The Art of Making Straw Hats in Maramures
It’s a hot summer day in the village of Sârbi, Maramureș. There is little movement on the streets. Life is still. On these days people are busy with getting ready for the winter, so there are constantly things to do around the farm. The first hay cut comes in early summer and many more will follow. Having just finished cutting the hay, 60-year old milliner Vasile Borodi has retreated inside, making straw hats. A steady mechanical sound of an old sewing machine passing through the closed door.
In this part of Romania, every man owns at least one straw hat and wear it daily. So there has always been a constant demand for making straw hats. Hence more milliners were becoming specialized and more in demand for hatmaking. „There were four milliners in the village of Sârbi”, he says. His voice calm and low. „At the age of 16, after a three-year apprenticeship I was the fifth. Now I am the only one left.”
Straw hats, with many variations in style depending on the area, are part of traditional Romanian dress for men. Maramures straw hats (clopi) are, however, the most unique hats. What really sticks out is their small size, but men wear them without difficulties. Some sort of small bucket braided straw hats decorated with ribbons and beads.
Traditionally, the straw hat milliners follow four distinct stages in the crafts of their braided straw hats: material preparation, sewing, ironing and ornamentation.
Preparing Braided Poplar for Hatmaking
To begin with, he prepares the braids. Thin strips of poplar wood are hand braided and individually smoothen with some sort of a press.
Device used for pressing strips of braided poplar
Poplar Braids Are Sewn to Form the Straw Hats
Next, he forms the hat by winding the braid with a sewing machine. Outside, he takes an aluminium mold and heat it up on the stovetop in preparation for ironing the hats.
Ironing the Hat
When the mold is hot enough, he lifts it up with great care, with his hands wrapped in towels, and leads us to the ironing chamber. One by one, each hat is placed inside the hot mold, while pressed with some sort of artisanal hydro press (boșcă). Seconds after, it looks nice and smooth. Finally, he takes them outside, where his wife, 55-year old Borodi Ileana decorates them with ribbons and beads. In his spare time, he too joins her in sewing the ornaments.
Milliner’s Wife Join In for Ornamentation
„Come join us making hay” she says with a smile, while sewing next to her husband. It is the haymaking season, so among other duties, they find the time to work in the field, making hay and hoeing. In spite of so much hard work and many daily duties, there is a look of contentment on her face.
Piles of hand-woven blankets and embroidered towels are displayed inside the house. She finds some time to weave in winter. Judging from what we see inside their house, Ileana is a very diligent woman, although she likes to keep humble saying she’s rather lazy.
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