As with most Hungarian embroidery, the Kalocsa patterns became very popular in the mid-19th century with the rise of nationalism in Hungary. Originally, Kalacsa used white embroidery on white cotton as coloured thread was expensive and only became mainstream at the end of the 19th-century.
Colour-fast embroidery highlighted nature-spired motifs such as tulips, berries, leaves, wheat sheafs. Colours were harmonised and used two-tone colouring to interpret patterns. Colour pairing included purple/red, pink/bright pink, orange/yellow, blue/dark blue, lilac/dark lilac, light green/dark green. Motifs were usually halved and the two colours were used to create the single object. Hand-drawn patterns were and still are, the sign of professional pieces with no motifs drawn twice; if a flower is used more than once, it will be embellished with different colours and always slightly different in shape.
My Kalocsai Book of Patterns
Textiles such as pillows and tablecloths were the most common items embroidered. But with the rise of nationalism, clothes were popular choices to exhibit the pride of the region. Women embroidered scarves, blouses and aprons while sleeves, cuts and collars on men’s clothing were embellished.
However, it is women’s clothing that is most decorated in Kalocsa with woman’s life illustrated in her embroidery. A young woman’s trousseau for instance, is decorated with bright colours – red, orange, yellow. As a woman aged and her martial status changed, for instance widowhood, her clothes would reflect more sombre colours of purple, green, blues and lilacs and often embroidered on black cloth.
Kalocsa has become the embroidery that epitomised Hungarian embroidery to the west. It’s free-flowing colourful patterns have made it the poster-child of Hungarian embroidery. I love these patterns – they are incredibly ‘happy’ motifs that can brighten any cottage. But, as we shall see in subsequent blogs, the differences in embroidery in this small country are great.