Heľpa Folk Festival: beautiful beautiful textiles

Putting gulky into the water

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

My friend Helene

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.

Older lady in shadows

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.

demonstration tables at Helpa

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 shows children lace making

making woolen cuffs in SlovakiaA woman making woolen cuffs.

helpa blog-36Setting 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.

making gulky in Helpa, Slovakia

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.

large holed wooden scoop

Men cooking gulky in Helpa, Slovakia

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.

Mixing dough for trhane halusky in Helpa, Slovakia

Helpa gulky and trhane haluskyTop: gulky Bottom: trhané halušky

Also on the menu were potato pancakes and graple, deep fried sweet dough.

Slovak woman making potato pancakes

There were a few stands selling handmade items, like bead bracelets from an enterprising boy, decorative axes, and wooden fujaras and flutes.

Slovak boy selling bracelets

Decorative Slovak axes

Slovak wooden 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.

Slovak man peels a piece of wood as he makes a roof shingle

Slovak man makes Slovak style shingles

Two Slovak shingle makers tell storiesTall 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.

Slovak women using a warping mill

A Slovak woman uses a warping mill

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.

Slovak women dressed in traditional kroj

An older Slovak woman in traditional kroj

 Across the green, in the house, were more exhibits, one with clothes and one with lace.a collage of shirts from exhibition in Helpa, Slovakia

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 kinds of laceDifferent types of lace, some with coloured thread or gold and silver thread

Corner cloths, for wrapping around a bed after birthing

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.

A wife's capThe 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.

Slovak folk performers go on stage

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.

Slovaks in folk costume in Helpa, Slovakia

Boys in traditional sheep wool vests bake as they wait for their turn to perform

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!

women at an textile exhibitionLook at the embroidery, especially the top cloth!

A Slovak woman shows her capA woman shows the piece of lace used in this area’s married women’s cap.

Examples of rich Slovak textiles

hands making Slovak lace

Man with woolen cuffsAn example of woolen cuffs

Boots made of wool

Woolen decorated boots

Slovak shepherd bagsSlovak shepherd woolen bags and leather belts

a girl in folk costume looks at cheap toysA child in folk costume looks at cheap Chinese made toys

Cooking shelter in Helpa, SlovakiaCooking shelter for regional specialties

Making gulky, dough and meat balls

A Slovak woman in kroj

Slovak women working together

Slovak woman from Helpa in kroj

A Slovak woman from Helpa in traditional costume

wooden mugs for drinking zinzicaA wooden mug traditionally used by shepherds for drinking Žinčica, a fermented sheep milk drink.

wooden goods for sale

Slovak woman's face

Girl from Slovakia embroiders

Slovak woman's hand

Detail of sleeve decoration

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old photos collage helpa

embroidered cloths

close up of embroidered cloth

lace bobbinsLace bobbins, sometimes given as love tokens

babywearing clothBecause I heart babywearing.apron collage helpaTwo 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.

Slovak men in folk costume

Slovak girls with elaborate headdresses

Slovak men's shoes

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helpa blog-38By 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.

helpa blog-40The long business of waiting to perform

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