crafts and artisans

The Intricate Art of Straw-decorated Easter Eggs

Slovak straw-decorated Easter eggs

When I was in Canada, decorated Easter eggs meant pysanky, the Ukrainian art of wax-resist coloured eggs which results in beautiful and intricately patterned eggs. My first year of college, my friends and I spent hours doing pysanky over the Easter break.

When I came to Slovakia, I realized that there were many more traditional methods of decorating eggs here, including drawing with wax, cutting the egg shell, etching, and decorating with straw.

I first saw the straw method a number of years ago at a local spring fair. Pani Sitarova sat at a small table, gluing minuscule pieces onto an egg. I marveled over her patience working with such small pieces. This year, I asked her to show me the process, and marveled even more.  Click to continue reading

Vianočné oplátky: making Christmas wafers

A woman holds oplatky, also called oblatky, as she makes them

A necessary part of Christmas for most Slovaks is the thin crisp wafer served at the Christmas Eve meal, oplátky or oblátky, depending on the dialect. Some thin wafers are sold as ‘cakes’ layered together with a sweet filling at spas all year round, but the Christmas wafers are a little different. (More about Slovak Christmas.)

I’ve been trying to get into Slovak kitchens for some time now, to publish their cooking and baking secrets for the world to know. (If you know someone willing for me to come over with a camera, send me an email!) I finally invited myself over to learn how to make oplátky from a lady who makes them in my town.  Click to continue reading

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 HeľpaClick to continue reading

My Love Affair with Folklore (and a Slovak folklore concert)

Children's Folklore Concert

If I had to guess, I would say that my love of all things related to traditional cultures started in my grandparent’s living room. Our fairly frequent family gatherings would often involve some Scottish airs and folk songs, my grandfather on the fiddle. Sadly, us grandchildren didn’t learn the songs although I recognize most of the melodies (I started learning the violin with my daughters, and one of my goals is to learn those songs).

One of my favourite memories is of listening and dancing to some jig or reel after a day of haying in the summer. At that time haying was a family affair, involving many hands, lots of food, major itch caused by sweat mixing with hay seed, and rides in the back of a pick up on swaying piles of hay bales. Hay used to be made into square bales, which are actually rectangular, and they were leaned against each other like a pyramid so that if it rained the water would run off instead of soaking into the dry hay, like this. We still did it by hand, lifting and carrying each bale.

Anyway, we were relaxing after a day of hard work by playing music, when an evening thunderstorm started and everybody dashed out in the rain to stook the bales in the field behind the house. My sister and I went out under an umbrella and tried to lift the bales but we were still too little to lift them. Afterwards we sat on my grandmother’s couch, counting the time between thunder. One Mississippi, two Mississippi…

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Draft Horse Competition in Slovakia

Draft Horse Competition in Slovakia

This last weekend we went up to Bytča in northern Slovakia to a small draft horse competition, something I’ve been wanting to go to for some time. In the more rural parts of Slovakia work horses are still used on smaller farms.

As we drove north the hills become higher and closer together and, about 15 minutes from our destination, we drove into winter. Snow lay thick on conifer trees, low bushes still held the snow. My oldest daughter loves winter as much as I do and she kept exclaiming, “Oh, look, Mom, snow! It’s so beautiful!”

When we arrived the snow started falling, fat fluffy flakes so thick sometimes you could barely see. Along one side of the grounds were tents selling decorated gingerbread, handmade cowboy type boots and hats, harnesses and other paraphernalia for horses, sheep cheese and wooly knits, balloons and kid’s toys, goulash, and coffee.

We arrived towards the end of the wagon slalom. Click to continue reading

A Slovak Christmas

opening gifts on Christmas

I know, I know, I’m breaking every blogging rule in the book. It’s January and I should be writing about new beginnings and positive thoughts, and here I am still on the old year. I wanted to share how a Slovak Christmas is with you though, and real life means it’s already January before I sit down to do it

A Slovak Christmas begins on štedrý Večer, literally bounteous evening, which is Christmas Eve. Christmas trees in Slovakia are traditionally put up on this day, although now some families put them up a few days before. The day is spent cleaning and cooking in most households, while burning incense (frankincense and myrrh).

Some families still take a walk to the cemetery before supper, to pray for deceased loved ones and ancestors. It’s also a chance to slip the presents under the tree. When you return, Ježiško has already brought the presents. Click to continue reading

Jarmok, Trnava, Slovakia

Jarmok, Trnava

Jarmok, pronounced yarmok, is a festival of the grape harvest season in Slovakia (at least, I think it is). While a few weeks ago we saw a dozinky, a celebration of the grain harvest, jarmok is a fair put on by the town. In Trnava, there are a number of sections: handmade crafts, everything for sale from clothes to kitchen gadgets, fair rides, food, medieval demonstrations, music.

meant to walk to the various parts of jarmok and take pictures for you all, but after wandering for 2.5 hrs at the handmade arts section, I had to run back home. I just enjoy marveling over objects of beauty, even though I don’t usually have money to buy them.

So, following are some of the pictures from the handmade section. I tried to choose photos of crafts unique to or common in Slovakia, with explanations. There was some lovely pottery, and you can see what I bought on my Instagram account.

Jarmok, Trnava
Trdelnik is a Slovak treat that waft sweet vapours through the fair; the smell alone is enough to ensure long line ups. Long strips of sweet dough are wrapped around a wooden cylinder and rotates as it bakes. It is then rolled in your choice of sugar and cinnamon, walnuts, and other toppings. Pulling on it causes the trdenik to unfurl and pieces are ripped off to eat.

Jarmok, Trnava
Just to make sure you always have a shot glass available, you can hang it around your neck.

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