i have always been drawn to amazing craftsmanship and patience preserved in traces of our ancestors – objects now without their original owner or use, but proudly carrying their precious stories. even though i have been collecting antique folk costumes for more than 16 years, i happened upon the magical world of ceremonial baby blankets (in slovak ‘kútna plachta/kútnica‘ - corner sheet, translated literally) only after the birth of my daughter emília. this immensely original phenomenon in slovak history of motherhood successfully avoided my attention until then. i will never forget the day when i saw a ceremonial baby blanket for the first time. immediately, i have started a quest for understanding its original use, significance and symbolism of its embroidery. however, visits to the archives, searching through monographs or specialist books weren’t fruitful. gradually i came to understanding that ‘kútnice’ - the precious blankets intended for safeguarding mother with her newborn baby are till this day still wrapped in a mystery. only conversations with ethnographers, doulas and the oldest living generation brought me to a longed-for sliver of information in this field.
when i expressed the desire to acquire one such blanket for my collection, an experienced fellow folk costume collector told me it might be indeed very difficult to find one nowadays. he admitted that during the years of research in the field he came across altogether only four of them. i went to sleep with a feeling then, that there is surely one somewhere out there waiting for me and even if i had to find it by the end of my life, it will be very well worth the time searching for it. not even a week later, it found me by itself. one lady was selling it at a flea market under impression that it’s a table cloth embroidered only on one side or perhaps an old bed throw. she happily told me about its origins as her mother’s heirloom inherited from her foremothers. a small miracle happened! out of the blue i was a proud owner of not only more than 150-year-old ceremonial blanket from horná ves near partizánske (western slovakia), but also a bearer of a responsibility to spread the knowledge between people who never heard of its importance or even existence. i kept gazing at my beautiful red-thread-embroidered linen blanket, which surely experienced a lot of children’s screaming and laughter. several hours later i found myself unfolding it in front of lenka and miriam, owners and designers of the slovak label mile.
few short minutes later they were both taken back to the times past, particularly to the 19th century when the tradition of using ceremonial blankets tapered out for good. we had no idea at the beginning how long but spectacular will be our journey together. already then we realized, that we are starting something special - a collaboration focused on bringing this magical aspect of motherhood in slovakia to the present by means of designing contemporary, comfortable and high-quality collection in line with mile’s minimalist and practical style.
however, before we even started designing, researching the best fabrics and building a collaborative team, we endeavoured to understand and discover all the beauty contained in ceremonial blankets. people living and working in the past on lands now called slovakia had a great reverence for this ceremonial and in the same time representative garment. ceremonial blanket represented female strength and simultaneously personified a shielding hand over the new life given to this world by a mother. its fibre captured everlasting need for security, happiness and prosperity and its protective red thread embroidery spread energy sheltering mother and child against negative influences. since the beginning of time it was associated with magical protection of women and children against adverse powers, bewitchment or impact of ill wishes. regarding the décor, red features the most because of its safeguarding influence and heart, flower and star ornaments appear very often as well as cockerels as a symbol of fertility.
practical as well as magical function of ceremonial blankets was closely related to a ritual happening directly after childbirth when it was hung over the bed and pinned with needles, pins or nails. only after the laying-in or postpartum period was finished by a purification ritual celebrating successful ending of the 6-weeks-long confinement, mother and child could leave this sacred space.
the blanket meant to protect woman and her newborn baby against contact with other family members and therefore the risk of getting infected, and also afforded them privacy and quiet. i have been trying to find out if there existed something similar in the past in any other european country, but still have not discovered any mention of such. in many places of slovakia, the blanket had also other uses, for example, if a woman was in deep mourning she looked for the support in its thread. or if she carried a grievance or suffering, it could offer her a relief. in some localities, if a woman felt approaching the end of her life, she wrapped herself in the blanket to let her heartbeat cease slowly in peace remembering the best parts of her life, when she was close to the heart of her little offspring. at some other places even, they covered a dying woman with her blanket to take away pain, similarly to when she was giving birth, or they put the blanket inside her grave to accompany her on the last journey.
for the mile x tami collaboration, we have selected one singular twig motive from the original re-discovered antique blanket that symbolises happiness and love wishes for the baby as well as the mother. our intention was not only to create a piece of garment that would give a tribute to our foremothers but also to design a contemporary, comfortable and minimalist clothing line evoking the feeling, when a woman is enjoying her inner freedom in the company of her baby, a brand new human, brought to this world thanks to her strength.
we sincerely hope you will experience the most precious moments full of joy and love dressed in our collection.
tamara šimončíková heribanová