Walking the Bows
Braids, Knots and Loops


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Since the earliest days of human history, man has been surrounded by objects made by braiding and knotting. Natural materials flexible enough to be suitable for knotting or braiding appeared in and around the households, farms and fields, in the form of tools of different crafts and ornaments of everyday life.

The willow plantation of József Oláh, a wicker weaver from Tószeg (1996)

The whole area of Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok county is covered by rivers and creeks (Tisza, Körös, Zagyva, etc.) and fertile floodplains that produce an ample supply of osiers, bulrush, reed, sedge, corn husks, hemp, straw and broom corns for craftsmen year by year. It was natural for people living in traditional communities to gather and make use of the gifts of nature. Objects made of these materials usually served their makers and surplus items were swapped for other goods or sold for money.

The archaeological remains of the settlements found in the county reveal that our ancestors built wattle-and-daub (in Hungarian: patics) edifices in the area as early as the Arpadian age (1000-1301) using sallow, birch and hazelnut osiers they collected at the riversides or in the nearby woods. This simple technique consists of weaving branches and twigs (in Hun.: vetülék) between upright stakes (in H.: láncszál). The fences and gates that surrounded the ancient houses, churches and yards were made by the same method as well.

Putting the fish trap into the water (Kisköre, 1982)

Most peasants knew how to fashion objects such as besom brooms, harrows or simple baskets for carrying and storing potatoes or logs (in H.: kas) of unpeeled osiers. The making of such utensils and implements was an important part of their housework duties, which they usually completed in winter, when there was less agricultural work to perform. However, constructing framed wattle panels such as gates, wicker frameworks and racks for wagons and producing different kinds of round or rectangular wicker containers, like "kas"-es, fish pots (in H.: varsa), dossers (in H.: hátikosár) required a professional. The expertise of these trained "specialists" (in H.: parasztspecialista) was well-known in their communities. Since crafting skills were handed down from father to son, many of them carried on the family profession. Others learned the profession by becoming an apprentice to a reputed craftsman or attended craft courses.

Coiled bulrush egg basket (in H.: kupukja) fastened with split osiers (Karcag)

The main tools of wicker weaving are the hands. The specialists used to work with the work resting on their knees or held between their legs. It was only in the 1930's that they started using work boards (in H.: kaskötő pad) and simple iron tools, such as knives and bodkins (in H.: szurkáló). They gathered the raw material in their natural habitats. With the emergence of home industries and manufacturing industries, people started to propagate and cultivate willows - especially golden willows and sand dune willows, species that were introduced at the end of the 19th century. Willow plantations used to occupy large areas in the floodplains and the fields surrounding the settlements of Tiszazug, Tisza-mente, Greater Cumania and Jazygia.

Influenced by the German methods, the utilization of barked, boiled, split and occasionally stained osiers spread among Hungarian artisans. While basketware and wicker furniture produced by home industries were still handmade, they were characterized by a greater variety of designs and were more finely wrought than their forerunners. These objects were not intended for the peasantry anymore, but to serve and decorate modern households. Some craftsmen in Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok county (e.g.: in Túrkeve, Tiszavárkony, Tószeg) still fashion objects by the German methods.

Csikós with his horse carrying a lariat (in H.: árkány) on his neck (reconstruction, Kisújszállás, 2005)

In our region, the most typical way of utilizing bulrush was the making of upright coiled vessels. These containers, which were mainly used in farming and housekeeping, were produced in various shapes: leavening baskets (in H.: vekniskosár), dome-shaped skeps (in H.: méhkas); lidded, tapering vessels and open, conical baskets (in H.: szakajtó). While most bulrush containers were unornamented, those that were in use inside the room, e.g. bread baskets (in H.: kenyérkosár), sewing baskets (in H.: tűsdoboz), tobacco baskets (in H.: dohánytartó), spoon holders (in H.: kanáltartó), etc. were decorated with different fancy patterns, trimmings or open-work.

There lived a few craftsmen skilled in rush weaving in almost every settlement, but those of Tiszafüred, Karcag and Nagyrév had the best reputation.

Two different techniques of straw work spread among artisans: coiling and plaiting, for which mainly wheat or rye straw was used.

Of plaited straw people still make simple toys for children, decorations and corn dollies. (Of all corn dollies, the drop dolly is the most traditional. It is called aratókoszorú in Hungarian, which translates to "harvest wreath" - although it does not resemble its English namesake.) Spiral plaiting is the most beautiful and complex of all straw plaiting methods.

Károly Roskó ropemaker (Öcsöd, 1970's)

Another technique for fashioning objects of straw and occasionally of sedge was lip work, where a bundle of material was twisted, colied and bound into shape. Upright containers and skeps were constructed by this technique. The type of lip work container used for storing beans or eggs was known by different names depending on the region: in Jazygia it was called toboz, doboz, kubuz or tubuz, while in the Szolnok area, in Greater Cumania and in the Tiszazug region it was known as a kupujka, tupujka or pupujka.

The structure of lip work was so strong that people could make large grain containers of straw.

Corn husk is not fit for making large household containers; thus it has been mainly used for producing slippers, tote bags, doormats and toys. It also served as a good material for weaving chair seats or charpoys (which is roughly the equivalent of the Hungarian dikó).

Furthermore, there are countless other crafts that could not exist without braids, knots and loops. Knots are fundamental in the ancient craft of fishing net weaving and essential for making snares. Every twisted, braided and knotted hemp rope, each braided brioche (in H.: kalács), all the ornate braids worn by men and women, all the leatherwork items embellished with braids and knots, as well as every single filigree jewel reveal the harmony between the craftsman, the technique and the material.


Zsolt Pusztai
ethnographer