The Romanian blouse

posted in: Inspiration | 7
Matisse paintings of Romanian Blouse
Matisse paintings of Romanian Blouse

In Romania recently I naturally took a close interest in fashion, fabric, style and stitching. I was unaware that Matisse had painted many versions of the Romanian blouse. But how inspirational are these images? Matisse’s love of textiles and his commitment to featuring clothes, fabrics and textiles in his work, making his paintings rich, colourful and full of life and joy. I asked my friend Ionela Flood to tell me more.

The blouse is known as “ie” and is basically a traditional T shaped garment. The gathering at the neck is usually secured with a simplified smocking stitch. There is embroidery on the sleeves which are either loose at the cuff, or pulled in with further decoration. This picture is a close up of some of the very fine and beautiful embroidery on show at the Parliamentary Palace exhibition of the clothes of each region of Romania.

Romanian blouse embroidery
Old blouse (detail)

The blouses are normally made out of white light weight cotton, cheese cloth or silk. These ie would be made at home and many of the versions we saw on sale in Romania are embroidered by the grandmother’s who live in the country. This phenomenon is, itself, very interesting. Young city dwellers receive relatively low wages. Those that can supplement their expensive diet with eggs, chicken or vegetables from the family farm can enjoy a higher standard of living as a result.

Like many commodities in Romania they are fairly expensive (between £70 and £150), reflecting the significant amount of work entailed in the hand embroidery. Certainly in Moldavia and Translyvania these hand crafts are stil widely practised and pride is taken in the work. But today many Romanians will buy these items from a shop. Here is a simplified diagram, in case you would like to make one. This pattern does not require a shoulder section which is fairly common on the blouses. I always enjoy these kind of “you can make it at home” diagrams – common to all traditional wear. People always made their clothes in this way before the advent of the graded tissue paper pattern in about 1860.

Ie pattern
Ie pattern

As well as the cross stitching there is also some very fine drawn tread work to be seen.

Blue and white Romanian blouse embroidery detail
Romanian blouse with drawn thread and cross stitch work

The blouse below, in the more traditional red embroidery, shows the design which includes a shoulder piece for greater ease of movement, plus a gusset at the underarm, and a wide sleeve shape.

Romanian blouse with shoulder piece and gusset
Gusset and shoulder piece

This gorgeous version with several subtle and deep colours doesn’t have a gusset.

photo 8

Here, at a festival in Slatina (River Olt behind) local men and women wear traditional dress with pride. They also offered everyone delicious bread and local wine. The young woman is wearing an ie blouse under an embroidered over-coat. The men wear a similar long shirt with plain white decoration and a collar, gathered into the waist and finished with a wide woven belt.

Men and women wearing Romanian clothes
Traditional folk wear

I must say I was tempted by this £150 skirt, with its lovely embroidery.

Antique Romanian women's skirt and blouse
Antique Romanian outfit

7 Responses

  1. These garments are stunning. The amount of work in the hand embroidery is amazing. Very interesting post which I really enjoyed reading. Thanks for posting.

  2. Very interesting post, I enjoyed the link between Matisse and this traditionnal Romanian garment.

  3. I also really enjoyed the reference to Matisse’s paintings…terrific! oh, this makes me want to embroider something sooooo badly. Love the group shot of traditional folk wear, and the detailed close ups too. fabulous, as always.

  4. Interesting post, as always, Kate. I can see why you were tempted by that skirt!

  5. I love Romanian blouses. I made a post about it some months ago.

  6. bizon victoria

    Hello, Regarding the Parliamentary Palace exhibition I saw the blouse posted by you. I like it very much and I need more pictures with that blouse. The exhibition is closed and I ask you if you can to post more pictures of the blouse.

    • The photographs in this post are from the permanent exhibition of folk costume from the different regions of Romania, on permanent display at the Parliamentary Palace. I think you may be referring to the Museum of Popular Costume that was hosted in the basement of the Parliament, which is now closed and I have never visited. Sorry I cannot offer you more help.

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