Meaning of colors in Hungarian embroidery folk art

In what way are folk songs different from other songs, and folk art different from the fine or applied arts? The answer is quite simple: both reflect a traditional folk way of thinking and imagery. The culture of Hungarian people developed during many centuries of peasant farming and husbandry. Objects decorated with folk symbols with artistic skillfulness, which are today considered interesting rarities, were once the necessities of everyday life, and their ornaments were in perfect harmony with their forms and materials.

kalocsa lace richelieu cutwork

Usually they talk about Hungarian folk art as if it were a unified whole, but the ornaments carry many different motifs and meanings depending on the region they originate from. The Palóc people in north-eastern Hungary prepared simple hand-woven fabrics, while the women of Sárköz were famous for their refined weaving techniques. It is easy to distinguish between the colorful embroideries made in Kalocsa and the Matyó motifs made in the area around Mezökövesd, where mainly blue and red threads were used in designs made before the middle of the 19th century. Objects decorated with geometric shapes make one wonder about the past, and the relief carvings of celebratory scenes is typical of the art of carvers from Transdanubia.

old matyo embroidery pattern

Each one of the motifs and colors has its meaning. The only color we find in the oldest embroideries and hand-woven fabrics is red, which was primarily used to express joy, passion and high spirits. In the old days, red was considered to have a protective power: it was associated with life and blood, fire which gives or takes life, and light. It was believed to protect infants from witches and their evil eye. The red bonnet or headdress worn by brides and young women as part of their folk costume expressed health and youth. White was generally used to express clarity and innocence, but in southern Somogy county it could also reflect old age and paleness, which is why it was also the color of mourning. Blue and green were also often associated with ageing, and most young women did not wear those colors. In addition to old age, dark blue represented wisdom, sensibleness, love of peace and reconciliation with the world.

hungarian embroideries

A combination of dark blue and white was very important in the folk ornaments of the Germans living in Hungary, because it was associated with calmness and usefulness. Medium green was a sign of spring, hopefulness and renewal in folk art: a meaning of improved fertility was attributed to leafy branches. They often used green for ceramics and furniture, and it was the symbol of shepherds living outdoors. Yellow was the color of the burning sun, which brings fading and transience, which is why it was not popular in folk ornaments. Black was usually the symbol of mourning, but the Palóc people in Hollókö used black bed linen on festive occasions. Before the First World War, the wedding dress was black in most areas of Hungary.

magyar folk

Decorative folk art only started to become multi-colored in the middle of the 19th century. Embroidery made in Kalocsa, which once only used white, black red and blue cotton yarns in the old days, has as many as twenty-two shades of color today. Folk art again flourishes, and we may come across its objects almost everywhere we go. The Craft Fair in the Buda Castle is held on August 16-20 each year, and it provides a most imposing overview of folk art. All objects presented here need to be approved by a selection jury and almost every craft is represented. In addition to buying the objects, visitors can also try their hands at making them. They get a chance to try weaving, pottery, egg-painting, and even horseshoe-making, or basketwork.

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