Slovak Resist Dyeing

For our upcoming exhibit on resist dye techniques, RESIST, we are including a couple of examples of Modrotlac. This technique of printing cotton with a paste resist then dyeing in indigo creates strong contrasting patterns of white on a deep blue ground. While these fabrics can be incorporated into many different pieces of the Slovak traditional dress – apron, skirt, shawl, headcovering – the two pieces that are included in the exhibit are skirts. Here is a detail showing the print on one of the skirts:

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Detail of Slovak skirt, KSUM 1983.1.1996a-e

The skirts in Slovak costumes are tightly pleated, which makes a beautiful pattern with the finely patterned Modrotlac.

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Slovak folk costume, KSUM 1983.1.1996a-e

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Slovak folk costume, KSUM 1983.1.1996a-e

As you can see, the apron is also tightly pleated Modrotlac. The pleats are held securely together with threads, which I suspect would normally have been removed. As it is now the apron does not fan out in the characteristic way of these Slovak pleats:

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Picture from the book Ludova Modrotlac Na Slovensku by Jozef Vydra (Bratislava: Tvar, 1954)

The hem on the skirt is faced with a band of brilliant red which appears when the skirt is fanned out.

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Detail of Slovak skirt showing red hem, KSUM 1983.1.1996a-e

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Picture from the book Ludova Modrotlac Na Slovensku by Jozef Vydra (Bratislava: Tvar, 1954)

Both the photo and the sketch of the underside of the skirt reveals how deep and penetrating the indigo dyeing was – while the white of the cotton appears on the face where the paste was applied using a printing block, the reverse is completely indigo.

Sara Hume, Curator

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3 responses to “Slovak Resist Dyeing

  1. Jan - Washington DC

    Sara – another wonderful exhibit at KSUM! Thank you for a post dedicated to the Slovak items on display. The costume from Polomka which you have featured above is an excellent example of the various styles and patterns of Slovak Modrotlac, which makes its appearance in folk costumes from the western border all the way to the east. The tightly pleated apron discussed above was worn both with the pleats held in place by the binding threads as well as with the threads removed. I know of at least four ways that the apron was used for different occasions, one is exactly as you have shown in the photos above, worn on the front with the pleats secured in place. Another method of wearing the apron with the threads intact is on the back side (without a white skirt underneath as opposed to the blueprint), folded in half with the bottom edge folded up to the waist and secured in place by the waist ties. This created a type of “bump” on the back and was only worn this way at specific times. Another element typical of Slovak Modrotlac is that in many cases an apron or scarf was dyed with two different patterns on each side, showing a high level of skill and artistry. I suspect this is the case the KSUM apron above, but it would be hard to tell without undoing the binding. Double-sided Modrotlac designs were especially popular on aprons in the regions of Liptov and Torysky and the different patterns allowed one apron to serve as two that could be worn with either side facing out depending on the situation. Thank you for including this in the blog!

    • Jan – Thank you so much for your comment. It is full of wonderful information. It was very difficult to research Modrotlac because all of the sources were in Slovak (and I don’t read Slovak). This clarifies a lot of the questions I was left with. I am so glad you appreciated the post and could add to it!

  2. Dear Sarah, I am late catching up with this- what a great FIND- the article from Gazette Du Bon Ton. hooray for you. Lou Taylor, University of Brighton.

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