Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Stitching Tradition

I was lucky to have grown up with a tradition of needlework in my family.  My mother sews beautifully (she made my wedding dress!) and she cross-stitches and knits as well, so there was always fabric, yarn, and embroidery floss about for me to use.  But deeper than that is the tradition I inherited from my father's culture.

In the late 1950's my father and grandparents immigrated to Canada from Hungary.  They moved into a rural farming community with a strong Hungarian presence and spoke the language almost exclusively at home for many years.  Sadly, I never learned to speak Hungarian myself (I'd love to - but it's not easy!) but my early childhood was touched by the traditions they brought to Canada with them.  More than anything (other than these amazing cookies called kifli) the thing I remember the most is the embroidery.  If you've never seen traditional Hungarian embroidery you are missing out!

I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on the topic - far from it in fact - so if you'd like to learn a little more in-depth I recommend checking out:  (where you can buy pre-made goods) and  (where you can buy kits and books if you'd like to try it yourself). 

Styles of Hungarian Embroidery vary from region to region - you can find examples of the richly varied styles here: 

The beautifully coloured Kalocsa floral embroidery is probably the most recognizable.  Like almost all Hungarian Embroidery it was used to decorate a wide variety of linens (everything from bedding, to doilies, to tablecloths, to towels) and clothing, I find every piece breathtakingly gorgeous and intricate!!

In a similar vein is Matyo embroidery - traditionally done on white or black linen, it also consists of floral motifs either in a bright rainbow of colours, or else a subtle, almost monochromatic look.  I adore it on the black background and I think it looks quite modern and yet some how still charmingly traditional.  This is the style I remember best from my childhood with it's cheerful colour scheme and fat, rounded motifs.
But these days the Hungarian embroidery which speaks the most to me is (surprise, surprise) the cross-stitch - in Hungarian it's keresztszemes - how's that for a lovely sounding word!   Mostly geometric based designs the history of the craft goes back hundreds of years.  I love the simple use of colour - usually red and black.  As always I find it absolutely awe inspiring that so much beauty can come from one kind of stitch.
Want to try a little keresztszemes yourself?  Check out the great free patterns here: (the page is in Hungarian - but cross-stitch patterns need no language!) Examples of the available patterns are below.  Click the link to take you to the page so you can get the charts directly. 

Aren't they GORGEOUS!?!  Happy stitching!


  1. Welcome!

    The last few samples out of the line ( / xszemes / regi_keresztszemes_mintak), it is not a traditional Hungarian sample.
    If I may suggest one of the following instead.
    I'm glad for your interest in heritage of his ancestors after.

    Sorry for any errors, Google translator ...

    Yours sincerely:
    László Antal
    ( page editor)

  2. Hello there!

    I just learnt the basics of Kalocsa embroidery during my latest visit to Hungary. I manage to remember everything except the stem stitch. The stem stitch videos I found in Youtube look very different from the one that I was taught. Not just from the front but also the back of the cloth. Could you please recommend a video or make one yourself?

    Thanks and Regards