The oldest Hungarian embroidery that survived belonged to the first king of Hungary, Stephen I, who was crowned in 1000 wearing an exquisitely embroidered robe, more than a thousand years ago. The gold-stitched robe survived in good condition and today still can be seen in the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest. It is now considered a national relic, along with István’s crown.
Hungary’s needlecrafts traditions evolved from these beginnings, later picking up influences from other nations in the middle ages, and merging the two into a rich needlecrafts culture, with numerous distinct and organic regional styles.
Foreign nuns and ladies brought some of the current embroidery stitches from Western-European cultures to Hungary and locals enriched them with new stitches and designs. In the Middle Ages embroidery became a profession with its own skillful masters who prepared the lavish pieces worn by emperors and knights. Today these works of art can be seen in museums around the country. In the Middle Ages the main influences were the Byzantine and Gothic styles, and at the end of the 15 century Turkish and Italian renaissance. This meeting of the western and eastern influences and styles was the premise of the birth of a unique Hungarian style of embroidery called “Úrihímzés”.
This style of embroidery flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries. The estates of the noblemen and lords had embroidery workshops where young girls learned embroidery from their elders. They decorated the textiles of the estate and their own future household textiles with delicate and scrumptious motifs and compositions. This style of embroidery applied the influences of the Italian renaissance as well as Turkish styles. From the renaissance comes symmetry, the delicate rythm of floral motifs between the tendrils and the exuberant floral centerpieces. From turkish designs come the assymetrical compositions, crossing lines, the simplystic floral drawings, and the very stylised cypress and flower bushes. Among all historical influences, this style of embroidery had the most profound effect on Hungarian embroidery traditions.
There are almost no villages in Hungary where there is no embroidery. When compared to the above mentioned noble embroidery, folk embroidery is more unbound, lax both in its composition and in its stitches. Floral and figural motifs are not stylised, rather simplystic and naive. Predominant colors are the rich main colors, red, blue and black.
Embroidery Heritage in Hungary
Hungary’s needlecraft heritage is more prevalent in household textiles than in clothes and apparel. A family’s financial strength – or lack thereof – was demonstarted in how many embroidered household textiles it had. Young girls learned to embroider very early and didn’t marry until they had their trousseau – their future home linens – ready with the help of their aunts and mothers. It was a big honour to be mentioned as a good embroiderer. Despite the emphasis on home linens, clothes and accessories hold many beautiful traditional embroideries as well. Hungarian folk costumes are the best example – there are many distinct regional styles, differing both in their style of embroidery, the stitches and colors used.
To be continued.
Photo from the collection of the Hungarian Museum of Folk Art