10 Lords a Leaping: Hungarian folk dancer


People/Country: Hungary

Dance: Matyo Casrdas, a Traditional folk dance, attired in Matyo*embroidery

Border: Zsolnay roof tiles,, Romani (Gypsy) wheel, Halas lace*, Cube House painted (Magyar Kucka)

Jónapot! / Hello

The Magyars arrived in the area now called Hungary around 895 CE from the Ural Mountains. The towns of Buda and Pest (shown in 1995), on opposite sides of the Danube River, joined to become Budapest in 1873


Dance: When I’m travelling, I always try to view local or traditional dance or music  performance when possible. For one thing, I don’t have to know the language to appreciate the event.  When in Budapest, Hungary a few years ago, I was fortunate to get tickets to view The Hungarian State Folk Ensemble/Folklor Danube Folk Ensemble, a wonderful show of traditional folk dances with traditionally attired dancers. I’m sure it was intended for tourist, but that’s what I was, and that is who is often most interested in learning about customs and costumes natives may take for grant it.  This dancer is dressed as one of those  performers was.



The dancer here is wearing an outfit embellished with “Hungarian Embroidery”. This style of embroidery dates back to the 12th century or earlier. One of the oldest surviving pieces of Hungarian embroidery is the so-called Coronation Mantle of King Stephen (r: 1001-1038), which is now in the National Museum of Hungary, Budapest. Women in Hungary decorated clothing, sheets, and other household items with this elaborate,, think tread embroidery. Men, considered craftsmen and usually part of guilds, decorated sheepskin coats and jackets, as well as felt mantels.  There are several different styles of regional embroidery. The Matyo variation, shown here, is listed as a UNESCO Intangible Heritage Culture. Characteristically, it has brightly colored floral motifs on a black background making it particularly striking. According the website National Clothing. Org, it can take up to months or even years to make a complete set of Matyo folk clothing.   Matyo embroidery not only represents a particular region of Hungary, but has come to be a symbol of the whole country. Shirts are heavily decorated with floral embroidery on wide sleeves that come down beyond the hands and are trimmed with a crotchet edging. While there were regional difference, most often traditional dress includes hats decorated with feathers or ribbons,  and boots with a higher heel and sometime spurs.  Embroidered aprons were also worn.The apron is usually one panel with fringe at the bottom and detailed embroidery coming about a quarter or third the way up from the hem. This outfit is from Mezőkövesd, the largest of three cities of the Matyo people in northeastern Hungary



Border/sides: Zsolnay roof tiles

The border is inspired by my favorite building in Budapest, the magnificent Museum of Applied Arts, designed by Art Nouveau architect Ödön Lechner. Its green and gold roof made of Zsolnay ceramics sparkles with splendor, and its imposing dome dominates views from surrounding streets.  The  story of Zsolnay’s tiles is fascinating, and I encourage you to research this topic for yourself.  


Corner, upper left: Easter Eggs

Easter is widely celebrated in Hungary, and traditions have evolved, from “locsolkodás” or “Sprinklings” (throwing water on young women) to distinctively decorating Easter eggs. There are actually several different techniques for egg decorations including painting (some of the same patterns as the  embroidery), dying and two popular traditional methods: berzseles and irasBerzseles involves using natural  materials, such as leaves to create  the pattern. Leaves are secured  to the egg with mesh fabric (panty hose will do) and placed into the dye bath. When the chosen color is reached, the egg is lifted  and the leaf removed, leaving a subtle, but lovely, stencil  pattern. The dyes are also natural, such as onion skin for brown and beets for purple. The Iras technique picture in the corner is a little more complicated. Iras literally means “to write.”  You “write  on the egg (or draw a pattern) with a specialize metal tool  using hot wax. After dying the egg, the wax  is  removed  to reveal the design, much like Ukrainian Pysanky eggs (or batik fabric.




Corner, upper  right: Gypsy Wheel

Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers are legally recognized as ethnic groups, and protected from discrimination by the Race Relations Act (1976, amended 2000) and the Human Rights Act. The Roma chakra, was adopted in 1971 at the First World Romani Congress as the official symbol of the Roma (“Gypsy”) people, resembles a Hindu Chakra wheel, and not unintentionally. Chosen deliberately to honor the Romani’s Indian heritage, the sixteen spoked wheel adorns the Romani (Romany) flag, and is reminiscent of the wheels of the Vardo, or Wagon, which has served as the home for  Romani peoples over  time.


Gypsies make up Hungary’s largest ethnic minority of about 3.2 percent of the population to even 7 % -10% depending on how “officially” reported the numbers are. They get their name from the mistaken conception that they were originally from Egypt.  Actually, they are a separate, recognized ethnic minority that probably emigrated from India (Rajasthan and Punjab)  to Europe in the 11th-14th centuries. They are also called Travelers (especially in Ireland) because of their nomadic a culture.  Generally, they prefer to be called Roma, since they belong to the Romani group of peoples and speak the Romani language.  Yet, as with many minorities in Europe and elsewhere, there is poverty and prejudice associated with this group. They were victims of the Nazi Holocaust. The Roma have contributed a significant identity especially in the form of “Gypsy” music and dance to the Hungarian culture. Many musicians play professionally in restaurants (often catering to tourists in Budapest), where I heard them, or  in performances of folk dance and music in concert halls, where I also view them. 


Corner, lower right:  Cube Houses: (Magyar kocka)

The Hungarian Cube (Magyar kocka) or Kádár-kocka (Kadar Cube) is named after János Kádár, the Communist leader of Hungary between 1956 and 1988.  It's a standardized type of residential house built in Hungary after WWII. There are still tens of thousands of them left, and people have personalized them in gorgeous ways.  Hungarian cubes usually have a floor area of 872 sq ft (81 sqm, 9x9 m) or 1076 sq ft (100 sqm, 10x10 m). Ornamental or geometric decorations on facades were the only way to individualize them. Some of the finest examples were photographed by Katharina Roters and published in her book Hungarian Cubes, available from European online booksellers.


Corner, lower left: Halas Lace

Different regions throughout the country  have their own styles and patterns of lace making. But Halas Lace, from the town of Kiskunhalas,  is especially identified  with Hungary. This lace is so prized in Hungary that is often  given to as an official gift  to  heads of states, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Charles I of  Austria, and Pope John Paul II.  The lace uses sixty kinds of stitches and extremely thin thread. It is tremendously tedious to make. There are less than 100 women who  know how it is made today.



·       Folk costume and embroidery/ Costume and Embroidery of Mezőkövesd, Hungary

·       Hungarian Coronation Mantle. Textile Research Center.
·       The Hungarian Cube (Magyar kocka)

·       Meier. Allison. How Hungary’s Painted Homes Rebelled Against the Socialist System·       Hungarian Embroidery. Textile Research Center.
·       Jones,  Marilyn. Discovering Medieval Budapest. Renaissance magazine. # 110 May 2017. Pgs. 28-30

·       The living tradition of lace-making in halas·       Museum of Applied Arts Roof .·       National Traditional embroidery and folk costumes of the Hungarian Matyó community  13/1/2018·       Video:
·       Traditonal Hungarian methods to decorate Easter eggs.

·       Hungarian Easter Eggs.

·       Zsolnay  market, St. Matthias, Applied Art museum others.
·       Traditional costume of Hungary. Mix of Renaissance and Baroque creates unique folk outfit 30/6/2016


Be the first to post a comment.

7 Looms a Weaving: Hill Tribe: Kayan or Karen


Country/ People: Thailand. Padaung/ Kayan

Loom: Backstrap

Border: Sample weave

ဟလို “Mingalabar”  Pronounced "ming-gah-lah-bahr" /     Hello in Burmese (not Karan)

Background: One of the largest ethnic hill tribe groups, comprising almost half of all hill tribe peoples, is the Karen or Kayan tribe, with more than 300,000 living in Thailand. They came as refugees from Myanmar (Burma). There are four sub groups, each with their own language and traditional attire.  By far the most recognizable of the Karen sub-groups is the Padaung, often call the “long-neck tribe.”  Padaung women wear coils of brass round their necks, and some also wear metal rings on their ankles and lower legs.  An ancient southeast Asian legend claims the brass rings protect women from tiger attacks, since the wild animals go for the neck and ankles of their victims. As Katie Foote discusses in the reference below, Ethical Travel: Should You Visit Thailand’s Long Neck Women Villages, it may seem intrusive and even exploitive to visit these hill tribes. Clearly, if you do go, as I did, you must do some research first and find responsible avenues, where traditional customs are protected and women are provided welcomed economic opportunities. I met the woman pictured here in Thailand, where she shared her her skill, smile and customs with us. 

Loom: Karen women traditionally use a back-strap loom to create weavings using cotton treads and natural dyes. I am particularly fond of the Padaung weaving in a kind of zig-zag pattern, created with incredibly fine treads that are not tightly woven into the patten (see image below). Many of the hill tribes also weave with beautiful, shimmering Thai silk. Each of the ethnic tribes has a unique variation  on traditional designs and use of color. In many instances, weaving has become a profitable route to independent income, replacing earlier opium growing.

Border: This design is copied from a hand-woven, silk scarf I purchased from the woman I have pictured in the image. She was so friendly, and we seem to communicate even though we didn’t speak each other’s language.  She agreed to having her photo taken, as she was rightly proud of her handiwork.



References and Links:

·       Foote, Katie, Ethical Travel: Should You Visit Thailand’s Long Neck Women Villages? 9/12/18 (·       Hill Tribes of Thailand.·       Hill Tribe Weaving Class in Chiang Mai.·       Thailand weaves colorful future for ethnic hill tribes through textiles.

·       Visiting a Long Neck Tribe Ethically.


Be the first to post a comment.

Previously published:

All 24 blog entries

The Art and Writing of Barbara Rizza Mellin