Historical development of use of materials

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Historical development of use of materials, embroidery patterns, and costume influences in Romania & Balkans

6500 BC Oldest known woven textile found in excavation at Çatalhuyuk, Turkey.
Neolithic period century 5500 - 2200 BC Evidence of embroidery on wool or flax woven cloth has been found from Neolithic times. Evidence of weaving and tools connected with it has been found in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Ancient tomb drawings at Beni Hasan in Egypt show simple looms with a warp held taut between 2 rods pegged to the ground. Fine linen fragments with 120 warp threads per cm have been found. The silk industry (sericulture) originated in China some time before 2600BC. Early Chinese writers say that the wife of Empress His-Ling-Shi (2640BC) started sericulture on a scientific plan and invented the loom for weaving silk into patterned material. This was a closely guarded secret for many years.

Leather slippers were found in the tomb of Tutankhamen

Bronze Age
1800-1150 BC
6th century – 5th century BC
Getae & Dacians
Archaeological excavations & early documents confirm that hemp; flax and wool were used by Getae and Dacians. Herodotus notes in his histories that Thracians made clothes from hemp, & flax. Daco-Roman archaeological excavations at Dinogetia-Garvan have found fragments of two and four heddle linen and hemp and woollen fabrics. This suggests the use of horizontal looms and a good knowledge of all the production stages, at an earlier time than in western and central Europe These were dated by means of coins from the emperors Constantine VII and Isaac I Comnenus (5th century). Skilled leather production existed in Greek and Roman Empires as shown by edict issued by Septimius Severus and Diocletian who regulated the import of items made from leather form Babylonia and Phoenicia

Wool and leather were mentioned in the Golden Fleece whose final episode takes place in the Danube Delta..
1st-2ndcentury AD Romans Silk spread to the west via the silk road. It reached the Greek-Roman world in 1st century AD, although its method of production was a secret.
4th century AD Byzantium

AD 330 Foundation of Constantinople

7th century AD 800
Earliest embroidery that survives is Church embroidery in Byzantium styles. This uses gold or silver thread, lightly twisted with a coloured silk and couched in the same way as a solid metal thread. In Ad 550 Emperor Justinian sent 2 Persian monks to Khotan to search out the secrets of silk production. This reached Athens by 9th century, and was introduced by Moors into Spain by late 8th century.

Embroidered textiles found in Copticentury tombs in Egypt were used as cloths to cover the dead. Silk only appeared in these embroideries in 7th century. Before this material used was white or unbleached linen or hemp with designs in violet or red or more rarely black, green or blue.

Charlemagne decreed that flax; wool, woad, cochineal dye and madder should be produced
10th-12th AD Silk came into use in Romania early due to the contacts with the Byzantine Empire. Byzantium archaeological excavations at Dinogetia-Garvan have found reels of silk thread, from around in the 10th-12th century.
13th century
From 13th century fine fabrics were brought from Bohemia, Flanders and Lombardy. Gold woven fabrics were originally imported from the East and from the 15th century from Italy. Textile designs from Scilly and Venice were introduced by Knights Templar who stayed in Transylvania on their return from the Crusades.
Middle Ages
14th -15th century

1453 Constantinople fell
The main characteristics of peasant costume did not change during the feudal periods unlike the costume of the feudal lords which copied period fashions. During this period the existence of ţări led to local ethnographical characteristics developing in costume. In the 14th century Romanians living near the Danube sent floss silk to the feudal lords in order to pay their taxes. Silk is mentioned in many medieval documents, from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries

Trade guilds exist from early 15th century for weaving of woollen cloth, coat and hat making, although most costume items were still made at home. In certain locations a whole villages was involved in the production of certain items (e.g. Suman in Sârbeşti). Middle age trade documents show that leather products were already traded widely between the regions of present day Romania (Walachia, Moldavia, and Transylvania). The Furriers' guild in Cluj was given its first charter in 1446.

Embroidery flourished in Middle Ages, at courts, in monasteries, and on feudal estates Ecclesiastical embroideries still exist from the reign of Stephan cel Mare (1457-1504). These were produced in a workshop either in Suceava or Putna monastery and were based on the style of Moldavia fresco paintings. These use twisted gold and silver thread. The existence of local courts in Bucovina, Argeş and Muscel resulted in the development of local folk styles. Embroidery was especially rich in Gorj, Prahova, Lugoj, Pădureni, Apuseni Mountains
16th –17th century

Ottoman in Walachia 1417, Moldavia 1512, Transylvania 1541 1524

Ottoman influences
Trade with Genoese in Mediterranean & the Orient meant nobility started importing cotton, camel hair, goat hair fabrics, gold & silver thread, silk, oriental vegetable dyes, and subsequently these were used for peasant costume. Cotton was brought from the Mediterranean regions and was first cultivated in Dobrogea during the Ottoman rule. Saxons introduced printed cloth made by using woodcuts

Ottoman influence was strongest in the south on the Danube plain and in Banat. During this period Turkish silk fabric was widely used by wealthy landowners in Wallachia and Moldavia for both garments and furnishings. Certain Ottoman influenced garments such as giubea, and epigea (a kind of hooded or unhooded mantle) were introduced via the courts and were later worn in the countryside. Prof. N Jorga suggested that one method of wearing a maramă, which can be seen in portraits of this time, was an imitation of the fashion in Wallachian courts in 17-19C.
18th century
Habsburgs defeated Ottomans in Transylvania
Imported cotton was used for warp in some areas, gradually replacing linen and hemp. Oltenian decoration in black braid on men's coats, waistcoats and men's trousers  can be seen in old feudal monuments e.g. those of Leleşti church founders in 18th C. This braiding was copied from ornaments on uniforms of Habsburg army. It was also found in villages around Arad and in some parts of Banat
1856 - Ottomans left South Romania
By early years of the 19th century a middle class began to emerge in the towns of SE Europe, and there was a growing influence of towns on villages, In the south Turkish regulations regarding the form of dress worn were relaxed and in Transylvania the influences of the Habsburgs decreased. This led to an increased feeling of nationalism, which was reflected by an increase in embroidered decoration on peasant garments. Up to this time the distinctive features of peasant dress, had been in cut rather than decorations. Mid 19th century engravings showed only modest embroidery on peasant dress i.e. a narrow band on neck and cuffs. Fashions from towns reached the villages one or two centuries later. Oltenian folk costume taken over and enriched by a freeholder Dincă Schileru in first half of 19C. This was adopted by nobles around WW1 and is now oten worn by professional folk musicentury ensembles.
2nd half 19th century Textiles still mostly produced at home but from 19th century some rural communities specialised in producing more textiles than they needed e.g. sheep breeders near Braşov (7 villages of the Bârsa Land) and Bran who produced huge amounts of white coarse woollen cloth (dimie and aba). In 2nd half of 19th century these textiles were sold at Braşov market to traders from Ploieşti and Târgovişte, who then sold them over the mountains. The same sheep breeders also sold textiles to Szekeler Sedes who used to wear traditional Romanian fabrics. Specialised workshops also existed in Oltenian and Moldavian monasteries. Rolls of hempen or linen cloth, made by women for market, were sold at fairs in Arad, Deva, Oradea, Beiuş, Câmpulung Muscel, Rădăuţi, and Târgu-Jiu. Weavers from Lereşti-Muşcel were well known for fineness of their silk marame. Belts were made and sold at Câmpulung Muscel & Moldoveneasca, Rădăuţi, Craiova and Sibiu. Weavers of catrinţe and fote were found in Argeş, Gorj and Suceava Judeţul.

From 2nd half 19th C. the manufacture of outer garments was taken over by specialist tailors. The  pleating of back skirts and gathering of smocks was done by poor women to earn their livelihood. Men were only involved in making leather accessories. Metal ornaments were made by goldsmiths.

Textiles and yarns started to use a mixture of natural and synthetic fibres. Worsted was introduced and used for ornaments especially on vests and sheepskin coats, cashmere was used for scarves & aprons, fine linen for shirts, fine cloth for  catrinţe and coats, lace, ribbons & beads were used for ornamentation. Floral ornamentation spread out from towns.

In northern Bulgaria after Bulgarian liberation from the Ottomans in 1878, many migrants from the Balkan range moved down to the Danube plains to search for of a more profitable living on farms abandoned by the Turks. The resulted in the double apron and belodresnik (white men’s) costume being displaced from areas of NE Bulgaria.
1880-1920 Romanian costume assumed the form now seen in folk art museums in period from late 19th century up to and immediately after the 1st WW.
Early 20th century In the rest of Romania (apart from Dobrogea) cotton was imported until the beginning of the 20th century, when cotton growing spread to many regions. Around the beginning of 20th century fashions worn by the wealthy began to spread out from the towns to the villages as the landowner became more wealthy with the development of the market economy. This led to the spread of luxury type regional costumes far beyond their original geographic limits. The Muscel and Argeş costume spread as far as north and east Moldavia. Folk costume fashion was even worn by the Royal family. In the interwar period the fashion in certain cities was to reaffirm their links with the surrounding villages.

Around 1900 in southern Romania wealthy peasant women wore heavy salbăs (necklaces) of gold coins; lamb skinned scurteicăs (pelisses) of red velvet with fox fur collars – garments taken over from nobles who had worn these as fashion clothing around 50 years before. In Moldavia the same applied to wearing ilics (vests) made first of home woven materials then of bought black, brown or red velvet and decorated with beads or spangles. To buy these cash was needed which only the wealthy had.

From early 20th century spun silk thread was used, plus gold and silver threads, spangles and coloured glass beads.
Post WW1 Many of the individual features of costumes died out at time of transfer of clothes production from individual to workshop or factory. In most places this was around the start of 20th century, except in Romanian where regional costume was still widespread until mid 20th century and continued to be worn in some remote areas until the end of 20th century
1948 Co-operatives were set up in early 20th century in Breaza (Prahova), Tismana, Topoloveni. Women from these co-operatives worked at home. Breaza co-operative was known especially for silk embroidered blouses. Fine cotton linen (crêpe Bennett) was produced there and used in other co-operatives.
1968. Sibiu co-operative set up and produced woven textiles with rich patterns (alesături), leather goods made by irhă, weaving coloured leather strips and Saxon goods
1950 Tismana co-operative was set up in 1950. Workers extend to 40 villages. Aba (rough woollen cloth) craft died out in 1940s-50s but was revived in Tismana in 1960-70s.
1970 Co-operatives in Sibiu and Tismana had about 500 weavers, who were supplied with spun yarn. Costumes for folklore ensembles made in folk art co-operatives in Tismana and Topoloveni.
Since 1989 In the years after 1989 many co-operatives closed.  More recently workers form these co-operatives have begun to set themselves up as independent craftsmen, making costumes for Folk groups and for tourists. They display their produce at regional craft fairs, and in the last 2-3 years Internet shops have been established selling costume pieces made to order.


© Eliznik2005, First issue 5/4/2003, Last updated Aug-05