Traditions and crafts
People from Maramureș managed to provide for themselfs, for centuries – working with their own hands to create all they would possibly need. Today, craftsmen here can be seen as part of two great categories: on the one hand, you may find the “survivors,” those rare crafts people who, despite the invasion of industrial products, still practice their profession, and the others are the “venturesomes” – the few young people ready to learn folk crafts, although they know their creations will become part of the tourists’ homes with a decorative purpose, rather than those of their neighbours’ from the village. But even so, the preservation of crafts has, in Maramureș, more spiritual thrill than in other parts, where traditional occupations have permanently occupied the pages of the local monograph.
The wood and its processing bear in Maramureș, as everywhere, a masculine sign: the joiner, the carpenter, the cooper and the roofers who make and install shingles, all related to the forests around, were usually passed from father to son – or, often, they were trades practiced in apprenticeship first.
The joiners transformed trees brought from the forest into beams and joists – various elements necessary for the construction of houses and yard annexes and, of course, the famous traditional gates of Maramureș. The coopers were also making barrels, vats, buckets and other pots needed in the household. The carpenters were the craftsmen that would use the wood in autumn, when it was drier, to create doors and windows, floorboards, furniture. And the shingle makers, increasingly rare today, made – from pieces of fir wood – the shingle (draniță or șindrilă), which could be straight, pointy or round (according to each owners’ choice). Every village is said to have had carpenters, coopers and shingle makers – ready to respond to the needs of the place at any time; but most of the craftsmen were found in Sârbi. Nowadays, most wooden craftsmen can be found in Budești and Breb.
And then there were, in each village, the tailors, who also worked on orders – moreover, the most skillful people were getting jobs from people in the surrounding villages. Unlike other areas of Romania, in the historical Maramureș, tailoring was a male-dominated craft: tailors were the ones who sewed the coats, the waistcoats and the woolen clothes, but also the men’s trousers; and it was still them who applied ornamentation, a teadious work that demanded patience and a lot of skill. Before the big holidays – Easter, Christmas and New Year – the tailors had a peak, because those where the moments when people renewed their wardrobes.
Women dealt with the spinning and weaving, which they had been taught since childhood; they learned these processes at home, from mothers and grandmothers, or from the women they were working with at the crafty get-togethers. Also, during childhood, girls would learn the customs of the work – small rituals meant to rid the evil spirits, the unwritten rites, and the feasts at which spinning, weaving and sewing were not allowed, making room for prayer and attending church services.
Among the works in which the Maramureș women took great pride, apart from the spinning and weaving, was that of dressing up the man in proper clothing for the season – and preparing these clothes gave rhythm to the family life.
The shirts were the first to be made, with a lot of artistry and care; in ancient times the shirts were made of hemp cloth, which later was replaced by cotton or flax. At the end of the summer, women were harvesting hemp, then they processed it in the autumn; the embroideries were made during winter, so that in spring, before Easter, when the grass was barely uncovered from the snow, every man in the house would have two rows of shirts (as tradition required). Once the shirts were finished, the women would start (after the shearing of the sheep) working on the wool fabrics – so warm garments would be finished by the time cold comes.
Women were also responsible for making things useful in the household – blankets, rugs, stockings, bags. Worthy was the skilled and crafty woman; clumsiness and sloppy work were great shame, and even reason to be gossiped by the villagers.
This was the way people in Maramureș used to create their clothing; the one we call today “traditional clothing” – and which usually consists of a shirt, a waistcoat (a vest – white for seniors and black/bicolor for young people), cioareci (pants for men), sugnă (outer skirt with rich floral pattern for women), or the white skirt (poală) over which they passed the zadie (that rectangular woolen apron, specific to Maramures, which you know for sure from photos – in which horizontal black and red strips alternate each other). And finally, the “traditional clothing” ended with the shoes: a pair of sturdy opinci, crafted from cowhide or, more recently, from rubber.