Homolje is a mountainous region of northeastern Serbia. It is a beautiful, rugged countryside centred around the Braničevo and Bor districts, with the Peka and Mlava rivers cutting through them. It borders the Stig district toward the Danube, and Timok region to the east; Beljanica and Crni Vrh mountains are to the south. It is a district inhabited by Serbs and Vlachs, with lively folklore and beautiful costumes.
Homolje is a region where very ancient traditions still survive. To speakers of Serbian, just hearing its name brings thoughts of mysterious customs and mythical beliefs. The wolf and the bear are animals both respected and feared here, and the rooster and horse play specific roles in folk customs dedicated to ancestors and saints alike. The cult of the dead is particularly strong here, with the Vlach and Serb populations observing memorial commemorations (pomen, pomana) at specific times of the year. Traditional ways of doing things persist in Homolje: weaving, spinning by hand, wood working and leather craft, and the production of ancient musical instruments like gajde (large bagpipe) rikalo, bušen (alp horn) duduk, dudurejš (long flute) karaba (a small bagpipe) still happens. It’s a fascinating region for ethnographers for many reasons, especially its textile material culture.
One of the hallmarks of Homolje region costume is its embroidery. It is generally executed in cross-stitch (krstići), with fine cotton threads. It is minute and detailed, mixing geometric and botanical motifs. The embroidery arrangement is also fairly conservative, with aprons having an opulent border with two or three identical isolated motifs repeated in the centre. On skirts, the same motif as on the apron is embroidered onto velvet, which is then stitched to heavy black woolen fabric and pleated. Aprons are generally also made by embroidering velvet separately, and then stitching that to a heavy woolen homespun apron. Invariably, the velvet in Homolje is always black.
Embroidery on shirts and blouses is not constrained to just cross-stitch, although it still predominates. For men, the patterns tend to be geometric; for women, stylized botanicals with strong geometric patterning is typical. Both men’s and women’s shirts are embroidered heavily on the front, with embroidery of collars, cuffs and sleeves varying according to both local village traditions and personal preferences. Women’s shirts in many places, notably the town of Žagubica, have crochet lace at the cuffs of the sleeves (sometimes making up the sleeve entirely, from elbow to cuff) as well as wide crochet lace collars.
The costume for Serbian women in Homolje consists of:
- long shirt (košulja) or a separate short blouse and skirt (košulja i podsuknja), linen
- pleated skirt of black wool and velvet (suknja, zapregača)
- apron (kecelja, pregača) of embroidered velvet over coarse wool backing
- vest (jelek, fermen) – produced by craftsmen, terzije, generally black with gold embroidery
- dark socks (čarape), wool or cotton, with embroidery at the top
- rawhide shoes (opanci) with open upper and long rawhide ties (this is the vrnčan type of opanak)
- kerchief (marama) of white cotton or linen cloth, lace edging, or purchased industrial fabric
- sash (kanica) woven on a card loom using fine wool yarn
- jewelry may consist of strings of beads (ogrlice) or coins (đerdani)
- other ornamentation may include flowers or basil tucked into the kerchief or bodice of the vest
The costume definitely comprises elements that ring familiar to the costumes of the Morava Valley, Pomoravlje, and Resava districts, just to the west. In fact, the Homolje Serb costume is truly an interesting mix of influences. The apron and tightly-pleated skirt are almost identical to those Morava zone regional costumes. This type of skirt also shares a connection to the v’lnenik, a type of back apron worn in the Timok region. Given its form, and the manner in which it is worn (tied at front, sometimes with a gap which is hidden by the apron), and given the strong historical connections to Danube Valley and Timok region, this garment could be argued to be the Homolje skirt’s ancestor.
Whether a particular village’s costume is based on a single long shift, or the short blouse & skirt combination, is also telling. The single shift is the more archaic variant, and is reminiscent of both Vlach and Serb costume of Timok region, while the blouse/skirt combination is actually introduced from the Danube valley, Podunavlje, or Stig and Braničevo districts. Elements of ornamentation such as crochet lace came into vogue in the 19th century as contact between Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Serbs began to grow. Crochet lacemaking techniques came to Homolje from southern Banat. The vest I have is very much the work of an artisan trained in the Morava style, which is the mainstay for Homolje. The opanci, however, are of the style much more widespread in the east and south of Serbia.
The order of dressing is: Shift or blouse/skirt, socks, wool skirt, vest, jewelry, kerchief (tied under chin and then at nape of the neck), opanci, remaining ornamentation.
I acquired the elements of a Homolje female costume over a number of years. Three pieces of the costume came from the village of Laznica, between Žagubica and Bor. These are the skirt, apron and blouse. I purchased them from Violeta Krcijević from Bor, but all three items were personally made by her mother, Ljubinka Kumbrić, when she was a young girl in Laznica. I was amazed by her skill. The embroidery is simply perfect in its detail and its symmetry. There are carnations, corn flowers, St. Johns wort, sweet-williams, roses, columbines and bleeding hears all around the apron and skirt. These are all flowers of the mountain meadows and forests of beautiful Homolje. The flowers are bounded by two geometric borders, an outer one and inner one, which have in them some stylized floral elements – a definite transition between the geometric and botanical design elements.
The vest of the costume was purchased from Bratislav Janković, an avid collector in Niš. The vest came from a village near Žagubica, but he was not able to tell me specifically which. The kerchief came from the village of Krepoljin, and was a gift from a friend. The jewelry in the photos is not authentic, but definitely representative of the style.