Sunday, January 24, 2021

Finally finished - 15 years in the making

Did you ever finish a project that you started 15 years ago? I just did! I started making this kroj (Czech costume) in 2006. It is a reproduction of a antique kroj. All of the embroidery and beadwork was done by hand, and that takes time.

I finished all but the collar/scarf in 2008 but the last piece was challenging for me. Cut-work embroidery is something that I had never attempted. I laid it aside many time, for years. But a few years ago I picked it back up. Today I finished! I will post more picture the next time it is work. Follow me on Facebook. The name of the page is Czech Costumes. Sharon (Middlebrook) Mena,

Thursday, February 21, 2019

What I Learned from Grandma

In the past few weeks, I spent many hours preparing our Czech costumes (kroje) for an event coming up. I carefully mended, pressed, cleaned, starched and labeled each piece. One of the pieces is an elaborately embroidered white skirt with a handkerchief pinned to the waist. I unpinned the handkerchief as I carefully pressed the skirt. This particular skirt took over an hour to iron. As I finished, I pinned it to the coat hanger and hung it on a hook on the closet door so that I could attach the hankie. As I was pressing the handkerchief, I saw something that made me laugh. I hung the skirt inside/out on the hanger and didn’t even notice. 

Suddenly, I was 5 years old again and sitting on a small stool at the foot of Grandma’s rocker. 
Edna Elena Victoria Hewett Nix (1900-1972)  

Before I started school I stayed with my grandmother while my parents were at work. I learned many things from Grandma during that time. She taught me that hard work is a part of life, chores are to be done before TV, a Bible is to always be close and opened often, how to make the most of what you have and not complain, how to cut a ‘switch’ from a tree when I talked back to her or slammed the screen door and that embroidery is only as good as the inside.

I was not allowed to sit and watch television all day. We watched at least one soap opera, Johnny Watkins at lunchtime and not much else. I could be wrong but I seem to recall that her favorite was Secret Storm. If I was there on the weekend, we watched Lawrence Welk. I liked the bubbles! Though even when watching her favorite soap, she did not sit idle. She had a sewing basket on the right side of her chair under a standing lamp used for light. The Secret Storm and Johnny Watkins farm report was of no interest to a five-year-old so I would sit on a very small stool made of four coffee cans covered with padding and scrap fabric (nothing went to waste at Grandma’s house) and watch as she embroidered cup towels, pillow cases, aprons and dresser scarfs. I loved the beautiful designs of beautiful ladies in their full skirts, colorful flowers and playful kittens.

As the items she made could be seen from both sides, she kept her stitches neat and showed me how the back of the design looked (almost) as good as the front. She would let me practice but my work from those days must have looked very poor compared to her fine handiwork. I remembered getting so frustrated when my thread would knot (as it often did) and I would give up. Each time, she would pick up my discarded piece, remove the knot and hand back to me. I do not remember her getting impatient or upset but she would not let me start a new piece unless I finished what I started.

This trip down memory last weekend gave me pause to think of Grandma, but after church on Sunday I thought of something else. Grandma’s guidance mirrored God’s love for us and she taught me something else with her needle and thread. 

She taught me unconditional love, correction when needed, perseverance and that real beauty is determined by the inside.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

2019 Miss Texas Czech-Slovak Queen is Crowned

2019 Miss Texas Czech-Slovak Queen Lydia Pustejovsky with Little Czech Sister Allison Pustejovsky.
On February 16, 2019, the Czech Heritage Society of Texas crowned the 2019 Miss Texas Czech-Slovak Queen. The event was hosted by the Brazos Valley Czech Heritage Society at St. Joseph's Parish Activity Center in Bryan, Texas.

The Boy Scout Troop # 383 began the day with a Color Guard and the Pledge of Allegiance. The 2013 Miss Texas Czech-Slovak Queen, Jennifer Koll,  sang the United States and Czech national anthem. E.J. Biskup, president of the Brazos Valley CHS led opening ceremonies and the welcome was given by Mayor of Bryan, Andrew Nelson.

Master of Ceremonies, Tom Teykl, introduced current and past Czech-Slovak queens and led the on-stage interviews.

Entertainment was provided by the West High School Jr. Historians from West, Texas. The Jr. Historians is a extra-curricular club at West High and has membership that, at times, topped 150 members. The group was founded in 1976 by Milton "Poone" Morgan and current sponsors are Jacqueline Uptmore and Donna Sexton. The beautiful costumes and lively dance is always a hit. Saturday's crowd especially enjoyed the Chicken Dance with members of the audience invited to participate.

Jr. Historians of West High School

2018 Miss Texas Czech-Slovak Queen Danielle Blattman and 2015 Miss Texas Czech-Slovak Queen Allison Sexton.

2018 Miss Texas Czech-Slovak Queen, Danielle Blattman, gave her farewell address and entertained the crowd with a flute solo of Czech Christmas songs that hold a special place in her heart.
2019 Miss Texas Czech-Slovak Queen Lydia Pustejovsky in her authentic kroj.

Czech-Slovak Queen contestants compete in four categories: Kroj Modeling (Authentic or Americanized); Talent Competition, Private Interview and On-Stage Interview. Contestants also provide a personal heritage display.
Little Czech Sister Grace Moravec and First Runner-Up Zoe Peterek.

The 2019 First Runner-Up is Zoe Peterek, a junior at College Station High School. Zoe is the daughter of Gabe and Christy Peterek. Zoe won the Talent and the Kroj Modeling Competition. For her talent, she provided a display of her artwork and a commentary of each piece. She modeled a handmade authentic kroj representing the Hana region of the Czech Republic made by Sharon (Middlebrook) Mena of Bryan, Texas. Zoe's Little Czech Sister is Grace Moravek, daughter of John and Amy Moravec of Bryan, Texas.
Zoe Peterek's Heritage Display

Lydia Pustejovsky was crowned the 2019 Miss Czech-Slovak Queen. Lydia is a senior of Abbott High School in Abbott, Texas. Her parents are Bob & Traci Pustejovsky. Lydia won the Private and On-State Interview portions of the Competition. Lydia's talent was a vocal solo in Czech, the Czech National Anthem. Lydia will compete for in the Miss Czech-Slovak Queen Pageant in Wilber, Nebraska the first weekend in August at the Czech Days festival. Her Little Czech Sister is Allison Pustejovsky, daughter of Andy and Joanie Pustejovsky of Abbott, Texas.

Pageant Director, Kathy Podsednik and Jana Vaculik Riley, both of West, Texas.

The 2006 Miss Czech-Slovak US Queen Sarah Middlebrook Armor of Temple, Texas.
Mildred Dokupil in her authentic kroj that she go piece by piece during the communist regime. This is a bridal kroj from Uherske Hradiste..
Back of Mildred Dokupil's authentic kroj.
Sharon Middlebrook Mena with daughter, Sarah Middlebrook Armor.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Bits 'N Pieces (of the Hana Kroj)

Sarah (Middlebrook) Armor, Ed Middlebrook and Katy (Middlebrook) Frazier
Czech costumes are formed by many pieces. These pieces can sometimes be confusing and difficult to wear properly. As before, I want to add a disclaimer that I am no expert (not at all). I welcome comments and suggestions. I welcome submissions on Czech costumes or related items.

Several years ago I decided to make a kroj (Czech costume) representing the Hana region. My goal was to make a costume as authentic as possible. The finished product took two years to complete.

The costume includes:

1. TIGHTS. White opaque tights are my recommendation. Panty hose just look too contemporary.

2. SHOES. My daughters, Sarah and Katy, wear black or brown shoes with this costume. I hope someday to make authentic decorated black shoes with embroidery stitches and red ribbon. But for now, plain black shoes would be my suggestion.Take a tip from us, go ahead and put your shoes on before you put your costume on.

3. UNDERSHIRT. As I mentioned in previous posts, I recommend a plain white Under Armor shirt to keep you cool and protect your blouse from perspiration.

4. PETTICOATS. The petticoats are very important. They should be stiffly starched enough to stand on their own. For additional fullness, sometimes the girls will wear a full can-can type petticoat that are available at Czech Costume Creations at the link on the right side of this blog. The can-can type petticoat is not authentic but under the white cotton petticoats they are not seen but provide for a very full skirt.

5. YELLOW SKIRT. The yellow skirt is worn over the very full petticoats and the ties tucked in to the skirt.

6. EMBROIDERED APRON. Costumes from the Hana region typically have white aprons/over skirts. The apron I made is white cotton with yellow embroidery (all done by hand!).

7. HANDKERCHIEF -  A handkerchief is pinned at the waist. I hand embroidered and hand edged this handkerchief several years ago.

8. VEST. Put the vest on but wait until after the belt is on to hook it.
Hana Vest

9. BELT. The vests for the Hana costume are traditionally short. Since my daughters, Katy and Sarah, are so tall, a lot of the white blouse shows so we made the belt long enough to wrap around the waist twice with a big bow in the front. The ends of the belt should hang very long with the ends even. When we tie the bow, great care is taken to get the ends at exactly the same length.

10. COLLAR. The most distinctive part of the Hana kroj is a very stiff collar. This collar was created with 13 yards of lace and made detachable for convenience. I use liquid starch to made the collar stiff. The collar should stand up in the back. I get this collar to stand up by turning it upside down on an empty milk jug and spray it with full-strength liquid starch until it is soaked. When it dries, it is very stiff. (We store the collar in a hat box.) The collar is attached with a hook and tied with a red ribbon bow.

11. HAT. We have two hats for this costume. A dear friend brought us a hat made out of a large scarf (pictured above) from the Czech Republic. Sorry, I cannot tell you how to fold the scarf into a hat. If anyone has the directions, please let me know. The second hat is one I made out of a stove top hat. I had never seen one of these hat in person when I started making Sarah's but as you can tell by the side-by-side picture, I got pretty close. This hat is traditionally worn by brides.

Sarah (Middlebrook) Armor

Sharon (Middlebrook) Mena on the left next to a photo of an authentic Hana hat.

12. ACCESSORIES. A friend brought us the tall basket (pictured below) (I guess this is for wine but I'm not sure) and Bohemian garnets.
My daughters, Sarah (Middlebrook) Armor and Katy (Middlebrook) Frazier.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Personal Update

Hello all or "Howdy" as we say in College Station, Texas. I have not posted in a while so I thought I would give you a little update. As you may have noticed from a previous post, I have moved from West, Texas, to College Station, Texas. I've been very blessed, both personally and professionally. I married Randy Mena in November 2013 and he owns a local business. Check out our new website:

I have a new job in the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs as an Administrative Administrative. I have settled in nicely and have kept myself very busy. I've joined the American Business Women's Association and have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the other members. I have also joined the Texas Educational Support Staff Association and look forward to attending their Summer Work Conference next month.

And in answer to your question, yes I still work on Czech costumes. Not as much since I have also been finishing up coursework for an Associates Degree from Hill College. But lately I have been working on the collar/scarf for my daughter's Kyjov costume. Currently the costume is on display at the Texas Capitol Visitor's Center as part of the PolkaWorks Texas Czechs exhibit. Trust me, it will not be finished any time soon but I will post pictures from time to time to show the progress.
Thanks for listening and now I have a request for you. If you have a Czech costume, send me a photo and a little about YOUR costume(s) to I am sure others would be interested in seeing costumes from different regions. AND if you made your costume, share some tips for others. Sharon

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Connect with Me on Facebook

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