Heľpa Folk Festival: beautiful beautiful textiles
This weekend I was so fortunate as to visit two folk festivals. As I took about a million photos at each one, I’ll divide them into two posts.
Heľpa has held a festival for the past 52 years, Horehronské dni spevu a tanca, the region Horehronie days of singing and dancing. It was a wealth of folk costumes and, this year, textile arts.
I was looking forward to the trip, to take as many pictures as I wanted without running after kids or hurrying up for bored companions. On Saturday, I woke up before the crack of dawn to get an early train, and met a friend on the way to Heľpa.
Helene is American, but started visiting Slovakia in 1969. She has led numerous tours here, written a number of books, has an extensive Slovak folk costume collection, and visited 3000 Slovak villages and towns. The wonder of this lady is that she has so much zest and wonder for the world around her. I watched in admiration as she engaged random people in conversation, fearlessly using what Slovak she knows to communicate, ask questions, and engage perfect strangers. I have a lot to learn.
You can find out more about her tours and genealogy tracing here: Our Slovakia
The first to catch our attention was this beautiful ‘babka’ sitting on a bench, watching the festivities. In fact, she sat there for hours. We talked to her briefly, and she struck me with her gentleness. Despite the scorching weather, she wore thick woolen boots and a black polyester shirt, together with a traditional black skirt and apron.
Every year the Heľpa festival highlights certain aspects of the arts and crafts particular to the area. Under a long log roof, men and women dressed in kroj (traditional dress) demonstrated how to make various arts, such as lace, woollen cuffs, and weaving.
Somebody should do a study on lace makers and dementia, because lace making looks so crazy complicated, it must constantly create new neuron pathways. The woman’s cap, by the way, is first folded and then embroidered, which is especially difficult due to the thickness of the cloth.
A woman making woolen cuffs.
Setting up a small loom.
By this time we were hungry, and we went to check out the food. A similar wooden shelter housed a kotlik of goulash, with goulash made from wild boar. Across the road, traditional food from Heľpa was prepared.
The large wooden trough holds dough with chunks of meat. The lady on the end scooped it out with a spoon, while the other three rolled the dough into balls on a large board. They then brought the board over to special kotliks over metal barrels with a fire underneath and slid the balls in to boil. The gulky (balls) were then scooped up with a large wooden spoons with holes.
Also cooking in the barrels were trhané halušky – instead of little dumplings like regular halušky, a stiffer dough is rolled out and then pulled into pieces. I watched these good women make batch after batch by hand.
Top: gulky Bottom: trhané halušky
Also on the menu were potato pancakes and graple, deep fried sweet dough.
There were a few stands selling handmade items, like bead bracelets from an enterprising boy, decorative axes, and wooden fujaras and flutes.
Up at the old parish house, there were several exhibitions. In the old stables and barn, two men demonstrated how to make roof shingles. First, a man straddles a special bench and thins a piece of wood with a draw knife, making one long side thin and the other thick. Then, the shingle is placed thick side up and a groove is made with a curvy tool pažec or pahovník žliabky (I couldn’t find an English name, let me know if you know!) so that the shingles fit together tongue and groove style, i.e. the thin side of one shingle fits into the groove on the thick side of another shingle.
Tall tales were undoubtedly told during long winter nights.
Beside the shingle makers, women were wrapping thread onto a warping mill. Somehow this makes it easier to put the thread onto the loom, but the women seemed to think it was self explanatory. Google found lots of videos of how to use a warping mill, but not why you would use one or why there the threads are crossed at a certain point. Anyway, part of the labourious process of making cloth.
The barn was hung full of various textiles, from woven bedspreads to embroidered shirts and ‘corner cloths’ (used to wrap around the bed of a new mother and baby). A number of women in kroj sat around.
Across the green, in the house, were more exhibits, one with clothes and one with lace.
I am a textile-phil, a lover of textiles. I just find them so beautiful, even a simple linen cloth or wool knit. Perhaps a bit of a snob too – artificial materials don’t interest me.
I wonder at all the time and care that went into making something practical also beautiful. The patience that went into the whole process, from, at one time, growing the flax to making the thread to weaving the cloth to various types of decoration…I find it astounding. How is it that when making beauty was so difficult, it was widely done, but now that we have all kind of machinery to lessen the physical work aspect, we don’t care as much?
Different types of lace, some with coloured thread or gold and silver thread
These corner clothes were wrapped around the bed of a mother who had recently given birth. She could see out through the lace or embroidered inserts. Only the godmother could come in, which helped protect from infections, as she would have been in the only room of the house where everybody else lived as well.
The married woman’s cap of some rich family, made with gold thread.
Meanwhile, outside some song and dance started. Performers milled around in their costumes. Many of the men’s outfits are made of felted wool, and the women have a number of layers, and it was a scorching summer day.
There is no one type of Slovak traditional dress. Every region, even from village to village, is vastly different. I was trying to think of common similarities between them all. Women usually have an apron and married women a cap. Vests are common for both men and women.
I had to return home the same day as the next day was my daughter’s birthday and the girls’ folklore group was performing in Krakovany (post to come), so I didn’t even make it up the the Amphitheater where there were many many performances over three days.
And that was the day in Heľpa! A train ride back, to reach home at 10 at night, and I was tired! But it was a lovely lovely day, and I met some wonderful people.
Many pictures follow, in the same order as I described. There are so many pictures that I lessened the quality so that it wouldn’t be such a data burden on this page, but it also softened the images quite a bit, sadly. But I don’t want to do all the editing work over again!
Let me know in the comments which are your favourite parts or pictures!
Look at the embroidery, especially the top cloth!
A woman shows the piece of lace used in this area’s married women’s cap.
An example of woolen cuffs
Slovak shepherd woolen bags and leather belts
A child in folk costume looks at cheap Chinese made toys
Cooking shelter for regional specialties
A wooden mug traditionally used by shepherds for drinking Žinčica, a fermented sheep milk drink.
Lace bobbins, sometimes given as love tokens
Because I heart babywearing.Two styles of aprons. It’s hard to see in the photo, but the aprons on the right are gathered in tiny pleats, and then embroidered to hold the pleats.
By the time these three got to stage, they were well liquored, much to the disgust of their female group members. But rather expected, I think.
The long business of waiting to perform
Jun 30, 2017 @ 17:47:52
Naomi!!! What an amazing post, beautiful pictures and surely an exciting experience. Oh the olden days!!
Jul 01, 2017 @ 14:20:46
Thank you! It was so much fun, I want to learn so much more about how these things are made and meet the makers.
Jun 30, 2017 @ 18:51:25
Just fabulous! So glad you were able to get to this festival and share it with us all.
Jul 01, 2017 @ 14:21:05
Glad you enjoyed it!
Jun 30, 2017 @ 19:01:19
Naomi, thank you so much the pictures are wonderful and made me wish I could have ben there too!
Jul 01, 2017 @ 14:21:45
I’m glad you enjoyed them! Summer is a very busy time in Slovakia, folk festivals every weekend!
Jun 30, 2017 @ 19:11:47
The photos were fabulous! It’s almost like being there….without the heat! And it was great to see Helene! She is certainly one entertaining lady!
Jul 01, 2017 @ 14:22:43
You know Helene? She is a bundle of energy, that’s for sure! I’m glad you enjoyed the photos!
Jun 30, 2017 @ 19:54:26
Wonderful reporting, Naomi. Wish we could have been there to enjoy the sights, smells, and the food! Maybe next year…
Jul 01, 2017 @ 14:23:34
Thank you! Yes, come to a festival, they really are wonderful!
Jun 30, 2017 @ 23:27:13
Really enjoyed all the photos, but especially the ones which showed off the hats. An incredible amount of work must go into all of these creations! Looks like a fantastic festival. We’ve now returned from our travels and never made it to Slovakia. It is still a trip I want to make, just not sure when that is going to happen. Thanks for taking me there with your blog!
Jul 01, 2017 @ 14:24:49
Aren’t the hats amazing? Every area has a very distinct style and are so much work. I know somebody who might be able to teach me more…perhaps a future post!
Jul 01, 2017 @ 01:08:55
Wow – an amazing array of colorfully embroidered and lace textiles, Naomi! Excellent collection of photos of traditional Slovakian outfits. I especially like the photo of the lovely elderly blue eyed lady with the white lace hat and collared blouse – maybe because of her kindly expression.
Jul 01, 2017 @ 14:26:10
Isn’t she lovely? That’s one of my favourite photos too. Glad you enjoyed it.
Jul 01, 2017 @ 14:03:30
Is there a website with the festival schedule? I need to go to some of these next time I’m in Slovakia! I could tell that one lady was American just by her smile 😉 Love the setting of the stage, too, with the hills behind.
Jul 01, 2017 @ 14:32:33
Big toothy smile, right? 🙂 The best website I know for folklore events is http://www.folklorefest.sk
Things aren’t up a year in advance or anything, but they have quite a bit there.
Jul 02, 2017 @ 03:58:07
naomi, i loved looking at these pictures. It reminded me of some of the embroidery my mother used to do and the crocheting my grand mother did. we still have some of the crocheting thank you for sharin. you are so enthusiastic about slovak culture. It makes my spirit happy.
Jul 02, 2017 @ 22:34:08
I’m so glad you liked it, and enjoy the posts! That’s why I’m doing this 🙂 What a treasure to have handmade items from family.
Jo Anne T
Jul 02, 2017 @ 21:35:43
Thank you for posting! I have been feeling very down, not being able to come to Slovakia this summer due to my husband’s health. This cheered me up! I so love the folk festivals! I so appreciate all the women who continue to make the old crafts, their hands make beautiful things and teaching the younger generations. I still have pieces my grandmother crocheted or tatted when she was a younger woman, and they are on display in my house constantly. SIGH, missing Slovakia a lot!!!
Thrift at Home
Jul 06, 2017 @ 04:02:54
what a feast for my eyes!!! Thank you! I adore the handmade lace – I first saw a woman making lace in that manner in a BBC movie and I would love to learn.
Love all the head shots you got – you are a talented photographer!
Jul 06, 2017 @ 17:49:29
Thank you, I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
I love your blog! I find great satisfaction in making things, but get caught in tech or just the busy-ness of life. I’m inspired to make again. Great Chesterton quote 🙂
Jul 09, 2017 @ 05:52:34
What wonderful photos, Naomi! The beautiful workmanship of these textiles, that you captured so well, really made me see how embroidery was such an important part of Slovak culture. I’m even more grateful to my grandmother for sitting me down and teaching me how to do it. (Her mother was from Slovakia, and liked to crochet lace.)
Jul 10, 2017 @ 18:01:22
Thank you, I’m so glad you enjoyed the photos. Did you learn embroidery or lace making? Both are valuable skills to have, and create beauty!
Aug 09, 2017 @ 18:22:14
Hello Naomi! Wonderful pictures and lovely tradition!!!! I am in love with the textiles, laces, colors, vests,…WOW! It is really good to read about the Slovak tradition in English!!!! Thank you a lot!! Bela Murakami
Aug 14, 2017 @ 12:25:26
Glad you liked it! Aren’t textiles just so fascinating? There isn’t much about Slovakia in English, so that’s one reason I share about it.
Aug 09, 2017 @ 18:52:47
Ahoj Naomi, tieto mile damy z tvojich fotiek som už niekde videla – na videu o tredičnej svadbe v Heľpe – posielam link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NV4z9qqO_YU
Aug 14, 2017 @ 12:23:53
Jej, dakujem!! Velmi sa tesim pozerat 🙂