Restoration of the traditional costume of Mljet

written by: Lucija Franić Novak

The restoration of the traditional costume of Mljet was the first seed of DESA’s (Desha’s) project. Lively imagination coupled with the spirit of invention and beauty led to the idea of the original souvenir from Mljet. The project took the step forward from restoration to creation. DESA’s members’ busy hands have transferred the unique embroidery in silk from the headgear (cap skufija) onto various hand-made objects. National costume has come to life in the patterns and colours of the original embroidery which have been used on decorative fabric – beautiful table cloths, small table covers, decorative pieces, bookmarks, bed covers, and dolls dressed in national costumes. The original and unique skufija embroidery done in silk and produced in the traditional local manner has been presented in new objects of handicraft in patterns of branches, leaves, flowers and frogs. Exceptionally pretty openwork embroidery on women`s shirts aroused the imagination of DESA’s members who have applied it on table cloths. It has been used in white-on-white embroidery, sometimes with the addition of golden thread which gives richness to the appearance, but is somewhat removed from the original.

DEŠA also developed a program of doll production: souvenirs dressed in almost miniature traditional costume of Mljet. The costumes are constructed of the original wool fabric, in the original colour, pleated, with breast decoration and a hand – embroidered shirt, topped with the typical headgear of married women. Among the wide handworked fabric selection the in DESA workshops, one can find embroidered curtains, again with patterns from the headgear, in an interesting manner, decorated with silk tassels in different colours. The entire project in DESA workshops includes various activities guided by the experts and so they fulfill the standards of the originals. All these activities are directed at the revival and preservation of the old methods in handwork which were part of the national heritage of this part of the Adriatic. The revival of weaving, lace-making and embroidery validates women’s heritage. The collection of gift objects in DESA workshops opens new prospects in the effort to develop the economy and tourism on the island. The original handwork in fabric becomes a valuable souvenir not only of the region of Mljet, but also of the wider region of Dubrovnik and of Croatia as a whole.

On a Croatian Tourist Board competition for the best-quality souvenir of Croatia, a Mljetan embroidery tablecloth has won the “Croatian souvenir” trademark, as an authentic product acceptable to both domestic and international tourist audience, intended for promotion and visual affirmation of Croatian identity.