Monday, April 30, 2012

Bits 'N Pieces (of the Kyjov kroj)

I thought about calling this post FAQ (frequently asked questions) but I think I will start a series (very small series) of "Bits 'N Pieces" of Czech costumes (kroje). And I will add in a disclaimer here...I'm no expert and welcome comments and others to send me descriptions of their authentic costumes. With that said, here are the bits and pieces of the Kyjov kroj. It gets its name from the region it represents in the Czech Republic. For this purpose, I will use the costume I made. I will number the pieces and steps in the order that they are put on. In 2006, my daughter, Sarah, was named Miss Czech Slovak USA Queen at the national pageant in Wilber, Nebraska. The beautiful costume she wore was loaned to us by a member of her sponsor, McLennan-Hill Czech Heritage Society. The wonderfully preserved antique was absolutely stunning in every detail. Please see a photo of Sarah wearing this costume at the end of this post. We will be forever grateful to the late Henrietta Cervenka for entrusting this masterpiece to us for over a year during her reign.

Sometime during that year, I realized that we would have to return the costume at the end of her reign and Sarah would not have an authentic costume. We had really come to appreciate the splendid work on such a costume and I wanted to see if I could reproduce it. The first piece I made was the skirt. I did not know you could buy the red fabric for the skirt with the embroidery from the Czech Republic so I just made it by hand. Long story short, I took one piece at a time, meticulously, drawing out the pattern from the antique costume and reproduced it on the new costume. For complete details on the making of this costume, see the posts (from 2008) of this blog. You will have to go back several pages. The first photo on the blog is Sarah wearing the reproduction at Westfest several years ago.

1. TIGHTS. No mystery here, the costume simply looks better when worn with opaque tights. Panty hose looks too contemporary and when the costume is worn without tights it just looks unfinished.

2. BLOOMERS. I'll be honest here. This is for practical purposes only. I seriously doubt "bloomers" were worn in days of old but I feel they are needed. For those who don't know...bloomers are decorative "panties" (for lack of a better word) that are meant to give the wearer a little coverage (this is really needed during dancing) because when worn properly, with very starched petticoats, the skirt appears very short. The decorative bloomers are worn over the tights. The bloomers we have with this costume are red with ruffles. (Yes, ladies, just like the kind that we bought for our little girls when they were little.) We buy our "bloomers" from Maggie Grmela of Czech Costume Creations. (I have a link to her website along the right side of this blog.)

3. BOOTS. We have black boots for this costume. I would suggest simple black boots. No buckles or even heels (but this is up to the wearer). The boots we have were purchased online many years ago from Chadwick’s of Boston. I couldn't tell you if they still carry this style. They don't have heels or buckles and can be comfortably worn all day. Okay, honesty here and just my personal preference, but I would really recommend simple boots to carry out the authenticity. But, that is just my personal preference. And why are the boots listed as number 3 in the steps? Ah, practical purposes again. A little personal aside here...I can't tell you how many times, while helping my daughters put on this kroj, we forgot the boots until the end and (as anyone who has worn this kroj knows) once you get this costume on (if worn properly) you will not see your feet. And certainly struggle to get your boots on. SO, (getting personal again) I had to put the boots on the girls. Just trust me on this one.

4. UNDERSHIRT. Again, I can't tell you if this was done in days of old but trust me on this, it is vital. This costume can get very hot because of all of the layers. Whether you have an authentic blouse or a new one, you have a lot invested in it and will naturally want to protect it. Wearing a plain t-shirt will both keep you cooler and protect your blouse from perspiration. My recommendation would be a plain white Under Armor (brand name) shirt. The Under Armor shirt is designed to keep you much cooler in hot weather. And (we learned this the hard way) don’t wear a t-shirt with a design because when you sweat the design can bleed on to your blouse.

5. BLOUSE AND VEST. We store the vest on the blouse. Why? Because when the sleeves are worn properly they are very full and the vest has to be put over the sleeves very carefully as to not ruin the embroidery. We use little pouches of netting in the sleeves that can be taken out for cleaning. The blouse can be very heavy because of the full sleeves so it is best to have someone to help you put it on. Button the blouse but not the vest at this point.

6. PETTICOATS. The petticoats are much more important than you may realize. The petticoats form the “structure” of the costume. Petticoats should be so heavily starched that they can stand on their own. I use liquid starch sprayed on full strength. Maggie Grmela, of Czech Costume Creations, recommends boiling the starch but I have never used that method. When preparing the petticoats, I spray on the full-strength liquid starch until they are wet. I hang the petticoats up (all spread out) to dry. When you take them down they will be hard/stiff. I then iron them using regular spray starch. The petticoats will be hard and stiff when you put them on but the weight of the skirt will bring them down a little and normal wear will cause them to come down even more. The skirt should be very full and will sway (like a bell) when you walk. The costume I made for Sarah has two petticoats with ties that wrap around the waist. We put the first one on the front and then the second on the back. The ties/wraps will need to be tied as tightly as you can stand it because there are several more layers to add. If the ties are not tied tight enough, by the time you get to the belt you may not have much of a waist. I suggest tying the ends in a bow, not a knot. Why you ask? Because…by the end of the day the knots will be very hard to untie. Again, we learned this the hard way. My personal opinion is that most people do not pay close enough attention to the petticoats and the finished appearance suffers. If you have ever seen this costume worn properly, the full skirt and puffed sleeves are the first things you will notice.

7. RED SKIRT. The red skirt is worn over the petticoats and tie the ends as tight as you can stand it because you still have the apron and belt to add. Tie the ties in a bow and tuck the loops and ends over the top of the skirt and under the waist band.

8. APRON. The apron should be worn in front over the red skirt and should be the same length as the skirt; no shorter and no longer. The ties should be tied in a bow with the loops and ends tucked over the top of the skirt and under the waist band. The ties for the petticoats, skirt and apron should not show. At this point, you will want to button the vest.

9. BELT. The belt for Sarah’s costume is made of wide Czech ribbon. It has very stiff waist band stiffener sewn to the back to keep it looking nice when worn. If you don’t have the stiffener, the belt will get all folded and crinkled while wearing. The belt is important because after all of those layers you will need it to “give you a waist.” We tie the belt very tightly with a pretty bow (big loops) and the ends should be even. Just a tip we have learned…we keep a safety pin on the end of the belt because sometimes one end is longer than the other. And after getting the perfect bow, you may not want to untie it. Simply pin up the longer end to the underside, making the ends even. Voila!

10. SCARF. I am in the process of making the scarf for the neck but I want to include it for your information. The scarf is worn on the neck and pinned in front. We use an antique Bohemian garnet brooch. I would recommend using safety pins to secure the scarf in place. When worn at festivals, parades, etc. sometimes the scarf gets blown around. You do not want your scarf to blow against your face or you will get lipstick and make-up on it. Also, you will want your costume to always look its best and will want your scarf pinned in place.

11. WREATH. We finish the costume off with a wreath in the hair of multi-color flowers and ribbon streamers. You can also wear a hat. Traditionally, the wreath indicates a single woman and a hat is for married women.

12. ACCESSORIES. We have Bohemian garnet earrings and rings to wear with Sarah’s Kyjov kroj. We bought them on eBay.

I have been asked why do women put their hands on their waist when wearing this kind of costume (and others). Simple answer, there is really nothing else to do. The sleeves are so full that it just seems natural to put your hands on your waist.

Please see earlier post (from several years ago) if you are interested in making this costume.

The photo to the left is the antique costume that inspired the reproduction I made. I got pretty close, I think. On the reproduction, I signed and dated each piece I made and just for good measure I added yellow roses (honoring our home state of Texas) on the back.

I hope this information has been useful.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

It's More Than Just a Crown...

Yesterday, Saturday, April 28, 2012, the Czech Heritage Society of Texas crowned the new state queen. The pageant included all the pageantry any girl would want. Music. Master of Ceremonies. Lots of photo ops. Grand entrance. Czech crystal and many gifts for the winners. Applause. Beautifully embroidered sash. And a crown that would make any little girl's eyes twinkle.
But, by far, the best thing was to see the families together. Three (or possibly more) generations together. You see, leading up to the pageant, the young girls learn from parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles about Czech customs, traditions, recipes, kroje and language. THAT is what the Czech Slovak Queen pageants are all about. Not the fanfare that surrounds crowning the new queen but the younger generation learning all about their heritage. Some families live their Czech culture every day, others are more removed from it. In all cases, the youth will learn how their ancestors sacrificed, struggled and then celebrated in the new land we now call home.
At the Miss Texas Czech Slovak Queen Pageant yesterday, the contestants entered under a traditional canopy. They competed in four categories: personal interview, on-stage interview, kroj modeling and talent. Master of Ceremonies, Joe Janecka, introduced the panel of judges: Kristin Blair (former Miss Texas); Victor Havel and Angela Young (former Miss Czech Slovak USA). Caitlin Orsak of LaVaca County was named the 2012 Miss Texas Czech-Slovak Queen and will compete in Wilber, Nebraska. Good luck Caitlin!
The Pageant Committee spends weeks preparing for the day. Collecting prizes for the contestants. Decorations. And much more. Many thanks to committee members: Kathy Podsednik, Marianne Beran, Lee Colwell, Janis Hrncir, Helen Mikus, Evelyn Skopik and Jana Vaculik. This year the McLennan-Hill Chapter (our local chapter) hosted the event at the Knights of Columbus Hall in West, Texas. The day included a delicious meal, silent auction, traveling library, state meeting, sales booth of Czech costume designer Maggie Grmela and entertainment. The day ended with the Queen's Ball with music by the Czechaholics.

Each contestant had set up their own personal display. Some of the items included in the displays were: pictures in their kroj, trophies, Czech dolls, family heirlooms/photos and genealogy. THIS is what the day is all about. When my daughter got interested in the Czech Queen pageant, she began asking questions. She knew she was Czech but "tell me more." She (and all of these girls) learn their family Czech sir names, when and how their ancestors immigrated to America, what they wore (everyday and at special occasions), recipes, music and how they survived.

"May the love of one's heritage never fade, dim, nor die; for the future of tomorrow depends on how much you are willing to do for your past, today."...Sarah Middlebrook (2006 Miss Czech-Slovak USA Queen)

More photos from the 2012 Miss Texas Czech-Slovak Queen pageant are available at: For more information on the Miss Czech-Slovak Queen Pageant, log on to:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Which Kroj Should I Wear? Vote on Facebook

The Miss Texas Czech Slovak Queen will be selected this weekend in my hometown, West, Texas. I have never worn one of my kroj creations but am thinking I may. I need your help, please vote on the costume you think I should wear. These are photos of my daughter, Sarah, in the kroje. To vote, log on to or click on the Facebook icon on the right before the end of the day Friday,April 27, 2012. Thanks!