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The skirt, known as a farbanica or farbonica, is an element of the historical Podhale outfit. It was sewn from linen fabric, woven in a home weaving workshop, and printed manually with the batik technique and dyed indigo in the village dye-works in Chochołów, which was owned by Ferdynand König, Jan Krzeptowski Sabała’s son-in-law. In Podhale women wore such skirts in the second half of the 19th century.

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The skirt, known as a farbanica or farbonica, is an element of the historical Podhale outfit. It was sewn from linen fabric, woven in a home weaving workshop, and printed manually with the batik technique and dyed indigo in the village dye-works in Chochołów, which was owned by Ferdynand König, Jan Krzeptowski Sabała’s son-in-law. In Podhale women wore such skirts in the second half of the 19th century.
There are few farbonica skirts left, only five of them are preserved in the collections at the Tatra Museum. Together with the printing blocks from the König works donated to the Zakopane Museum in 1903 by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz and Wojciech Brzega, they are a valuable record of the Podhale dye and fabric printing industry, a craft that prospered well in the second half of the 19th century and definitely disappeared from this area at the turn of the 20th century.
By the middle of the 19th century, the women’s outfits in Podhale, both common use and Sunday best, were made nearly entirely of non-dyed home-spun linen, fabric and leather. Only in the 1860s did they gradually start to feature elements sewn of factory fabrics, particularly for Sunday best outfits. The white linen skirts, known as aprons and worn by highlander women on a daily basis, got dirty easily, and that is why they started to dye them. Women sent the linen intended for skirts to the local dye-works, where it was dyed into one colour, e.g., black, navy blue or blue, and patterns were manually printed on the linen. As opposed to white skirts, in Podhale skirts sewn of dyed linen were called farbonice, farbownice or farbanice (from the Polish word farbować meaning “to dye”).
The farbonice skirts were worn here every day as well as on holidays. The working skirts were made of thick linen cloth (pacesia), while the festive ones were made of thin cloth (omiesne). They were long (ankle-length), very wide (usually made of 4–6 widths of linen), creased at the waist and sewn into a hem and finished with tying straps. At the bottom they had a narrow hem, or were lined with a narrow border of the same fabric, which made the skirt stiffer and protected the skirt bottom against wear. At the bottom they were decorated with a broad strip of plant and geometrical patterns in white or white-and-blue, which looked like lace and clearly distinguished itself from the dark-blue, sapphire-blue or navy-blue background. The skirt background was, in turn, printed with fine, white or light-blue projections comprised of flower or geometrical motifs, usually leaves or large dots. The farbonica skirts enjoyed their greatest popularity in Podhale in the 1870s–1880s, particularly with the less wealthy highlander women because they were cheaper than skirts sewn from factory-made fabrics. Dyed linen was also used in Podhale in the second half of the 19th century to make pinafores and bed linen for duvets and pillows.
In the 19th century the whole folk dye-industry in Europe commonly used batik print which, when combined with indigo dying, offered blue fabrics with fine white patterns. Such fabrics were produced in the village dye-works in Podhale. Working here from the middle of the 19th century, the dyers imprinted the patterns on the fabric manually with the help of printing blocks (digits) covered with an isolating substance that protected the spots beneath them from being affected by the dye. Then they immersed the fabric in the indigo paint and, after washing it from the isolating mass, they received a blue fabric with a white pattern. For two-colour designs the dyers did not wash the isolating mass out after the first short dying bath, but, after drying the fabric, they re-printed it and dyed it. As a result, the fabric featured a white-and-blue pattern on a dark-blue or navy-blue background.
The printing moulds used by the Podhale dyers were usually made of two wooden boards joined together with pegs: the lower one featured the pattern to be imprinted on the fabric and the upper one served as a handle. Patterns in the printing moulds were either carved or laid down with brass wires and plates driven into the wood that allowed them to get a subtler ornament on the fabric similar to the designs visible on the factory-made fabrics.
In the second half of the 19th century in Podhale dye-works and fabric printing works operated in Poronin, Chochołów and Nowy Targ. The first dyers working in Podhale originated from Orava and Spiš. Maciej Grenczyk of Bobrov ran the dye-works in Chochołów in the years 1848–1877, while Marcin Piekarczyk of Vydrnik managed the dye-works in Poronin in the years 1857–1877. In the late 1850s dyer Ferdynand König came to Chochołów from the Andrychów area. Alter Hamerszlag, dye master born in Nowy Targ, started his works in this town in 1884.
The Podhale dyers not only dyed the cloth brought to their workshops by their clients but also took orders at markets and fairs collecting white cloth for skirts from highlander women and returning it all printed during the next fair. At fairs they also sold their own dyed and printed cloths, or even finished skirts. One could buy them at the fairs in Chochołów, Czarny Dunajec and Nowy Targ.
The dye-works in Podhale reached the peak of their activity in the 1870s and 1880s. At the end of this century, being unable to compete with cheaper factory-made fabrics that appeared in masses in the village, the Podhale dye industry started to collapse until finally ceasing to exist at the beginning of the 20th century.
Here we present the farbonica skirt purchased for the collections of the Tatra Museum in 1929 by its director Juliusz Zborowski.
It is made of indigo-dyed, home-spun linen fabric hand-printed with the batik technique. At the top, it is decorated with blue dots placed evenly like on a chess board on the navy-blue background, while the bottom features a strip of elaborate white-and-blue, plant and geometrical patterns. It is a long skirt liberally creased at the waist and sewn manually with linen threads from six widths of fabric. The material was laid in pleats at the waist and then sewn into a 1-centimetre belt made of non-dyed linen cloth. The belt ends were most likely fitted with straps to tie the skirt on the side. These straps are currently missing. At the side seam below the belt finish there is a cut going for about 1/3 of the skirt’s length. It was covered by a wide apron that was a part of the everyday and holiday Podhale outfit until the end of the 19th century. The skirt is lined at the bottom with a strip of navy-blue linen cloth, about 3 cm wide, and finished with a stiff blue string sewn onto the bottom hem. On the inside at the bottom of the skirt near the side seam there is a small piece of fabric in a natural linen colour with a near-triangle shape. One may assume that a feature covering the place beneath so as to prevent the dye access was sewn to the fabric here. Serving as an identification mark, the feature in the form of a small copper plate with a number was sewn onto the fabric brought by highlanders to the dye-works or handed over to the dyer at the fair and remained attached to the fabric during printing and dying. The highlanders took the other mark with the same number to their homes. When collecting the fabric, the dyer used this mark to find the fabric collected for dying and return it to the owner.
The fabric of this skirt was dyed and printed by Ferdynand König (1823–1894), Jan Krzeptowski Sabała’s son-in-law and owner of the dye-works in Chochołów. Not only did he dye the fabrics brought to the dye-works by highlander women, but he also frequented fairs with his wife Katarzyna, where they carried and returned the dyed fabrics and collected white fabrics for dying from the clients. The Königs also attended the fairs in Czarny Dunajec and Nowy Targ, as well as fairs in Slovakia, and sold finished skirts sewn by the dyer’s wife and children, both daughters and sons.
The skirt was purchased for the collections of the Tatra Museum in 1929 in Nowe Bystre at the house of the Stoch family. Anna Stoch, 40 years old at that time, wore it occasionally even in the 1920s. She inherited the farbonica skirt from her mother who bought it in Nowy Targ from the dyer of Chochołów. The skirt was sold to the museum by Anna Stoch’s son.

Elaborated by Zofia Rak (The Dr. Tytus Chałubiński Tatra Museum in Zakopane), © all rights reserved

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“Farbonica” skirt

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