by Ana Katalinić,
Ethnographical works have been written about how peoples’ traditions comprise an intricate part of their identity. Tradition creates a sense of belonging, a kind of trademark of who a person is, where he or she hails from.
An ethnographer researches and studies a particular group of people in an effort to understand them and describe them to others. For Croats, fortunately, the studies are plentiful and are carved in what many of us consider that metaphorical 7th century stone.
Tradition shapes who we are today. It defines who we are likely to become in the future.
I can look back at my own experience. I was born in the Canadian north. My parents immigrated in the late 1950s and settled in a railroad hub city where forestry, pulp and paper were the main industries. In the far reaches of northwestern Canada, with no Croatian Sunday school, how did I grow up being such an enthusiast of Croatian language, tradition and especially folklore and crafts – most everything “šlingano i vezano”? Well, for starters, my mother taught me a lot. Our small Croatian community in the north had a folklore group – we were taught by a schoolteacher of Scottish heritage.
We were far from perfect but I can honestly say that her passion, research and resources opened my eyes to the wonderful world of Croatian folklore. It introduced my spirit to song, dance and beautiful crafts that would lead me down a path of future courses later on in Croatia, the most memorable being a week-long workshop that I attended on the island of Brač.
Let’s face it, we don’t just choose a craft. The craft chooses us, and lures us to pursue it.
Artisanal pursuits with a purpose
I am sure Tomica Milićević will agree. Better known as “Tomica Kolovrat” to his friends and clients, he is a true “maître” of everything related to creating incredibly beautiful Croatian folklore costumes (“nošnje”). Crodiaspora is happy to dive a little further into his enterprise that has been met with enthusiasm abroad.
We had the pleasure and privilege to meet Tomica in his Velika Gorica workshop in 2020 when we came to pick up an additional costume for our own folklore group back in Mississauga. A year earlier our group ordered an entire set of costumes which Tomica successfully created and shipped to us from overseas. My curiosity, naturally, was peaked and I had to meet this person.
We left his workshop absolutely impressed with what we saw.
A self-taught expert in Croatian folklore and costume design, he creates masterpieces and is overly modest when praised for his talent. “I just grew into it” he casually says. “I started learning as a teenager making costume items for my folklore ensemble, and kept going. It’s a full time family business now, and my daughter is my apprentice”.
Throughout the conversation, I kept wondering if I could take courses directly in his workshop. After all, there is the šlinganje that I never did master.
“No problem”, he casually waved, “we can teach you”.
Ground zero of Tomica Kolovrat
Tomica is an instructor and costume creator for Folklore Ensemble “Turopolje” in Velika Gorica. He and his group had the great fortune to inherit a small community centre which hosts a large hall downstairs and workshops and offices upstairs.
Upstairs in his workshop is every tailor’s thread and tool. For wool vests or socks, Tomica has a spinning wheel to spin pure wool.
A large traditional loom rests in the corner which he uses to weave yarns and threads into tapestries.
Some might think that old fashioned methods are primitive. On the contrary, Tomica’s methods are sophisticated because they require knowledge, skill and technique. It’s a perfect example of revitalizing crafts that are seldom seen anymore.
While he employs all traditional hand-embroidery techniques, a trademark of Croatian costumes, he also uses his vintage Singer machine. No software or electrical cords required – it’s powered by operating a foot pedal.
A quick look at the ease with which Tomica handles his sewing machine also demonstrates his confidence and expertise in the video below.
Members of diaspora folklore groups will know how dear it is to get unique and detailed costumes made. The demand is certainly there. A genuine affinity for traditional costumes is what fostered Ðuro and Tomica’s longtime alliance in creating costumes. Ðuro Grbić is an alumni member of the folklore ensemble “Marko Marojica” from Župa Dubrovačka, just south of of Dubrovnik. He’s also a member of our Mississauga group. Though he currently lives in Canada, Ðuro visits his hometown of Mlini every year at Christmas and stays on for the traditional celebration of the Feast of St. Blaise.
We’re back to that word: tradition.
In spite of a bleak atmosphere of covid everywhere, Tomica and Ðuro were able to collaborate via long distance to create this beautiful costume from the Dubrovnik region – right in time for the St. Blaise celebration.
The feast of St. Blaise
Celebrated in Dubrovnik since the year 972, the Feast of St. Blaise (“Festa Svetog Vlaha”) is uniquely special since he is the city’s patron saint.
The celebration begins the day before, on February 2nd, as “Kandelora” or Candlemass is celebrated to mark the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the temple, and the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Then on February 3rd, St. Blaise’s relics are ceremonially carried across Dubrovnik’s main Stradun in the old town and city streets, while a baldachin carries the greatest of all relics, the shroud of Jesus.
In spite of COVID restrictions, the celebration carried on this year with safeguards and social distancing measures in place. Photos from previous celebrations show the splendor of the day. It is no wonder that people like Ðuro make the trip home every year to participate in this celebration with old friends.
Because, you know… It’s a tradition.
Crodiaspora is happy to have provided this spotlight on small businesses in Croatia and their valuable contribution to the diaspora. We look forward to providing more spotlights in the coming months.