Texas are descended from Moravians specifically Valachs. This region does have a kroj but depending on what village your modrotisk, or blue/white stamped fabric will be unique to that village. There a subtle differences in the color of the vest, ribbons and the blue and white fabric for the skirt. Joe Janecka has a website with pictures from the Parade of Czech Moravian Authentic costumes each year at Westfest. The home page has him and his wife Alice (gorgeous in a kyjov kroj) and Joe in a kroj from Hluk.

Kroj are first communion dress, wedding and funeral dress to the women of the Czech lands. Their every day clothing for the fieldwork was different from what they wore to church. Up until World War Two and 1950’s in Czechoslovakia krojs were worn as wedding dresses in the rural areas. A mother would teach her daughter to embroider and young girls would start making her wedding dress in their teens or younger. My grandmother was taught embroidery in school in the 1930’s in Czechoslovakia.

I have listed the parts of the kroj but not in the order dressing yourself. Ladies have it tough because each layer of skirts has to be tightened and you have to make sure the hems are even and your petticoats are not showing. That is my pet peeve. My dad always says if you want to look good you have to suffer, ladies.

Anatomy of a Kroj:
Basic parts of a kroj, authentic dress in the Czech Republic. Kroj is singular, kroje are plural. Krojs plural in English
Ladies: Head to Toe
Czech: cepeni
Headpiece/headdress: It can be a scarf, wreath of flowers, cap, or a headpiece with ribbon or a bare head. Look for the Hluk picture.
Czech: obojek
Collar: A heavily embroidered, pleated, eye lace, or just a collar along with a blouse, or a scarf.
Czech: bluza/ halenka
Blouse: A simple plain one with no embroidery almost always have some sort of puffy sleeves of some sort.
Czech: rukavce
Sleeves: They can vary in sizes and simplicity. Heavily starched and lacy puffed sleeves are common; hardest to take care of.
Czech: sukne
Petticoats: Depending how thin you are or how your kroj is supposed to look like you might be wearing as much as three or more heavily starched until they snap petticoats. You have to get that bell shape.
Czech: sorec
Back skirt: There is always a skirt for the front and a separate one for the back unless it is entirely made out of one piece of fabric with just an apron in the front. Ex Kyjovsky kroj White for a bride, Black for a married or single lady
Czech: fertusek
Apron or front skirt: This is the first piece of the kroj people notice or maybe the sleeves are a close second. Both the back and front skirt vary in length. The front apron/skirt and back skirt must be the same length. They can be short, only to your knees or long, to your ankles. Ex: Hana
Ribbons are tied around the waist. They can be embroidered, ribbon embroidered, and painted. Ribbons are also used in the hair, headpieces, and using them above your elbow to accentuate your sleeves.
Shoes: varies by region
Some have special boots with metal on their heels with embroidered leather, knee length. Some look like moccasins, ankle boots, dress shoes with no panty hose/stockings/tights in black, white, red.
Basically the guys have it made because they just have pants, a shirt, belt, boots and a hat. They can have either wool pants or linen. Their sleeves have eye lace, embroidery, woolen pants that are embroidered. Sometimes they have rooster feathers in their hats to symbolize who is the bridegroom or how many girlfriends he is seeing if he single.
Winter and summer kroj
There are variations for the winter and warmer months.
KROJ 101
First of many decisions you will have to make:
Decision One: You have to choose whether or not you want a kroj from the village of your ancestors or if you just want any kroj. With the latter option you have many choices but more choices for Moravian and Slovak kroje than Czech/Bohemian.
Explanation: Not every village has a kroj especially if your ancestors came from Bohemia. If your specific village of origin does not have a kroj you might have to find a village next to yours or have to get a regional kroj. The regional kroj will have the characteristics of the region but it might not be specific to your village.
Second : Your budget. You must have a budget in mind because getting a brand new kroj can cost you $300-$500 or more per person depending on what kroj you are getting. They can take 3-6 months to make and you have to take specific measurements; each are custom made. The boots from my dad’s village cost 3,000 to 4,000 crowns ($235) using $1 = 17 crowns. Now with the dollar being so low I have no idea how much it will cost.
Third: Do you want a brand new kroj or do you want an older kroj?
Explanation: There are shops in Moravia that sell fabric. I have links posted in the Kroj folder under the Texas Czech Egroup links which have websites of shops and ladies who make kroje. There is also a factory in Uhersky Brod which will make the brocade fabric when it reopens. They are investing several millions of crowns to reopening it and I have not heard any updates. In each village there is sort of a “keeper of the kroj traditions” typically an older lady who makes, cleans, lets you borrow kroj or a tailor/shoemaker gentleman who makes the traditional boots and kroj for the men. American tourists may think that Czech people in Czech Republic wear kroj everyday but they do not. They wear them maybe to first communion like my dad’s village, feast days, festivals, and if they are in a folk dance group they will wear them. The traditions in Moravian and Slovakia have been kept so they are more likely to have kroje and wear them.
Older kroje are available and people are willing to sell them because the younger generations think it is old fashioned and the older ladies have a trunk full of kroj pieces. First problem you have, to know who to talk to and find them and if they want to sell. You have no guarantees of the condition: stained, eaten by moths, or half completed pieces. Sometimes it is just plain luck you find a complete kroj.
Second problem: You find pieces of the kroj but not the complete set. The only rule in kroj is that you cannot mix and match pieces from different villages or you look like a scarecrow. And people will know you are mixing and matching. I do. Are you willing to take a chance while you are in the Czech Republic that you will find a kroj that will fit you and is in good condition and is not expensive? The only positive about buying an older kroj is that it is going to be cheaper unless you have an older lady who wants to make a little bit more from the Americans. You might have to bargain. The negative is everything I mentioned above as well as the possibility is might only be a museum piece. The kroj cannot stand up to the Texas heat and over time the sweat will ruin the fabric.
Fourth: Do you want someone to make your kroj or do you want to buy the fabric and make it yourself?
There are people who have made their own kroj but it does not look always look right. If you know what you are doing and are a very good seamstress with a lot of patience you can make a good quality authentic kroj copy. Sharon Middlebrook from West, Texas, made her daughter a kyjovsky kroj from scratch. A kyjovsky kroj is the most elaborate and beautiful out of all the krojs but it is a killer to make and to buy. It took Sharon 2000 hours and 1 1/2 years to make Sarah’s . Sharons’s blog/ website is She is now making a kroj from Hana for Sarah and she posts updates. I admire her for her courage and she in turn is helping others when they want to make a kroj of their own.
You will not have kroj directly from the Czech Republic authentic but it the materials used will be from the Czech Republic. There are also Texas Czech krojs which are totally wearable and washable.
Fifth: Will you take the time and effort to take care of an authentic kroj from the Czech Republic and learn how to properly wear it. You cannot take these kroje to the dry cleaner although some people have but I do not know what can and cannot be dry cleaned. The ladies’ kroje have a lot of beading, lace, sequins, cording that will get damaged if put in the washing machine. The fabric easily bleeds so you cannot just put it in the washing machine. Once you get ketchup, wine it is more often then not ruined forever. Storing a kroj when not wearing it is also important because some pieces cannot be hanged in a closet depending on what they are; the fabric might stretch out. It is best of have it in a cool, dark, dry place whether in a suitcase, plastic storage container to protect it from the humidity, moths and sunlight. Correctly wearing the kroj is also important. When you are out in public you a representing a culture and a way of life, something special so when your underskirts/petticoats and your apron and back skirt are not even. Your ribbons are tied in a half hazard way, collars twisted, people busting out of their vests because they are too small, discolored/stained fabric along with the biggest mistake: no starching and ironing.
Ebay/other means
You can search on Ebay to buy your pieces but you might not get the exact piece you need from a specific village. I have bought them online and have been satisfied so far. Also it is an auction so if you are not near a computer you might get outbid and you have to decide how much you are willing to pay for something you cannot see in person.
There are people who do not want their kroj so they sell them. I guess they ask around or put a classified ad in the paper.
Many thanks to Jana Vaculik of West, Texas

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Photo provided by William Kool.
Sarah with former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. Photo by William Kool.

Sarah Middlebrook meets Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell; former astronaut Eugene Cernan and Czech Ambassador Petr Kolar.

Ed, Sarah and I were guests of Ray and Clarice Snokhous at the American Friends of the Czech Republic Gala in Houston, Texas on November 13, 2008.

Proceeds from the event will help rebuild the Woodrow Wilson monument in the Czech Republic.

Sarah chats with a guest at the Gala.

A guest examines the embroidery on Sarah's kroj.

Czech Ambassador Petr Kolar compliments Sarah on her kroj.

Sarah chats with former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. Sec. Albright told Sarah she had the same ribbon like the ribbon Sarah's belt was made of.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A dear friend gave me a wonderful picture book on Czech kroje. Alice Vida from San Antonio recently went to the Czech Republic and surprised me with a beautiful book upon her return to Texas. I have seen this book on the internet but I had never seen it in person. It is full of large, fabulous photos showcasing the beautiful costumes!
A couple of years ago Sarah and I were talking to Alice Vida at a Czech Heritage society ( state meeting in Taylor, Texas. We were discussing making kroj and Alice was the first person to encourage me to try to make one. She showed me the different components of the costume and how to analyze the design. I never really thought about it before then. I thought, “me, are you kidding?” But when I started looking at the costumes in different parts, and when you look at it that way it is not quite so impossible. When you wear or see these beautiful authentic costumes you see all of the lovely handwork; and it is impressive. However, when you look at one piece at a time, though still impressive, you can start to see how someone could reproduce it.

Alice has some wonderful suggestions for the kroj I am making. I am not sure you can tell from the image but here are her great ideas:
1. Do not join the vest all the way. Instead use only one hook and eye closure at the bottom and use a Czech ribbon to tie over it in a bow with long streamers.
2. Make a shorter vest of dark red, green or gold and straight at the bottom.
3. On the vest make embroidered gold lines across the front of the vest with gold button details.
4. Finish with antique-looking gold trim.
5. Add more embroidery on the apron and an embroidered hanky.
6. Make a separate wide lace collar with a red bow tied at the neck.
These are all great ideas! I am currently working on the embroidered handkerchief. I will post pictures soon.
Remember, making reproduction kroje is not something to rush. These will become family heirlooms. Take your time and your family will enjoy it for generations to come. Another tip is to always date your finished pieces. You can do this by simply embroidering the year somewhere in the design on the inside hem.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hanacky Kroj (part of it)

When making a reproduction kroj you will find that it takes a long time. The reproduction of a Kyjov kroj took Sarah and I 1 1/2 years. So far on the Hanacky kroj I have only completed the blouse and the apron but Sarah really wanted to wear it to the Austin Czechs dinner so I made her a simple yellow skirt out of a very beautiful yellow fabric with little sparkles in it. My plan is to make a yellow and/or white skirt with hand embroidery but I do not want to rush it. A reproduction costume can become a family heirloom so take your time. Sarah wore a vest that I made last year. It was a very quick, simple design but made out of a rich, rust-colored brocade with gold accents. So even though it was just a simple vest it really looked great with the apron and blouse. Sarah chose a white belt made out of ribbon from the Czech Republic. I made this belt last year for another costume and was a great accent to this costume.

I found these beautiful buttons at our local fabric store but they were made in the Czech Republic.

Austin Czech Historical Association Dinner-Food

The Austin Czech Historical Association dinner is always wonderful. Great music, fun, friends, dancing, but the best thing is the food. The chef and hostess for the evening was Pavla Van Bibber. She is an amazing lady and really knows how to throw a party.

Austin Czech Historical Association Dinner-Chris & Edita

We were so pleased to see that Chris Rybak was performing at the Austin Czechs dinner. He is Sarah's favorite Czech musician...she has many of his CD's. Ed, Sarah and I met Chris and his beautiful wife, Edita, on an Alaska Polka Cruise in May 2007. They are not only very gifted performers, but the sweetest people you will ever meet. They have a very busy schedule. You can see their schedule on Chris' website:

Would you like to learn Czech culture, the language and the music? Czech out Edita's new website:

Austin Czech Historical Association Dinner

Sarah, Ed and I had a wonderful evening at the Austin Czech Historical Association Dinner on Saturday, September 27, 2008. Here are just a few of the many pictures I took. The event was held at the beautiful Westwood Country Club in Austin, Texas. For more information on the Austin Czech Historical Association, log on to: