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Skirt of silk taffeta brocaded with a silk thread – an element of a woman's festive dress from the Podhale region. The skirt comes from Zakopane or its vicinity. Its fabric dates back to the second half of the 18th century. The time when the skirt was made and the period of its use are unknown.

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Skirt of silk taffeta brocaded with a silk thread – an element of a woman's festive dress from the Podhale region. The skirt comes from Zakopane or its vicinity. Its fabric dates back to the second half of the 18th century. The time when the skirt was made and the period of its use are unknown. It was bought by Maria and Bronisław Dembowski for their collection in the years 1887-1893. In 1922, it was bequeathed by Maria Dembowska, along with a collection of nearly four hundred ethnographic items, to the Tatra Museum. Here, it is one of four former highland skirts made of precious silk fabrics. These historical objects are interesting examples of the manner of manifesting wealth through a worn outfit and evidence of the considerable diversification of the material status of the Podhale population in the past centuries. The oldest known cuts of skirts of highland women date back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Thanks to descriptions of an ancient outfit of women of the Podhale region and preserved museum pieces, we know that their skirts were long and usually reached down to the ankles. They were made of several gores of material gathered at the waist in a number of small folds and sewn into a narrow belt. The ends of the belt turned into straps with which the skirt was tied on the front or the side. By the end of the 19th century, highland women wore this piece of clothing not only on an everyday basis, but also on holidays, with an apron which covered the front and sometimes the sides of the skirt. On special occasions, in order to achieve a fashionable “heaped” figure, women sometimes wore several layers of skirts. Clothes worn to work were made of homespun linen or cheap factory materials, such as percale. Festive attire differed from an everyday one primarily in a degree of wear but also, if it was possible for financial reasons, in type of fabric and ornament. An especially grand costume not only beautified a person but also informed about this person's material status and social position. It was a subject of special efforts, and acquiring it often involved considerable financial resources. Wealthy highland women sewed festive skirts of silk materials, for example of taffeta or damask. These fabrics could be purchased at markets and fairs (for example, in Czarny Dunajec or Nowy Targ), in shops in towns of Małopolska or from hawkers. They were very expensive, and only wealthy people could afford them. Elements of an outfit made of these materials were carefully looked after and passed down from generation to generation.
Valuable material was used in a very economical way. In invisible places, for example on front of a skirt covered with an apron, pieces of cheap materials, usually thicker linen cloth, were inserted. Even tiny pieces of fabric, joined with diligence and ingenuity, were used to make an outfit. The presented skirt, as part of an expensive festive costume, could be worn by several generations of women. It was made of silk taffeta, which originally was of a pink colour that faded a lot as a result of use and the passage of time. Its entire surface is decorated with a Baroque motif composed of delicate flowery twigs interwoven with a distinctive ribbon. This pattern, resembling embroidery, was made with a brocading technique which involves introducing an additional colour thread in a part of the pattern in the process of weaving.
The skirt was probably created as a result of an alteration of another item of clothing, which is evidenced by numerous scraps of fabric used to make the skirt. It was sewn of eight rectangular pieces of material, only four of which are of the original width of a taffeta gore (52 cm). When it comes to the others, two are noteworthy as they form a kind of mosaic of twenty-two fragments of this precious silk matter, joined together by a seamstress. Too many large scraps of material made it impossible to reconstruct the brocaded pattern visible in other parts of the clothing. The elements of the skirt patched together were intended as its front, which was covered with a customarily worn apron. The skirt fabric was arranged in a number of small folds at the waist so that the circumference of the material, measuring 326 cm at the bottom, was reduced to 65 cm after it was sewn into a canvas belt.
The size of the clothing (an equivalent of 34 according to the contemporary sizing) shows that at least its last owner was a very slim person, so even such a large amount of material gathered at the waist lent the desired corpulence to the figure only to a small extent. Such a long (88 cm), at least ankle-length skirt was often exposed to damage, and therefore its lower edge is marked by numerous traces of home repair. Signs of repair can also be found in other parts of this delicate and fragile fabric. In 2006, the item underwent restoration. As a result, the fabric underneath was doubled with a thin silk cloth. For this reason, the original reverse side is not visible at present.

Elaborated by Anna Kozak (The Dr. Tytus Chałubiński Tatra Museum in Zakopanem), © all rights reserved

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Brocading

Brocading (from the French word brocher) is a technique involving the introduction of an additional metal thread (gold or silver) or silk thread into the fabric. This thread passed through the width of the fabric only at the spot where the ornament appeared, thus creating a pattern.

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Brocading (from the French word brocher) is a technique involving the introduction of an additional metal thread (gold or silver) or silk thread into the fabric. This thread passed through the width of the fabric only at the spot where the ornament appeared, thus creating a pattern.

The results of such intricate work may be seen in the collections of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums: a taffeta skirt from Podhale, a kontusz sash and a set of late Renaissance liturgical vestments (a chasuble, cope, dalmatic, stole).

Elaborated by: Editorial Team of Malopolskas Virtual Museums,
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

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Tafetta skirt

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