Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Caring for Czech Costumes

Caring for authentic or even Americanized Czech costumes can be a very difficult task. Any time I need advice on caring for Czech costumes, I turn to Maggie Grmela of Czech Costume Creations. (
Here are just a few of her tips for Americanized costumes:
1. She recommends cleaning the whites (blouses and aprons) at home; professional cleaners tend to yellow the fabrics. She suggests that all whites be cleaned after each wear, body oils will stain and yellow and will make it harder to clean.
2. Soak the whites in sink of cold water with small amount of regular detergent or use a gentle detergent along with Clorox-2 (all fabric bleach) or Biz all fabric bleach. Let stand for at least 30 minutes. Finish by hand washing then rinse and spin out in the washer (delicate cycle). Hang to dry or put in dryer on delicate for a short time to fluff. A helpful hint for ladies blouses is to fill the sleeves with netting and spray with spray starch. Let dry and leave netting in sleeve until the time time to wear. Items can be steam pressed or ironed if necessary. If item has beading, put a towel on the ironing board and press from the wrong side.
3. Items that can be machine washed need to be washed on the delicate cycle. Hang to dry or dry on the delicate setting. A safety measure for machine washing is to use a laundry bag or a pillowcase to protect any laces, trim or beading. Maggie suggests use Clorox 2 or Biz for machine washables. Let stand and soak for a while before completing washing.
4. All blouses and skirts that are poly cotton can be hand washed or gently machine washed in cold water. Hang to dry or put in the dryer on the delicate setting.
5. Vests and skirts that are velvet or brocades should be dry cleaned.

Maggie's tips for authentic costumes. They include:
1. Authentic costumes can be very delicate. She recommends treating them with extreme care. Before cleaning, make any repairs that are necessary. Some lace and trims may need to be removed before cleaning. Maggie recommends Clorox 2 or Biz for those fabrics that are washable. Test for color safety on a small piece of the fabric.
2. She recommends keeping costumes in cardboard boxes with acid-free tissue paper. Authentic costumes should not be kept on coat hangers. This tends to pull on the fabrics, embroidery and trims. Costumes should be stored flat in boxes with tissue between each piece.

Monday, August 9, 2010

2010 Czech Days

Czech Days is held annually the first weekend in August in Wilber, Nebraska. This small town has one of the best Czech festivals you will ever see. The citizens of this town are the most welcoming you will ever find. Hundreds of volunteers work tirelessly for many months to make sure everyone has a great time and celebrates Czech style with food, dance, music and much more. For more information, log on to the website:
Next year is the 50th anniversary of Czech Days and the committees are already busy planning lots of special activities. Be sure and make your hotel reservations early.

The highlight of Czech Days is the Miss Czech Slovak US pageant. During the pageant this year, Stefanie Vocasek was crowned the new 2010 Miss Czech Slovak US Queen. Congrats Stefanie! Following the crowning, Stefanie was surprised by her boyfriend with a proposal on stage. Congratulations Brad and Stefanie. We look forward to seeing you again soon. For more information and results, check out the website:

Texas was very well represented in the Queen pageant. Rachel Hurley, Miss Texas Czech Slovak was just lovely. Rachel wore a spectacular authentic Czech costume (kroj) and danced a beautiful ballet routine for her talent. Way to go Rachel! We are so proud of you.

Ed, Sarah and I had a great time and enjoyed visiting with our Nebraska "family". When Sarah was 2006 Miss Czech Slovak USA, her princess was Sheyenne Kiesel. We have become good friends with the Kiesels and always enjoy seeing them.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Well, I am happy to say that I have completed the hat for Sarah’s reproduction costume representing the Hana region of the Czech Republic. This was quite an undertaking! It was very difficult to reproduce something that I have never seen. I have only seen photos.

I will go through the steps in case anyone would like to try making something like this.

(1) The hat itself. The first thing I tried is to get a custom hat made to serve as the base. I went to a custom hat maker but, sadly, he could not do anything like this. SO, my next option (thanks Maggie Grmela for the suggestion) was to buy a “stovepipe hat” like Abe Lincoln wore. I found one online from a Halloween costume supplier. It was cheap so I thought it would be worth a try. I think it cost about $10. I began by cutting off the brim. I did not worry about the rough edge because I knew that I would cover that up with the red ribbon. I found some shimmery gold fabric that would serve as a base. That way even between the beads was pretty and golden. The fabric I found has very tiny flecks of metallic gold. I cut it to fit and sewed it on. I found some trim that I could use along the top. One mistake I made here was not to put the seam in the back but I knew most of it would be covered by bead so I was not too concerned. Later I realized that I should have sewn the red ribbon along the bottom at this point. If done before beading, you may be able to sew on the sewing machine. I used an additional piece of red ribbon, tightly gathered, to embellish the bottom and beads. One thing I noticed on a picture of an antique hat was that the back was laced up. This is a good idea so that the hat can be somewhat adjustable in size. So I made this hat lace up in the back. I took two pieces of grosgrain ribbon that matches the bottom, put button holes in it (on the sewing machine) and sewed it by hand on the back of the hat. I sewed around the button holes by hand and carefully slit the holes open. I bought red satin ribbon to match the streamers in the back and laced it up. I will not cut the hat open unless I need to. Right now it fits Sarah perfectly, so I will not open it until needed. Long, wide red ribbons were attached to be back after the beading was complete.

(2) The beadwork! This was very difficult for me because though I am very good copying a design, I have a hard time coming up with a design. So I got as many pictures of hats that I could find and picked out ideas from all of them. But I did not limit myself there, I looked everywhere for ideas…clip art swirls, beadwork books and just about anything I could use as inspiration. I decided that I wanted the hat to be very SHINY so everything I used was very sparkly, nothing that was matte finish. I had a hard time in Waco finding the beads that I needed. If I had more time I would have ordered everything online. One site that I found was The items I ordered were delivered within just a few days, were beautiful and shipping was free. I just wish I had found it sooner. I would suggest to anyone wanting to make a hat like this to design your pattern first and then order just the beads and crystals you need. You will get better quality and have a better finished product. I learned the hard way with this project that just because beads “look” nice when you buy them, they may not necessarily last very long. Some of the silver starting coming off of some of the beads just through my handling of the project. So, if I do this again I will definitely buy quality and not quantity beads and crystals. However, my goals for this hat were: create an item that can be passed on for generations but to make it personal and hopefully finish in time for Czech Days in Nebraska the first week of August. So overall, I am pleased with the finished product. To make something that can be passed down for generations it must be durable so everything I sewed on was done with great detail. I have also saved extra jewels and beads to do repair work as needed. To make something personal you have to put a little of yourself (and also your family) so I incorporated items from our family. A few of the stones on the hat belonged to Sarah’s grandmother. These are not precious gems but they are ‘precious’ to us because they are from grandma. Also in the design are stones that came from one of my brooches and some rhinestones that belonged to Sarah. This creates not only a pretty item to see but a conversation piece. In the hat box I will include a little about the hat and the items on it. And as far as finishing in time for Czech Days, I just barely made it. I will be sure to take lots of pictures!

(3) The flowers and ribbon. As you may have noticed the hat itself is quite short. As a matter of fact, it is too short but as I explained I had to use a Halloween costume hat as the base so I had to just “make do.” I tried to ‘fix’ this by using the flowers and ribbon on top to make it appear taller. I had our local flower shop (Flowers & Things in West, Texas) create a floral wreath much as they would for the local girls to wear with their Czech costumes. However, this one was smaller in diameter but very full. In the center of the flowers, I put red ribbon looped, well, to look a little like a lamp shade. I took 1 ½” wide red grosgrain ribbon. This ribbon has more substance and would stiffen easier. With needle and red thread I gathered, putting the needed in every 2” through the center of the ribbon alternating between pulling the needle from the back and going through the front. When I got it as full as I wanted, I cut the ribbon with about 12” to spare just in case I needed additional fullness. After I had the ribbon gathered, with needle and red thread I sewed the loops together on the inside at the top. I then cut the first ribbon that was laced through the center. I shaped the ribbon to look like a lamp shade, sprayed with full-strength liquid starch letting it dry. I sprayed the starch and let it dry a couple times to make sure it was stiff enough. In the center of the ribbon I added additional flowers. I basted the flowers and ribbon to the top of the hat so they could be removed and freshened up as needed.

(4) To add just a little more ‘bling’ I attached shimmery crystal beads as well. I noticed on a picture of this type of hat from the Czech Republic beautiful bead drops dangling in the front to outline the young lady’s face. I loved it so I incorporated that element in this hat as well.

Many thanks to Maggie Grmela of Czech Costume Creations in West, Texas; Jana Vaculik of Czech American TV; Barbara Talley of Flowers N Things in West, Texas and Alice Vida of San Antonio. These ladies were a big help in completing this project and I could not have done it without them.

In summary, there were a lot of things I would do differently but am overall pleased with the finished hat. What do you think?

Finally Finished the Apron/Skirt for Hanacky Kroj

Some of you who have been following for a while know that I am working on a reproduction costume representing the region of Hana in the Czech Republic. (For pictures, browse the older posts.) I finally finished the apron/skirt. This is the second one I made, the first one did not have enough embroidery. Well, what do you think? I know it is hard to tell from this picture. My daughter, Sarah, will wear this costume at Czech Days in Nebraska next weekend so I will post pictures after that.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Little “Bling” Needed…

I have a special request that some of you may be able to help me with. My latest project is a hat for a costume representing the Hana region of the Czech Republic. These hats can be truly spectacular and have lots of, what we call today, “bling”. Czechs are very frugal so, in that fashion, I would like to create this project with that trait in mind. Ideally, I would like to use family heirloom costume jewelry but since we don’t have any available, I’m doing the next best thing…asking family and friends if they may have items they would like to contribute.

Please don’t send me your family jewels. That is not what I am looking for. I am looking to recycle pieces, or parts of items, that may be broken but still has parts of it that would be salvageable. This hat will be original but see the pictures posted here for examples of the kind of hat I will be making. The kinds of things I will be looking for include: any Czech “bling”, Swarovski crystals or any very sparkly crystals, shiny beads (matte finish beads are not sparkly enough), tiny mirrors, etc.

I will need to buy some items but I would like much of the design to be created from items that are recycled, making the hat beautiful to behold and also a conversation piece. I hope to get started right away so if have some items that you would like to contribute I will need them right away. In return, I will send you pictures of the finished project.

Please don’t be offended if I am not able to use all of the items I receive on this project. Much will depend of what I receive but I will still send pictures and may use the other items on future costume pieces. If you have any thing you would like to contribute to the project or for more information, email me at

I am going to look through my old jewelry to see if I can find something. And, oh yeah, I am going to call Mom to see if she has anything.

Thanks for your help.
Sharon Middlebrook

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I took the apron that I have been working on to the cleaners so I needed a project to work on. So, I pulled out a project that I started a couple of years ago. This is the scarf to go with the Kyjov costume I made for Sarah. I took the antique scarf to a copier and made a copy of it. Then I taped it together to create a pattern to transfer the design to the fabric. I used sewing tracing paper to apply the design to the fabric. The costume is lovely without the scarf so I haven't been in too big of a rush to finish but it is a small project I can carry easily to work on in the car, doctor's office or anywhere I am stuck waiting. What do you think?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hat for a Reproduction for a Hanacky Costume

Since I am almost finished with the apron for this costume, I am now turning my attention to the hat. And I need help from my readers. Is this hat for a special occasion, possibly for a bride? Any information would be helpful, so email me at Thanks and keep the emails coming.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Update on the New Apron for Sarah’s Hanacky Kroj

Here is a photo showing the back side. After all, everybody wants to see the back. Click on the photo to enlarge.

As many of you know I am working on a Hanacky kroj (costume) for my daughter, Sarah. Sarah was chosen in 2006 to be Miss Czech-Slovak USA Queen and she made many appearances in many states so I began making authentic-looking Czech Costumes for her to wear so she would not always have to wear the same costume. So far I have made a Kyjov, Wallachian and Hanacky costume (see earlier posts for photos and details). However, when I finished the Hanacky kroj, Sarah and I agreed that the apron needed more embroidery. So last March I began making the new apron and I am not rushing it with hundreds of hours of embroidery so far. I am pleased with the progress so far and am now trying to decide what else I would like to add to it. I would love to add handmade lace to the bottom, but I have no idea how to make lace. My second choice is to get some lace from the Czech Republic so I am looking in to that now. The fabric I have chosen for the apron is a heavier broadcloth and it holds the embroidery well and is substantial enough that it can be stiffly starched.
I love to hear from readers, so please continue to send me your comments and questions. This is just a hobby for me and I am always glad to help.
On a related note, I am looking in to making the designs I used on Sarah’s costumes in to iron-on transfers so if you would be interested in something like that, email me at

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Transfer Design for Kyjov Costume Blouse

While my latest piece(apron for Hanacky kroj) is at the cleaners, I am working on a new project. I have a copy of the embroidery design that I used for a blouse for my daughter several years ago. The copy is not in very good shape because I used it to transfer the design to the material so I am tracing the design on to vellum (semi-transparent paper) that I can scan in to the computer. My hope is to save this priceless design so that others can use it and, who knows, maybe I will use it again sometime.

By the way, the Hanacky apron I am working on is nearing completion. So far I have been working on it about 11 months and I think I still want to do a little more work on it. I am always anxious to get a piece pressed at the cleaners and when I get it back I will post pictures.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Czech Comic Opera to be Performed in Texas in February and March

The Czech Educational Foundation of Texas announced that the college of Music at the University of North Texas, in collaboration with the CEFT Kostohryz Residency in Czech Music and Culture, will present Bedrich Smetana's internationally acclaimed comic opera, Prodana nevesta (The Bartered Bride).
It is scheduled for 8 pm Feb. 26 and March 5 and at 3 pm Feb. 28 and March 7 in the Lyric Theater in the Murchison Performing Arts Center on the UNT campus in Denton.
This will be a full production with period costumes, special sets, dramatic lighting and the UNT Symphony Orchestra. The lyrics are to be sung in Czech by students in the College of Music and will have English subtitles so everyone can follow the story.
Tickets are $35, $25 and $15. For more information on these performances, contact the box office at 940-369-7802 or opera office at 940-565-4654.
There will also be modified productions of this opera at the following locations: March 24-Temple (contact Sandi Wicker-254-899-2935): March 25, College Station (Clint Machann-979-845-4898); March 27-Houston (Effie Rosene-713-528-2060); and March 28 (matinee), Austin-(Roger Kolar-512-474-6526).
Bedrich Smetana, who has long been regarded as the fatherof Czech Music, sought inspiration for his work from the old folk songs and dances of his native Bohemia. This is especially true of his The Bartered Bride, which premiered in 1866.
Hailed as one of the greatest of all comic operas, The Bartered Bride is a story of young love and the triumph of true love set to Smetana's hauntingly beautiful old-world melodies that continued to characterize the Czech musical heritage to this day.
The action takes place in a typical 19th century village in the Czech countryside. Act I begins with the villagers gathering in the square, which have been colorfully decorated in celebration of the spring festival and ends as the joyous townspeople, aught up in the festival mood, dance in a lively polka.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Good Luck Miss Texas, Kristen Blair

Kristen Blair, Miss Texas will be competing in the Miss America pageant live on Saturday, January 30 8 pm CST on TLC. She is Texas Czech. Her family are members of our Czech Heritage Society of Texas. Good luck to her!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Enter to Win a Trip to Prague

Now that the holidays are over I am back to work on my latest project, an apron for a Hanacky kroj (Czech Costume). I have a lot to do but as soon as I make some significant progress, I will post pictures.

I found a great contest that you may want to enter. The Travel Channel is giving away a trip to Prague this month. Enter at the following link:

Good luck and have a blessed new year.