Home Textiles

The home textiles in the museum’s collection amount to about 10,000 pieces and represent all ethnographic areas of the country. Their large number is explained by the fact that they were found in every home, either for various practical purposes or as an element of interior decoration. This collection of pieces was built up on the one hand during the directorship of Al. Tzigara Samurcaș (1577 objects), and on the other hand, following extensive field research organized under the direction of Tancred Bănățeanu, when 3383 pieces were acquired. Thus, from 4960 in 1991, the number of pieces in the collection of home fabrics has increased to almost 10,000 thanks to numerous acquisitions and donations.


In order to enrich the collections, to properly represent the popular culture, both Romanian and of the other ethnic groups, the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant has received numerous donations (including a large number of pieces belonging to the collectors Doncea Constantin and Nicolae and Maria Zahacinschi). At the same time, the museum has coordinated field research, after which the patrimony was enriched with pieces acquired from peasant households. This collection was not added to randomly, but proportionally, both in terms of categories of objects and regions.


It should be noted that the oldest pieces (a pillowcase end from Ardeal, dated 1785; a tablecloth from Ardeal, dated 1785; a tea towel from Ardeal, dated 1785; a wall sheet from Ardeal, dated 1785) were acquired by Al. Tzigara-Samurcaș, director of the Museum of National Art.


According to the place and the way of display of the home fabrics in the home, the collection can be divided into three categories: household fabrics, decorative fabrics, used in the organization of the interior and occasional fabrics related to certain ceremonies – wedding, christening, funeral. These categories differ from one ethnographic area to another in the way they are displayed, their size, motifs and colors. The ornamental composition gives the form its aesthetic value, without which its functionality would not go beyond the ordinary.


The bed-sheet (lepedeu) is usually laid on the mattress or paillasse and is visible under the cover. As everyday pieces, the bedspreads were made of thick hemp cloth without decorative elements. Those that were displayed in the ‘clean room’ or at celebrations were made of a more finely woven hemp cloth or a thinner hemp cloth with cotton. In Transylvania and Banat, the lepedeu had a decorative function, being used both for the parade bed and for the crest (culme, the stick on which beautiful clothes and fabrics were displayed), taking over the functions of the crest sheet.


The pillowcase, originally used for sleeping, took on decorative functions in the composition of the parade bed. In the lowland and hilly areas south of the Carpathians they are used more for decorative purposes. Another form of pillow is the căpătâi, which is placed at the end of the bed (in central Transylvania), in two or three rows (in Maramureș) or above the ruda (a pole on which fabrics are displayed) attached to the side of the bed. The decoration of the căpătâi is arranged on one end or on a whole side, making up the last row of cushions placed in a pile.


The ridge sheet (foaia de culme, the cloth that stays on the top of culme)  is usually made of a 3-4 m long sheet and is stretched on the pole hung over the bed (in Ardeal and Banat). Its decoration consists of stripes and transverse rows of motifs.


The tablecloth is made of 2-3 sheets of fabric. The one for everyday use is simple, made of hemp, while the one for celebrations has a richer decoration at the ends and the central field is generally striped. In southern Wallachia, the table is laid against the wall, so the ornaments are arranged on three sides. Also in this area, the dowry chest is covered with a crate sheet.


The towels make up one of the largest, richest and most unified categories of Romanian folk fabrics, which is why 60% of the collection of home fabrics is represented by this category of objects. Widespread throughout the country, they can be found in every home, either for various household chores or as an important element of interior decoration. They can also be found at a wide variety of social events, particularly ceremonial events, the most important of which are weddings and funerals.


Although uniform in form and structure, the towels are distinguished by a great diversity and richness of ornamental aspects of great artistic and decorative value. Since ancient times, the towels have formed an important part of the dowry of girls preparing to marry. The large number of towels mentioned in the dowry sheets is due to their function in the wedding ceremony, being used as gifts and distinctive signs for the active participants.


In terms of functionality, we distinguish between the household towel, the interior decoration towel and the specific towel for ceremonies related to rites of passage.


The household towel is much smaller and has little or no ornamentation compared to a towel for interior decoration. It can be found in every household and has many uses. The purpose for which it was created means that it is present in every household. Another well-known form is the merindar, which is used to cover food. In northern Oltenia and Banat, the towel is placed in the form of a collar, which women put on their heads when carrying dishes or baskets.


According to the place they occupy in the interior decoration and the way they are displayed, we can distinguish two types of home decoration towels: the ridge (culme or ruda) towel and the wall towel. The ruda is generally mounted above the bed. Thick home textiles and clothes are laid on top of the crest towel.


The wall towel is widely used and is placed either behind ceramic dishes, icons, paintings, at doors and windows, or displayed on the wall around the room. Their size also differs according to the way they are displayed.


The predominant geometric ornamentation, the techniques of its creation, which determined its style, the most frequent and characteristic ornaments, linked to certain myths, beliefs, customs and ancestral practices are ethnic documents. Palaeolithic rhombuses, brambles from the same period, Neolithic S’s and ram’s horns, symbols of fertility and fecundity can be considered ethnographic documents of great significance. Simple ornaments on Neolithic objects are found in the same stylistic configuration and still very common in today’s art of home textiles.


The plant motifs participate in a smaller proportion to the geometric motifs in the decoration of the tea towels. This is evident in older pieces. Towards the end of the 19th century, plant decoration, particularly floral decoration, becomes more prevalent.


The tree, with two birds facing each other, is more common in the decoration of some of the towels from the Năsăud, Valea Ampoiului and Prahova areas. The zoomorphic motifs often appear in the ornament of the towels from Transylvania and the south of the country.


The avimorphic and zoomorphic motifs are often found in the decoration of the towels from Muntenia, as is the case of the piece from Prahova, in which the rooster and the goat appear. The horse, an animal with apotropaic powers – protector of the house from evil spirits – is inseparable from man, an image also embodied in the motif of the horseman, so common in the decoration of the Muntenian towels. The horseman appears either in motion or accompanied by various characters, as in the case of the Buzău towel. Particularly valuable is the piece whose setting has as its subject “the Romanian carrying the Turk’s horse”, a reflection of one of the saddest social conditions in history. It is important to emphasize that the rendering of images on interior fabrics is not a copy of nature, but rather a transcription of it into a “code of signs”.


Anthropomorphic representations, in relation to the other motifs, appear quite rarely. On the home fabrics in the museum’s collection, women appear in various poses. On three of the most important examples, the woman is depicted holding a flowerpot in her hand or holding a small flower in both hands. Anthropomorphic images chained in a hora (a circular traditional dance) are quite common in the ornament of Romanian towels. In this respect, the most spectacular are the towels from the ethnographic area of Prahova. Narrative compositions are often funny.


Throughout the country, on the occasion of life events – birth, wedding, funeral – the towel is used either as a ceremonial object or to be given as a gift or alms. Thus, at the birth of a child, the mother’s relatives bring gifts consisting of cloth, towels, handkerchiefs, nappies, things needed by the newborn. At the baptism, as a ceremonial piece, the towel was wrapped around the candle and left with the godchild as a gift from the godfather and godmother. The girl to be married used to hand her future husband the dowry sheet and a beautiful towel. After the wedding, the bride would pour water for washing the father-in-law and son-in-law and then give each of them a towel. The newlyweds enter the house wrapped in a towel to be united for life. The young boys and girls who played an active role in the wedding ceremony were given either a towel or a handkerchief as a token. The wedding tree is decorated with towels or handkerchiefs. At funerals, towels are given as alms. In the Târnave area, nine “cloths of eatables” were needed for a dead person and were given to the cross (praporii) bearers. In Olt and Muntenia, raw silk towels, handkerchiefs and even head dresses were handed out to pay the customs. In Bistrita, the family of the deceased had to give all relatives a hemp towel as alms.


Towels were also used on the occasion of various celebrations of the year: at Easter (in Suceava), food was carried in towels or handkerchiefs; at the “Sâmbra oilor” – a pastoral custom in the Oaș area, food was carried up the mountain in baskets covered with specially made towels; at Pentecost, when the “călușari” game was organised, a towel was tied to the top of the flag (when the game ended, the flag was untied and the bailiff was left with the towel).


Among the occasional fabrics used in the wedding ceremony, the kerchief (batista or năframa) stands out both for its function and its decorative value. The local names of the kerchief differ from one area to another and are obviously linked to its ceremonial function. On the eve of the wedding, the girl gave her future husband a kerchief, which in folklore symbolised a covenant of love and union. The symbolic value of the kerchief is assimilated to a commitment, a real tacit contract. This exchange of gifts has real magical value, as it is capable of transmitting beneficial energies, designed to facilitate and weld the union of the two spouses. The bride and groom were accompanied throughout the wedding by groomsmen (identified locally by certain terms), who also carried a kerchief as a sign. Once the purpose for which they were made had been fulfilled, the kerchiefs were framed in the interior decoration.


The oldest pieces in the museum’s collection are made of hemp and linen, embroidered with metal or silk thread. Crosses, stars and geometric flowers play the most important role in the decoration of kerchiefs.


Within the collection, a special category is represented by Hungarian, Transylvanian Saxon, Tatar, Turkish, Csango and Guzul fabrics. The Hungarian pieces have a compact, monochrome (red or dark blue) decoration with plant and floral motifs (especially the “stalk” and the “tulip”). A common symbol on Hungarian embroideries is the “pomegranate apple”, representing wealth. Saxon pieces are characterised by rich embroidery with plant, zoomorphic and anthropomorphic elements, generally coloured red or blue. In the decoration of Saxon embroidery, plant motifs are represented by wreaths, bunches of tulips, acanthus flowers and pomegranates often associated with the avimorph motif.


On most Hungarian and Saxon fabrics we find inscriptions with the name of the girl or woman who embroidered the piece or for whose dowry it was prepared, as well as the year. The oldest Saxon and Hungarian pieces were made in: 1785, 1816, 1892, 1895.


Turkish-Tatar fabrics include towels, kerchiefs and interior embroidery. They are colored in red, green, blue, purple and tinsel gold. Often the tree of life is depicted in the form of a vase with flowers. On a Turkish towel the tree of life appears as the central element, depicted as a vase with a bouquet of flowers. Sometimes plant motifs are associated with the symbol of Islam, the crescent moon. Of the oriental motifs, the cypress (symbol of happiness and eternity) is often depicted in an endless variety of interpretations. An interesting variant of this motif can be found on two Dobrogea towels, in which the cypress is arranged towards the ends and associated with the pomegranate apple, symbol of wealth. The linear ornamentation system, with motifs not framed in stripes, is a characteristic of the Turkish-Tatar ethnic textiles and cloths.