9) Ostrov Museum brings together traditional folk costumes from all over country

The village of Ostrov in Central Bohemia may not be exactly a tourist hotspot, but if you happen to find yourself in the area it’s definitely worth a visit. Just a few months ago, a new museum opened in the village, boasting the country’s biggest private collection of Czech and Moravian traditional folk costumes.

The village of Ostrov is located in the picturesque, undulating landscape along the Sázava River, some 25 kilometres from the historical town of Kutná Hora. In the centre of the village there is an old and beautifully reconstructed manor, which houses the Folk Costume Museum Ostrov. It was established by local businessman Jan Mičánek and opened to the public in September of this year.

Folk Costume Museum Ostrov | Photo: Markéta Kachlíková,  Radio Prague International

“Ostrov is a small village. There are 27 villages of this name in the Czech Republic, so you have to be careful not to end up in a completely different place.

“We are now standing in the farm building of the local estate, which is the heart of the village. The costumes from Bohemia are exhibited in a former cowshed, and the ones from Moravia in a horse stable.”

“The reconstruction of the estate, including the barn, granary, chateau and farm buildings, was completed 15 years ago and today serves for accommodation and other purposes.”

Folk costumes from Plzeň region | Photo: Markéta Kachlíková,  Radio Prague International

The first impulse to turn the former manor into a museum came when a friend of Mr Mičánek’s gave him a collection of folk costumes:

“Today, the museum showcases about 260 complete folk costumes, which are displayed on figurines. We also have other exhibits to complement the costumes, such as 100 pairs of shoes and dolls dressed in tiny costumes.”

The exposition is completed with historical artefacts that were used for textile processing, spinning and weaving. In addition to that, visitors can admire collections of lace, ribbons, bonnets, shawls, stockings and other clothing items that used to be part of the national costume.

Photo: Markéta Kachlíková,  Radio Prague International

“The basis of the collection consists of four large private collections that we were able to acquire. In addition, we have received or purchased dozens of other costume parts and costumes. The exhibition is complemented by loans from eleven other museums.”

Folk costumes originated in rural areas and were usually worn on festive and ritual occasions, for church, weddings or christenings.

They gradually evolved into various forms according to individual regions and also varied according to their wearer’s wealth, which was determined for instance by the amount of decoration or the number of petticoats.

Jan Mičánek says that the exhibition in Ostrov is the first one to display traditional folk costumes from all of the country’s regions in one place.

Folk costumes from Chodsko | Photo: Markéta Kachlíková,  Radio Prague International

A total of 124 costume regions are marked on a map right at the entrance. A supplementary map documents when the costumes started to disappeared from each region:

“That was the result of various influences, mainly industrialisation but also growing number of population. The decisive date in our country was the abolition of serfdom in 1848. That resulted in greater mobility of the inhabitants.

“Villagers could attend markets in town and became ashamed of their costumes. This was a process that lasted for two centuries. Gradually, traditional costumes disappeared from our countryside and ceased to be worn.”

The vast majority of the total 4,000 clothing items on display at the Ostrov Museum had to be restored, says Jan Mičánek.

Photo: Markéta Kachlíková,  Radio Prague International

This task was entrusted to a team of five women - former teachers from the nearby village of Zbraslavice, who today continue to work in a small workshop in the museum:

Alena Hanousková is one of the women on the team:

“We master everything. From washing, bleaching, ironing, to crocheting, lace-making, embroidery. In short, everything!”

Her colleague, Zdena Málková, explains their tasks in greater detail:

“Many of the old costumes were in poor condition, because they were stored in boxes somewhere in the attic. If a shirt had a lace, we first had to cut it off, wash the shirt and bleach and strengthen it on the lawn, and then sew the lace back on to the shirt.

“Many shawls were missing beads, for example, so we had to sew them on. Many bonnets had to be repaired because they were in a desolate state.”

Folk costumes from Haná | Photo: Markéta Kachlíková,  Radio Prague International

The ladies work under the supervision of an ethnographer and curator of the exhibition, Jan Kuča. No alterations or mending is done without his approval.

In the entrance hall to the museum, visitors have a choice: on the left there is space devoted to Bohemian folk costumes, on the right Moravian ones.

Jan Mičánek, who takes us one a tour of the premises, highlights some of the most interesting regional details. He starts by pointing out the showcase dedicated to the Haná area in Central Moravia.

“Costumes from Haná are said to be rich because the region itself was rich. Look at this bodice embroidered with gold, it is simply fantastic. And here is a so-called 'úvodnice', a strip of textile used in ritual ceremonies.

“Úvod [‘introduction’ in English] was a ritual during which the woman carried her new-born child to the altar. It was wrapped in this scarf, which the woman then wore during various festivities.

Folk costumes from Horňácko | Photo: Markéta Kachlíková,  Radio Prague International

“You don't encounter this piece of cloth in Bohemia, but you can find it in Moravia, Slovakia, Poland and further east.”

The costumes from the East Moravian region of Horňácko look much plainer in comparison to the women's costume from Haná:

“It is due to the silhouette of the female figure, which is more natural, because women in that region didn’t wear petticoats.  Skirts made of hemp linen dyed with saffron were also characteristic of the area. There was also a specific pattern, created by a special weaving technique, which created patterns that look like embroidery.”

In the Bohemian part of the exhibition, Jan Mičánek points out to the attractive clothing from Chodsko, namely to the detail that decorates the traditional costumes from the South Bohemian region of Blatsko:

“The Blatsko region was relatively rich and therefore they had special costumes. The scarves, 2.5 by 2.5 meters in size, were embroidered not with thread, but with small beads. All the embroidery was made of small coloured beads and the scarf would weigh three kilos or even more.”

Folk costumes from Blatsko | Photo: Markéta Kachlíková,  Radio Prague International

In the South Bohemian region around the town Třeboň, known for its ponds and carp breeding, costumes were often decorated with fish scales. These were cleaned with soda, and then ironed, cut and used as jewellery.

The south-Bohemian town of Tábor and its surroundings was known for its cut-out embroidery, used to decorate aprons, collars, hats or scarves.

Photo: Markéta Kachlíková,  Radio Prague International

The Museum of Folk Costumes in Ostrov opened only in September this year, but has already attracted a number of visitors from all around the country. One of them is Mrs. Novotná, who came because she is interested in folklore:

“I am amazed. I didn't expect something like this. So many traditional costumes and so much detailed information about them. I haven't seen anything like this before.”

“I come from Haná, which is a region around the city of Olomouc. I had the same costume that is displayed here as a child. My cousin sewed it and embroidered it for me. I wore it at the Mother's Day parade or at church fairs.”

Only about an hour’s drive from Prague, the Folk Costume Museum Ostrov is definitely worth a visit for anyone who wants to admire the craftsmanship of our ancestors or wants to learn more about the Czech and Moravian history and culture.

The Folk Costume Museum Ostrov is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm. Details can be found on the museum’s website.