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

No comments: