In traditional Hungarian embroidery, the flower and leaf tend to be seen as the most dominant style and motif used, depicting humans, animals or any objects are very rare. This is by no means universal to Hungarian embroidery, though – particularly to outsiders – it does seem to identify the national style, the embroidery technique and decorative style that has come to identify that of Hungary. Whithin the last 1000 years of Europe, Hungary in many respects was both a meeting place and battleground for various cultures. This was one of the points in Central to Eastern Europe, where Germanic, Slavic and Turkish cultures, as well as that of the native Hungarian, came together, often mixing and overlaying previous cultures, all adding to the decorative arts of the region. This is the background, where Hungarian embroidery was formed. The style contains elements of European Renaissance, Baroque decorative eras, was effected by Turkish and Persian influences. Together with the long held decorative styles of native peasant motifs that have always been a mainstay of peasant culture throughout Central and Eastern Europe, has made Hungarian embroidery what it is today.
Embroidery in Hungary was used for both costume and domestic use and was used equally by both men and women. The style seems purposely bold, colourful, and visible. Embroidery was used not only on costumes, but pillows, tableclothes, towels, bedclothes, and even on walls and furniture. One of the defining elements of Hungarian embroidery is its free-form strategy. Decorative designs can be fluid and although reflecting the consecutive generations, there is always enough leeway to interpret and reinterpret the motifs of both flowers and foliage that make up this clear and distinctive style of embroidery. Almost all regions of the country has its own distinctive style, colours, motifs and techniques. Most known of course the style of Kalocsa and Matyóland, but embroderies of Buzsák, Palóc region, Tura, Rábaköz and Sárköz are famous as well. The floral pattern around Kalocsa is the most popular floral folk pattern in Hungary. This style of floral pattern was developed by simple villagers the second half of the 19th century. Originally the needlework was only white and the embroidery patterns were merely made up by holes. The development of Kalocsa needlework was due to the appearance of printing at Kalocsa in 1860. The so-called “hole-embroidery” became very popular. The compositions are very simple and clearly arranged. The motifs are borrowed from nature: clusters of grapes, lilacs, lilies of the valley, roses, forget-me-nots, violets delighted the eyes. At the end of the 19th century, the art of Kalocsa embroidery went through creative innovations. The holes of the pattern designs were filled but there were also many artists who liked to combine the two needlework styles. As the artists got more and more creative, the treasury of motifs kept growing. The motifs of tulip, lily, paprika, corn in the ear appeared at that time. The artists embroidered clothes, tablecloths, towels, bedspreads, handkerchiefs, coats, shirts, blouses, aprons, but Kalocsa designs are also applied to wall decorations.
In the old days those most richly and beautifully outworked dresses were used to in church or to the ball and Holidays, but by today they became parts of modern fashion alike. Elegance, quality, national identity and folk motifs as decoration live together in them.The Hungarian folk motifs have already made an impression on the international scene. The bright, embroidered patterns of Kalocsa flowers actually have been seen on the racing suits of Formula One drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button of the McLaren-Mercedes team, but on Nicole Kidman too. Folk art may have disappeared from Hungarians’ everyday life, but fashion designers believe they can bring it back to life with a new approach and today’s fashion is the best way to achieve this. And however, whatever the true origins of Hungarian embroidery, it is a fine, distinctive and liveable cultural heritage that will always be considered part of the Hungarian cultural framework which inevitably significantly adds to the history and present day decorative crafts of Europe.