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Myjava mills' sackcloth makers founded a rare tradition

THE town of Myjava was home to many flourmills, to which the trade of sackcloth maker became closely associated. By the 18th century, the town had 28 mills and 100 years later there were still 25 left.

THE town of Myjava was home to many flourmills, to which the trade of sackcloth maker became closely associated. By the 18th century, the town had 28 mills and 100 years later there were still 25 left.

The craft of pytlikárstvo (sackcloth making) was unique in the Hungarian monarchy, and of great economic importance. It originated in medieval Germany, in Augsburg, and is believed to have been brought to Myjava in the 17th century by exiles from the Czech town of Nová Kdyně. The pytlíky (sacks) were used to sift the flour produced by the mills.

They were made of woollen thread and sold to mills across the monarchy. The wool was cleaned with scutchers arranged in clusters. After it dried the wool was spun into a thread and woven into linen. As a bi-product the millers made robes out of the sackcloth to be worn at Jewish religious ceremonies. Work on the looms was exhausting. Usually the entire family took part in it. The women spun, children put the spun material onto reels and the trade's foremen and apprentices wove. They worked from 4:00 to 22:00.

Myjava registered many sackcloth makers throughout the 18th century and into the 19th. In 1833 they formed a guild, to protect the standards of the craft and to ensure the foreman supremacy in trading. At this time there were 147 foremen, who employed 40 journeymen and 50 apprentices. By 1845 the number of foreman had grown to 161. They worked on 200 looms and made 5,260 lots of cloth and linen.

The craft was very productive up until the second half of the 19th century, despite the lack of railways, which forced the producers to buy their materials on foot or in carriage.

The Industrial Revolution brought an end to the traditional, demanding way of producing sackcloth. Though the Myjava sackcloth-makers fought against "machine-made" thread, they were defeated with the 1852 patent that banned selling in houses, including selling the linen at mills.

In 1868 the Myjava Sackcloth Guild became the Sackcloth Society and used its products to serve the wine trade, in funeral services, and also became a money lending institution. In 1910 Myjava still had 91 registered sackcloth makers. With the establishment of the first Czechoslovak Republic in 1918, the craft died off.

To learn more about the craft visit Múzeum Slovenských národných rád at Štúrova 2, Myjava.


- Blanka Landová

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