A woman's shirt / chemise from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

late 1800s to early 1900s

British Museum

British Museum
London, United Kingdom

A woman's shirt / chemise; ankle-length, with long sleeves. Made from natural cream tabby woven wool (?) cloth; hand woven and hand sewn. Wide A-line shape (front upper and back upper made from a single length). Ten panels in total; 8 cms deep panel at waistline, with a full weaving width of 41 cms; hand stitched. Blue and black counted thread wool embroidery worked either side of centre front opening and on large stand-up collar. Three stylized human figures (?) below neck opening. Fastened with two pairs of metal hooks and eyes. Blue/green plaited stitch embroidery at neck edge, collar and sleeve ends. Neck opening and collar lined with fine tabby woven natural cream cotton cloth. Sleeves set in at right angles. Very wide [30 cms] counted thread embroidered panel extending the whole length of each sleeve. Diamond and other geometric patterning in black on a blue/black indigo-dyed (?) 'ground'. Seven isolated geometric motifs worked on top in chain stitch embroidery, using white, pink and green woollen yarn. Vertical lines and diamond patterning, embroidered in woollen threads, below waistband.

For a similar bridal dress ('krstovi) in the collection of the Skopje Museum, see 'The National Dresses of Macedonia', Ethnographic Museum, Skopje 1963, pl.VIII, no.1, inv. no. 58, from the village of Lyubanci. According to Diane Waller and Ken Ward, this garment is very rare. The diamond motif is possibly a water symbol; it is a motif that also appears on musical instruments.Rebecca West, travelling in Macedonia the 1930s, described in detail similar dresses in Skopska Crna Gora (Black Mountain of Skopje): 'They wear the most dignified and beautiful dresses of any in the Balkans, gowns of coarse linen embroidered with black wool in designs using the Christian symbols, which are at once abstract (being entirely unrepresentational) and charged with passionate feeling. Their wide sleeves are thick as carpets with solid black embroideries, stitched in small squares, with often a touch of deep clear blue, which gives the effect of an inner light burning in the heat of darkness.' (R. West, Rebecca 'Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: a journey through Yugoslavia', Edinburgh, Canongate, 2006, p. 647; first published London 1942).For another dress of this type, see exhibition handlist, 'Yugoslav Exhibition', Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 1943, no. 106, lent by a Mrs Alexander. Such dresses found their way to Western Europe in the early years of the 20th century. An example in the Deutches Historisches Museum, Berlin, was imported around 1900 and adapted by the Fidus fashion house into a 'Reformkleid', a 'reform dress' made as part of the dress reform movement of the late 19th to early 20th centuries, which abandoned tight stays in favour of looser more comfortable garments. The Berlin dress retains the orginal body but the sleeves are contemporary additions in plain linen. The dress is on display at the Deutches Historisches Museum and is also on their website, inv. no. KT 2004/370:
http://www.dhm.de/datenbank/dhm.php?seite=5&fld_0=20043698 (accessed 2/1/2014) (J. Rudoe 3/2/2014)


  • Title: A woman's shirt / chemise from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
  • Date Created: late 1800s to early 1900s
  • Location Created: Skopska Crna Gora, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 125 centimetresWidth: 160 centimetres (across arms)
  • Provenance: Donated by Dr Diane Waller. Previous owner Philip Thornton
  • Copyright: © The Trustees of The British Museum
  • British Museum link: Eu2001,02.1

Get the app

Explore museums and play with Art Transfer, Pocket Galleries, Art Selfie, and more

Flash this QR Code to get the app
Google apps