Patterns & Forms - from the collection of The State Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw

The State Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw

Patterns and forms of the traditional Polish folk costumes from the collection of The State Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw. 

Precision, artistry, beauty.

The oldest embroidery patterns, so called "polskie szycie" (Polish sewing) included tiny, geometric motifs, done with cross stitches, then there was "ruskie szycie" (Russian sewing) – cross stitches of minute, flowery motives, while in the last period the flat, shaded stitches became popular and were used for creating large, floral motifs.

The embroidery in the costume from the Biłgoraj region is made with chain or flat stitch technique. Cotton red, black or blue thread called “zapał” was used. The spiral was the most popular ornamental motif. It appeared not only in embroidery, but also on Easter eggs or the wedding bread called “korowaj.” Embroiderers re-created the motifs from memory. Each village had their own talented embroiderers, who accepted commissions and were paid in food or money.

Lachy Sądeckie group. Cloth headscarf adorned (on the corner and the ends tied over the forehead) with red, dense floral embroidery and shiny sequins.

Lachy Sądeckie women’s traditional folk costume - detail, tunic embroidery.

Cracow`s collar -"kierezja" detail.

The parzenica embroidery dates back to the mid-19th century. Initially they were simple string loops, used for reinforcing cuts in front of cloth trousers. They had practical functions and protected the cloth from fraying.

The modern look "parzenica" got from those tailors who began using red or navy blue string, simultaneously increasing the number of loops. Later the appliqué design was replaced with embroidery. Using woollen yarn allowed the "parzenica" to become more colourful and eventually it became a stand-alone trouser ornamentation, developed by talented tailors and embroiderers.

Parzenica - embroidery sample, Podhale region.

Parzenica - embroidery sample, Orawa region.

Parzenica - embroidery sample, Podhale region.

Parzenica - embroidery sample, Podhale region.

Aprons and Skirts

In the Opoczno region traditional aprons were fastened down the front with straps ending with wool pompoms.The garments’ borders were trimmed with “netting” - woolen crocheted lace.

In central Poland the aprons were also worn on shoulders and were called “outwear" aprons.They were very popular and used every day.These shoulder-worn aprons were much longer than those tied at the waist and usually had no ornaments whatsoever.

In the Opoczno and Łowicz regions the arrangement of stripes on the fabric was called “the fashion”. Over the years the colours and size of the stripes continuously changed. It was a result of the need for innovation as well as new dyes appearing on the market. In the mid-19th century wool used for weaving striped cloth was dyed with natural dyes, with various shades of red especially popular.

On the turn of the 20th century orange became available and since the 1920s the introduction of Aniline dyes made cool colours (green, blue, purple) possible. Unravelling old fabric and dyeing the wool with new colours was quite a popular practice.

Apron - a piece of traditional Silesian costume
An apron made from black silky satin, with hand-painted flowers (oil technique). Traditionally, women wore skirts for everyday chores, reserving painted aprons for special occasions, for example important church or family holidays.

Kurpie region. Skirt`s detail.

Two types of textiles used in traditional Biłgoraj region costumes.
The linen fabric called “czynowate” or “drelich” (upper section) was the most difficult to produce.Woollen fabric was used to produce trousers and skirts called “burkas”.

Corsets and Vests

Corsets from the Podhale region.

The custom of wearing corsets came to the countryside from towns and the garment became popular in villages on the turn of the 19th century. The most ornamented corsets come from the Mazowsze region and southern Poland.

A corset of traditional Lachy Sądeckie costume.

A corset from Kraków area.

Women’s traditional folk costume, West Kraków region, detail.

In the villages located along Northeastern outskirts of Kraków people wore cloth or velvet corsets, fastened with hook and eye, with wrinkled lower back section. Wedding corsets were made from brocade and silk damask. The corsets were richly ornamented with several tapes, tassels, ornamental buttons - especially red ones that resembled coral.

A corset from Limanowa area.

A corset from Rzeszów area.

A corset from Rzeszów area.

Men’s vest - Pieniny Mountains (Szczawnica)
Cloth vest ornamented with small patterns in stripes: the eighth, cross, apiary, smerecki, hearts, stars, flower. The embroidery from the Szczawnica region is still made, especially for the rafters working on the Dunajec river.

Trends in corsets and vests
In the second half of the 19th century it became fashionable in the Podhale region to adorn corsets with depictions of thistle and edelweiss. These motifs were the most popular in the early 20th century. When “Kraków style” came into fashion, highlanders of the Podhale region began ornamenting the corsets with shiny sequins and glass beads.

Women’s vest - piece of traditional folk costume from the Opoczno area.

Women’s vest - piece of traditional folk costume from the Łowicz area.

Women’s vest - piece of traditional folk costume from the Łowicz area.

A tunic - element of traditional Wilamowice costume.

Very often buttons on traditional costumes not only had practical functions, but in some regions they were important ornaments. Metal buttons were the most intricate and came in many forms and variations. Regardless of their shape, size, value and region there was one thing they all had in common - they had to be shiny and polished or were considered not elegant. Buttons used in traditional costumes in Wielkopolska, Silesia and Łowicz regions were brass and silver-imitating alloys.


Polish peasants believed that buying strings of beads was a good investment. The value of three strings (the usual number worn) more or less equalled the worth of 4-5 cows or 1.4 acres of land.The jewellery was inherited through maternal line, bequeathed, argued over in inheritance disputes and could be also put in pledge for loans.In most areas of Poland they were often a necessary element of trousseau and they were worn with festive outfits.

The beads were attributed with a number of magical functions: for example their colour reflected their wearer’s health - fading colours meant an illness. The number of strings and the shape of the beads depended on the region. There were always an odd number of strings; round, bright red beads were the most valuable, ovals little less and the so-called “chaff” (miniature cylinders) were worth the least. Various crosses or medallions were often attached to the strings of beads.

In Kraków, Rzeszów and Łańcut areas rings were worn by both men and women. There were always three beads in men’s rings.

Rings were made from paktong or low-quality silver, occasionally from brass - which was used from framing the beads and attaching them to the ring. The beads were usually made from real or fake coral, the latter known in Kraków as “mashed bread.”

The amber necklace from Kurpie region.

Fake pearls became popular in the 1920s.They were made from glass or plastics and covered with mother-of-pearl or fish glue (made from fish scales).

Pearls like these can be often seen in archive photos from the Sieradz, Łowicz, Łęczyca, Biłgoraj or Opoczno regions.In the latter two they were usually worn with wedding clothes.

Original devotional object used as an accessory for a coral necklace.The small medallion is also called a “mary” or “a looking-glass”. It was the most sought after devotional objects and pilgrims bought it off stalls even in 1944 in Częstochowa town. They were usually attached to strings of amber or coral. Typically, one side of the medallion showed the Madonna of Częstochowa and the Holy Family, the Crucifixion or a saint on the other. “Marys” were made as early as in the 17th century and still after the Second World War.

In the south of Poland necklace medallions were often made from Hungarian coins and in Biłgoraj area - coins made in Tsarist Russia. It was believed that these coins contained high levels of valuable ore, thus they would make good ornaments.


The clasp from Cieszyn region.

There were three basic techniques of making the clasps. Cast ones were the most popular, then embossed became fashionable and later replaced with filigree clasps.

“Hoczki” clasps were worn with traditional women’s costume in the Cieszyn region.Originally used for practical purpose of fastening bras and corsets by drawing a small chain, colourful ribbon or tape through their loops. Since early 20th century used only as ornaments.They were always used in pairs (in the Cieszyn region from 4 to 12) and almost always all the hoczki sewn onto the corset were identical.

The Western Kraków region`s belt - a detail.

Traditional belts from the Eastern Kraków region were made of leather tanned white and a lot of studs.Worn on trousers, russet and winter coats.The belt is usually worn with “jinglers” - brass circles attached with red leather straps and called “kotule” or “tencki”.

Traditional belt from Podhale region - a detail.

Smoking pipes came to the Podhale region, like tobacco, from the southern part of the Tatra Mountains.The tradition of pipe-making survived there until the second half of the 20th century. The most expensive and most ornamented pipes were called “parsywka” and were made from clay, fir wood and silver or brass plating. First the bowl was formed from clay and after firing metal plates were attached to it.Next wooden, arch-shaped shank with stem and bit were connected to the bowl.The bowl was capped with a convex valve plate, often adorned with a rooster figurine.The cap allowed the user smoking during rain.

Making of Highlanders` clasp. Mr Andrzej Wojtas at work. Bukowina Tatrzańska village, 2016.

For centuries clasps have been an important element of Polish highlanders’ traditional costumes. Originally used for fastening shirts, they fell out of use when buttons became popular, remaining only as ornaments. In the early 20th century they were already rare, used only by senior and young shepherds, who grazed their sheep on mountain pastures.In the 1920s and the 1930s they were considered collector’s items and sought after by tourists.In Zakopane they were often worn as ornaments for the “cucha” (outerwear), sweaters or occasionally on leather bags.

Today the clasps are a popular element of highlanders from the Podhale region, but the way they are worn differs from the original one: instead of fastening shirts they are usually attached to them or sewed on.

Credits: Story

The State Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw/ Państwowe Muzeum Etnograficzne w Warszawie

Curators/Kuratorzy: Patryk Pawlaczyk, Klara Sielicka-Baryłka from Polish & European Folklore Department

Coordination/Koordynacja projektu: Klara Sielicka-Baryłka

Support team: Elżbieta Czyżewska, Anastazja Stelmach, Przemysław Walczak, Anahita Rezaei

Special thanks to: Jadwiga Koszutska; Łukasz Zandecki; Marzena Borman; Joanna Bartuszek & Barbara Kowalczyk; Edward Koprowski; Mariusz Raniszewski; Agnieszka Grabowska; Aleksander Robotycki

Translation: Jan Sielicki & The SEM`s documentation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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