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Corset – an element of the traditional women’s outfit in Podhale, made of home-spun brown fabric with a characteristic triangular indent, the so-called szczytek, cut out in the middle of the top front and back parts.
The corset comes from the Dzianisz village in the Podhale region, situated north of Zakopane. It was here that in the years 1887–1893 a highlander named Styrczula sold it to the married couple of collectors, Maria and Bronisław Dembowski. In this way, the presented item entered one of the largest and most interesting 19th-century ethnographic collections from Podhale. In 1922 this collection became the property of the Dr. Tytus Chałubiński Tatra Museum in Zakopane by way of legal bequest.

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Corset – an element of the traditional women’s outfit in Podhale, made of home-spun brown fabric with a characteristic triangular indent, the so-called szczytek, cut out in the middle of the top front and back parts.
The corset comes from the Dzianisz village in the Podhale region, situated north of Zakopane. It was here that in the years 1887–1893 a highlander named Styrczula sold it to the married couple of collectors, Maria and Bronisław Dembowski. In this way, the presented item entered one of the largest and most interesting 19th-century ethnographic collections from Podhale. In 1922 this collection became the property of the Dr. Tytus Chałubiński Tatra Museum in Zakopane by way of legal bequest.
The fabric corset with the szczytek is equalled by no other from the collection at the museum in Zakopane. Its origins are dated to the late 18th and early 19th century This date is justified by the uniqueness of the exhibit – its cut, the stitching and decorative motifs used, as well as the preserved specification of the item written down by collectors. Despite its simple and fairly primitive finish, this corset was most likely an element of one’s Sunday best outfit, which is evident by its ornaments and good condition.
Corsets became commonly used by women in the countryside only at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. It is assumed that in Podhale this phenomenon appeared later – not until the beginning of the 19th century. This does not mean, however, that some wealthy highlander women did not have them as early as in the 18th century. At first, the corsets were only worn with Sunday best outfits, only later did they enter into everyday use.
The oldest corsets were sewn of percale, linen and cloth; the preserved specimens show that they could have also been sewn of valuable silk fabrics. The latter were used exclusively as holiday outfits for rich women.
Women put on corsets on top of a shirt, tying them in the front with ribbons or clasping them with hooks or possibly little buttons. Simple corsets were made at home, and those with a more complex cut were sewn upon order by seamstresses.
The appearance of the corset has changed over the years in terms of both the cut and the materials and ornaments used. On the basis of the preserved museum collections, we know that the oldest corsets (from the 18th/19th century and the1st half of the 19th century) were usually short with narrow straps, low cut in the front and slightly smaller cut in the back; the line of square insets, the so-called kaletki, were sewn onto the bottom edge and spread gracefully on the hips to emphasise the waist. The more impressive items made of valuable fabrics also featured longer styles with broader straps, a higher cut neckline and large trapezoid insets, which constituted everything along with the back and front material.
In view of this short description, one can see that the fabric of the corset presented here has a different style, and its fashion shows some analogies with the Cieszyn corsets, the so-called żywotki or kabotki of Spisz. Researchers of the history of folk outfits in Podhale believe that here we are dealing with the oldest types of corsets worn in Podhale.
The fact that the relics of traditional material culture of Podhale inhabitants have survived until the present day can be attributed, for example, to the representatives of the intelligentsia who, while staying in Podhale as early as the 1880s, collected them out of interest in the local highlanders’ culture. The notable collectors of this period included Countess Róża Krasińska, Maria and Bronisław Dembowski, and Zygmunt Gnatowski.
Maria and Bronisław Dembowscy came to Zakopane in 1885 and settled here for good. In the years 1886–1893 they collected about 400 items coming from the 18th and 19th centuries. This valuable collection included numerous specimens of ceramics, furniture, elements of outfit, particularly for women, glass paintings, sculptures and musical instruments. The collection was already known in the 19th century. It was admired by Dembowski’s visitors, and its fragments have been on display at various exhibitions. It has been used by Władysław Matlakowski, who wrote the monograph Zdobienie i sprzęt ludu polskiego na Podhalu (Ornaments and Equipment of the Polish People in Podhale) (Warsaw, 1901). Many items included in the collection served as prototypes for utility art designs created by Stanisław Witkiewicz, founder of the Zakopane style.
Since 2009 this collection has been on permanent display at a branch of the Tatra Museum located in the historical house of the Sobczak family at Droga do Rojów in Zakopane. The corset described here is put on temporary displays.  time, it rests in a painted chest together with other elements of the historical highlander outfit, as it used to do at highlanders’ cottages.
We can have a closer look here in the virtual space.
The corset is made of brown home-spun cloth – a fabric made in the weaving workshop of sheep yarn and later subjected to felting in the village fulling mill. The front and back of the corset are made of one fabric width. Narrow straps are pieced out with two cloth strips. What is characteristic of the ever-thrift highlander management, in places that the eyes cannot see, is that from the inside the corset is lined with thick, coarse linen cloth, and with a thinner cloth, known as paseśne, in two places on the straps. The clothing is sewn by hand, with a linen thread with a winding stitch. The corset is short and does not have any insets. Its edges are hemmed with linen cloth in a natural and pink colour (which might have been red in the past), and a red woollen strip.
The corset style with the above-mentioned triangular cut, szczytek, is highlighted by the home-spun woollen strip sewn parallel to the edge. The front tails, back and straps are covered with embroidery made of woollen threads of yellow, green and beige (in all likelihood originally red). The used chain and cross embroidery stitches, also known as Zakopane stitch, belong to the oldest stitches used in folk embroidery. The embroidered flower motifs are highly schematic.
Despite its primitive or even careless completion, the corset is distinguished by a tasteful colour scheme of the embroidery that is in harmony with the base colour, and a skilful composition of embroidery.
On closer inspection one could observe a rectangular plaque of thin cloth sewn onto the lining, with a hand-written number 98 and the calligraphed information: Dembowski Collection. It is a remembrance of the period when collectors Maria and Bronisław Dembowski included the Podhale cultural items in their collection. The collection was catalogued, and every item had a specification with its number and origin described, if possible. Some elements of this collection still have their numbers and owner information preserved.
The Dembowskis collected and exhibited their items in one of the rooms in their Zakopane house known as a Chata (Cottage). As was already mentioned, this first “ethnographic museum” of Zakopane was well-known among visitors to the hospitable house of the Dembowskis. Literary memoirs also state that the highlander women’s outfits featured in the collection enjoyed great popularity among the youngest generation of “visitors.” When staying in the Cottage as a child, Jadwiga Sienkiewiczówna (later Korniłowiczowa) gladly changed into “two or three times too big skirts and corsets of highlander women!” (Maria Korniłowiczówna, Onegdaj. Opowieść o Henryku Sienkiewiczu i ludziach mu bliskich [Once. Story of Henryk Sienkiewicz and his Relatives]. Warsaw, 1972, p. 98)

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

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