How to Stay Cool While Wearing Kroje

imageNow that summer is here in full force, we have to think about how to stay cool while wearing kroje. This is not an easy task. Wearing kroje usually requires (for women) at least a blouse, vest, skirt, apron, tights, and shoes. Most times there are also multiple skirts plus boots! It’s hard to stay cool when you’re wearing so many clothes.

On top of normal festivals that are often inside (at least part of the time), there are also parades. Unfortunately, these are not inside. The parades are usually scheduled on the hottest days of the year, at the hottest part of the day to test your poise as a queen, or so I’m convinced. Therefore, I believe it is my duty to share some wisdom on the subject.

Here are my suggestions on how to stay cool when you have to wear kroje:
1. Seek shade or shelter when possible. This is an obvious one.

2. Drink lots of cold water. Cooler water will help you feel more refreshed and they double as ice packs.

3. Strip unimportant layers off when necessary. This means that you need to be prepared to go shoe and tightless for parades. I know this is taboo in a normal situation, but parades have different rules. It doesn’t do any good to wear tights during a parade if they are soaked and you have to change them after anyway. Also, if no tights make the difference in whether or not you feel like dying of heat stroke, just take them off. You will be forgiven.

4. Invest in a neck cooler. They are those weird fabric squares that are stored in plastic tubes that you get wet and keep you blissfully cool all afternoon. These are great if you can find one in the same color as your kroje, get it wet, put it around your neck, and tuck under your blouse. Genius!

5. Wear a jumper. A jumper is a one piece dress. For kroje that means that you don’t have a separate vest and skirt; they are made as one piece. Often jumpers are made of a light cotton that you wear a blouse under and an apron on top, thus eliminating a layer. A good example of a jumper is the Domažlice kroje.

6. Have your kroje be made with lighter fabrics. Use lighter colors and lighter weight fabrics such as cotton to keep you cooler. Or, have interchangeable pieces, such as short sleeves for hot days and parades and longer sleeves for coolers days and inside events.

7. Keep an umbrella handy. An umbrella can help keep the Sun’s blazing rays off your skin. No sun burn and less heat.

8. Wear moisture wicking clothes under your kroje. This may sound like an extra layer and it is, but that bottom layer helps pull the sweat off your skin and cools you down. This may not be ideal for the whole day, but it’s a good way to keep your kroje cleaner.*

9. Bring a change of kroje. If all else fails and you are miserably sweaty and gross, then change into another kroje. Remember that queens don’t actually sweat though, we glisten.

10. Enlist an entourage. Ask family and friends to help with keeping you cool, hydrated, and feeling great! Have someone be in charge of the cooler and bringing you water when needed. Maybe, someone else is your official fanner. Have fun with it. You are a queen after all and you should be treated as one 😉

*tip courtesy of Michaela Steager, current Nebraska Czech-Slovak Queen.

 

If you want to hear more about being a Czech Queen, you can read about the Nebraska Czechs here, why I became a Czech queen here, my struggles here, and my tips on preparing for the pageant here.

As always, you can ask me questions or let me know your thoughts below on on the Facebook page. Happy cooling.

The Costumes are Finished

Kroje titleI love to sew. It is therapeutic and rewarding to create something from nothing. My problem is that I always underestimate all the things that can go wrong. I ran out of lace trim and white thread, had to order fabric online and wait for its arrival, and then I got sick. These may seem like little things, but when combined with a deadline, it really puts a damper on progress.

I am happy to say that I am finally finished with the three kroje I was commissioned to make. I finished with a week to spare. Once the fabric I needed came in, I had two weeks to finish before I left on vacation and then just one day to finish the design on the vests. It was hectic!

I wanted to be completely done before I went on vacation, so I didn’t have to lug my machine to Kansas. However, their just wasn’t enough time and I had to finish the designs when I got back. Before the fabric arrived I was already done with the blouses. The vests were constructed, but needed the design and lacings. The skirts were half done and need waistbands and lace at the bottom. And I hadn’t started the aprons yet.

I was most excited and terrified to work on the vest designs. The photo was not clear, but I had a general outline of what it needed to look like. It was also exciting because I got to use some new functions on my sewing machine. It was terrifying because I had to be very precise in where everything was placed or it wouldn’t all fit. I also got to add sequencing, ribbons, and decorative stitching, some of which had to be done by hand.

The first thing I did when I got the fabric was to cut out the eyelet lace for the skirts, serge, and attach them, so the skirts would only need the lace added to the bottom. I also cut out all the pieces for the apron, making sure the pattern all faced the same direction. Once the aprons were constructed, I had to make sure they were the correct length in relation to the skirt. Then it was time to make sure everything was ironed and looked nice and crisp.

That whole process took more time than I anticipated because I had to serge and attach twice as many pieces on the skirt. Time was also affected by the fact that I had to order fabric and wait for it to arrive. I am not sure what I would’ve done if I didn’t find the right design for the apron fabric or an eyelet for the skirt. And on top of that, I was ½ a yard short on the lace trim. Luckily, I had a little leftover from the shirts, but I literally used the entire roll the store had.

vest1 vest2

I used a wax chalk to mark the placement of the designs on the vest. I then used my machine to make the zig-zag, curved lines, and embroidered hearts on each of the three vests. The next step was to hand sew on the sequence and beads. And finally, I had to add the grommets and lace up the vests. I put one of the completed projects on a mannequin to photograph and check fit and I was done.

It is freeing to be finished. These costumes had taken up over a month of every spare minute I had. There were many nights when I came home from work and started sewing and didn’t finish until after midnight, just to go to bed and do it again the next day. I really do enjoy sewing, but sometimes I need a break. I think I will read a book and get some stuff done around the house.final Back

If you missed the first part 1 about this Kroje, you can find it here. If you want to see how I made the apron, look here. And as always you can drop me a line below or on Facebook with any questions or comments.

Prague Doesn’t Let Go

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I am so excited to share with you a post from my friend Brianna Tichy! She lives in Prague, Czech Republic’ gives tours of the city, and writes for a successful adventure blog! I hope you love hearing about her experiences.

As innumerable works of art, literature, and music will all attest to, life is hard. While it may seem like the plot of a modern day fairytale or adventure movie, it’s a lie to say that trading my Jersey girl existence for life on the banks of the Vltava has been a smooth and painless experience. When I moved to the Mother of Cities four, almost five, years ago, I was in a state of post-graduation bliss where I felt Prague was my next great adventure, and it has been. I arrived at Václav Havel International airport with two suitcases full of what I had deemed my “essentials”, exhaustion, and high hopes for the next chapter in my life.

For me, the decision to move to Prague had been a long time in the making—I had grown up hearing about the Czech Republic thanks to my family’s connection to the place. Growing up in Southern New Jersey, Tichy wasn’t a common last name from a well-known ethnic group, but in my dad’s hometown of Wilber, I heard all about the land of Bohemia and its legends every time we visited (usually on Czech Days). As a kid, I was fascinated by legends like the one of Libuše, the priestess with the power of prophecy who founded Bohemia’s ancestral dynasty, and as I got older, I devoured everything I could about my family’s history, desperate for that European connection.image

I suppose that after all of that, it was no surprise when I expressed a desire to become a Czech-Slovak Queen and represent my home state for the very first time in the national pageant, although I do believe that my friends and family back in New Jersey were surprised. I had never been a particularly frilly child and was always more of the adventure-loving, book-devouring academic set. Pageants aren’t very common in that part of the US, but once I explained what it meant to me and what the job of a Czech-Slovak queen was, they were definitely on board.image

When I was crowned Miss Czech-Slovak US during my second attempt as an at-large contestant, I was beyond thrilled, not just because of the crown either. No, during my time as a contestant, I had met some and would still meet some amazing and truly inspiring people who are as proud of their heritage as I am—people who today I have the honor of calling my friends. The other component to my bliss was that this was it—thanks to the Miss Czech-Slovak US pageant, I would finally get the chance to go where I always dreamed. The Czech Republic was my oyster!image

I had studied Czech at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for a few years and this trip was an integral part in my progress to actually learning the language, although how to live in Prague as an expat was a lesson I wouldn’t learn until moving here to do my Masters in 2012.image

The first thing you should know about life as an American in Prague is that it’s a struggle. I’m lucky to speak enough “street Czech” as I call it, to get by, and happen to have a Czech surname, which helps in places like the post office and immigration sometimes. But by and large, Czech bureaucracy is not a fun thing to experience. Left over from the stamp-loving days of the Austrian Empire, to get anything official done here still requires a ton of patience, number-taking, waiting in line, and hard paperwork. Most expats I know pay money to have people do this for them, but I’ve always been determined to try it on my own first and at times, it can be incredibly frustrating. Even a trip to the grocery store can sometimes feel like an ordeal, as any expat can attest. I’ve been here so long, I’ve got a long list in my head of what ingredients I need might be called in Czech, as well as a list of conversions and substitutes for ingredients that I either can’t find (American and Czech cuisine are sometimes startlingly different) or would cost an arm and a leg to buy in their real versions (like any form cheddar cheese…as a cheese lover, I’ll tell you the struggle is sometimes real!). Living so far away from my family and a place where my native language is always spoken can be tough at times, but as English is generally the lingua franca of travel these days, I can’t complain too much.image

The truth of the matter is that by living so far away, I’ve amassed a tight-knit group of friends who have become like a family to me and always have my back. I’ve gotten to know people from all around the world here in this city of a hundred spires—a city that plays host to more languages and nationalities than most people would guess at a glance. I’ve been lucky enough to make local friends so amazing and nice, their families have de facto adopted me as one of their own and take me in for any and every holiday that I spend faraway, across the sea from my own homeland. I’ve learned that history is longer, more complex, and at times still just as relevant as if it had happened yesterday than most people in modern day America even think about. I’ve also learned that even though we may not speak each others languages perfectly, or even have a language in common at all, most people are fundamentally good and kind and want to show you a bit about their lives and their culture, if you only take an interest.

Yes, life in Prague can be hard. Currently, I’ve finished an MA here and am working on my PhD, but as any academic will tell you, books rarely pay the rent. I pay for my bread and butter by working as a social media guru and writer, which never ceases to remind me that even when things get tough, there’s still a heck of a lot of awesome things in the world to see and amazing people to do them with. I live in that land of Libuše and Charles IV, after all, and if that’s not a childhood dream come true, I don’t know what is. The thing about Prague is that while it’s not terribly big, it is full of so many different people and lives that it’s positively bursting with stories, and on any given day, you can experience something completely new and inspiring here.image

There’s really nothing like a Prague summer, where you start off meeting some friends in a park for drinks on a picnic blanket, watch the lights come on one by one in the city’s Lesser Town, lighting up Prague Castle as the piece de resistance. From there, you can move to a pub to try some of the Czech Republic’s (no, I will NOT call it Czechia’s) crisp, flawless beer (one of our most beloved traditions), or dance the night away in any modern night club. A day in Prague is like a day in any other city, but with more cobblestones and historic hot spots than you can shake a stick at. Still, you can’t help but feel like it’s something pretty darn special as you wind down from a night of gleeful dancing, sitting on the historic statue of St. Wenceslas astride his trusty steed surrounded by a ragtag group of friends who have become like your family, watching the sun as it slowly rises over Wenceslas Square and the rest of this timeless, beautiful city. It’s moments like those when life in Prague, despite the struggles, is totally worth it. Perhaps Franz Kafka, one of Prague’s native sons, was on to something when he wrote, “Prague doesn’t let go. This little mother has claws.” I don’t think the city will ever truly let me go, and I’m not complaining.image

 

I hope you enjoyed this post about expat life in Prague! If you have any questions leave a line below or on the Facebook page!

Last Minute Tips to Help Prepare for the Pageant

With just a couple weeks until the Miss Nebraska Czech-Slovak Pageant, I thought I would share some last minute tips on how to prepare for the pageant:

  1. Don’t forget about gifts for your fellow queens, including outgoing queen. This gift does not need to break the bank. It can be a small gift like a bracelet or mug, or a memento that means something to you that you want to share, or even something handmade. The idea is to give something small that will help the other girls get to know you.
  2. Bring a pillow and blanket. There will be air mattresses, but you might consider bringing other options for a better sleep. My first year, I started on the air mattress with a sheet set and pillow and woke up cold and sore on the floor because I got the unfortunate mattress with the hole in it. You are going to be exhausted from the long day, stress, excitement, and sun, and good sleep is imperative to your sanity on Sunday. Plan for comfort, but don’t be too crazy. There is limited space.
  3. Wear comfortable clothes to rehearse in on Saturday morning and change into kroje for private interviews. It will be hot and you will be in kroje for most of the weekend. Allow yourself to be comfortable for the meeting and on stage practice (unless costume is a part of your talent then definitely practice with it). You will have plenty of time to change after.
  4. Make sure your talent is memorized. For me, talent was the most nerve-wracking part of the pageant. I was extremely nervous and was so scared of messing up. If your talent is memorized so well that you no longer need to think about what you are doing, you will be much less stressed. You will still be nervous, but once you are memorized then your body will be able to still perform, even if your mind is running on overdrive. Also, if you don’t have to use words, then don’t use them. If you want to bring them for the morning practice for security that is fine, but not for the pageant.
  5. Study the practice questions as much as you possibly can. I know you only have them for two weeks, but put the questions on flash cards. Add the answers to fact questions on the back and bullet point ideas for opinion questions. Then, have others quiz you!
  6. Practice introducing your parents. You will be asked to introduce yourself and who your parents are on stage. It’s simple: “my name is Danielle (Patzel) and I represent the York chapter. My parents are Steve and Theresa Patzel.” Practice a few times just to be comfortable and make sure your parents are prepared for their time in the spot light 😉
  7. Practice talking about the two facts you were asked on the application. For part of the on-stage interview, you will be asked about the two facts you listed on your application. The Emcee will ask you an open ended question like: “ I read on your application that you’re really interested in cats. Can you tell me more about that?” Then, you just need to be able to tell the emcee, judges, and audience about that fact. Be concise. Know 2 or 3 specific points about that cool thing you do and say them. You will sound much more informed and intelligent if you don’t talk around the question, talk too long, or say ums.
  8. Have some talking points prepared. People will stop you constantly the whole weekend. The relationship you build with the Czech community starting this weekend will begin to form how you will be seen. Be prepared to be an ambassador for the Czech community as a queen from the moment you get into town. You are always being watched.
  9. Do a mock private interview with your chapter or friends and family. Ask your chapter if they would be willing to do a mock interview with you. They should have a good idea what sorts of questions the judges will ask. You will get the best possible practice this way because the situation will be similar. This will help you be better prepared and build your relationship with your chapter. If that isn’t possible, ask your friends and family to ask you questions from the study guide and your application.
  10. Czech out the sites in Clarkson. Don’t miss the two story museum, exhibit at the library, or polka band at the opera house. Go to the opera house basement to buy goods and baked items, get fresh kolache, and bid on the auction items. These are experiences that are unique to Clarkson. Remember that even though you will be busy with all things pageant, everyone else is there for a Czech festival. And you should enjoy yourself 🙂

 

If you liked this post please Czech a couple others about the Czech Queen Pageants:

Are You Ready for June?

Ahoj Přátele! The last two weeks have been a complete blur. I have been so immersed in my sewing project, work, traveling, and some last minute things to get ready for my vacation, that I haven’t had a lot of time to dedicate to MyCzechList. I want to apologize for that.

You have been such great audience and have been really welcoming to my guest posters. All the site numbers are up and we are continuing to grow! I have some more extciting things in store for June and I hope you will love them! There will be more guest posts, a new menu, better images, and more amazing content!

In the month of May:

The month of June is going to be even better than May!

  • At the beginning of next week, I will be posting tips on how to prepare for the pageant. We are almost at the two week mark until the Miss Nebraska Czech-Slovak Pageant and I want to share a few pieces of wisdom from my experiences.
  • I will also be posting in the subsequent weeks about the connotations and meanings of the word Bohemian, more about my sewing project, how I planned to make a kroj from scratch, and some wisdom and thoughts from my interview with John Fiala! I hope you are ready!

Next week I will be spending the week in Kansas with my bestie! Don’t worry, I will still be posting and working hard on more content and the new menu! Let me know your thoughts on the blog, my progress, and what you want me to post on in the future below or on Facebook!

What it’s Like to be a Czechoholic

Proud to be American-Czech!1I have a treat for you today! Our fourth installment is a guest post from my friend Carrie Brown! She has been a great help to me both while I studied and traveled abroad in the Czech Republic and home in Nebraska. She has a huge wealth of knowledge in all things Czech and is a blast to hang out and talk with! I hope you enjoy a glimpse into her incredible life and experiences!

When I sat down to write this I realized it’s been OVER AN ENTIRE DECADE since I first got involved in the Czech-Slovak pageants! That’s unbelievable! And let me tell you, a lot has happened since then. Some people say they’re chocoholics because of their love of chocolate, but I guess I could be considered a Czechoholic. Read on and you’ll clearly see why.

Similarly to the other guest writers, I grew up with knedlíky, polka, koledy, koláče, vánočky, and family pride in our Czech heritage. At the recommendation of my grandparents Jack and Rose Marie Vankat, I represented the Omaha Czech Cultural Club as Queen in 2005, 2007, and 2008, and the third time really is a charm because I was finally crowned Miss Czech-Slovak Nebraska that 08-09 year. The following year I competed in the Miss Czech-Slovak US pageant and won 2nd Runner Up! What an honor it was to represent my family and further develop my own personal connection to the Czech heritage through those organizations, pageants, and events! But for this post, I’d like to focus less on my time as Queen, and more on my time spent in the Czech Republic.

“It is good and beautiful to celebrate the Czech heritage and culture our ancestors brought with them so long ago, but culture evolves. It is not frozen in time. Appreciation of the past is magnified when you see and experience the present in real life.”

My first trip to the Czech Republic was in 2008, the summer before I was due to compete in my third state pageant. My mother, aunt, and I joined the Czech heritage tour group from Doane College led by Janet Jeffries Beauvais (highly recommended!) and simply adored exploring the villages, meeting ancestors, dancing in the wine cellars and breweries, finding kroj pieces in antique shops, playing the dudy (Bohemian bagpipes) with a local legend, seeing old friends, getting lost in the winding streets of Old Town prague, and more. I could go on and on about how wonderful it was to finally be in the place I’d heard so much about. I just couldn’t get enough!Performing with 20+ bagpipers at Chodské slavnosti (I'm the farthest girl to the right)

Fast forward two years to the summer of 2010 when I (with the help of a friend) arranged to live with a family in one of the villages I’d visited on that first tour. I knew I had ancestors in the Chodsko region and that they were active musicians in the areas, so we all saw it as a perfect opportunity to share our cultures, languages, and musical interests. We had never met before, and my limited Czech and their limited English made communication interesting to say the least, but they’ve become “my Czech family” and I their “Američanka”. I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world! That summer I also received a full scholarship through the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport to study in an intensive, month-long Czech for Compatriots language course in Dobruška, Czech Republic (again, highly recommended!) with people from all over the world. We had class for several hours a day, seven days a week, along with excursions and presentations. And that was ALL in Czech! That summer I felt the difference between visiting a place and actually living there. I needed lots of coaxing to get in the train that would take me to the airport to fly back to Nebraska after that summer because again, I just couldn’t get enough.Practicing with my _Czech brother and sister_ for our performance at Chodské slavnosti

The whole journey back to Nebraska and for several months after that, I knew I wanted to get back to the Czech Republic as soon as possible. Long story short, after waking up at all hours of the night and looking presentable for different interviews over Skype, I ended up getting a teaching job in Prague!! I moved there in August of 2011 after I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree. So many people told me they wished they would have taken the chance to live abroad while they were young. I didn’t want to always wonder what it would be like, I wanted to live it. I had to seize the amazing opportunity and go for it! I told myself and others that I wanted to try it for at least one year, but ended up making Prague my home for four unforgettable years.Photo credit_ Lauren Barta. Graffiting the Lennon Wall

Like I said before, the difference between visiting and living there is vast. It’s impossible to make a list of everything I experienced in my four years there like one could for a trip. The longer I lived there, worked there, struggled and thrived there, the more I learned about myself and about modern Czech culture in general. I never quite know how to respond when people say, “So how was it?” How can I accurately convey how it felt to regularly lead a multinational congregation in song in 700+ year old St. Thomas church that was established by a king? Or to successfully set up automatic bill pay for gas and electricity entirely in Czech? (My grandma would be so proud!) Or to go to a post office daily for a week to pick up a birthday package, only to be told it got sent back? Or to be the only American playing the dudy at a festival in the square in which my ancestors surely walked hundreds of years ago? Or to be shuffled between three different foreign police offices before finding out that the papers I acquired didn’t count because they were signed in the wrong color of ink? Or sitting in the grass at my favorite park with a view of the castle with a beer in hand while my friend played the guitar? Or participating in holiday traditions with “my Czech family” such as weaving pomlázky for Easter or cleaning kapr to eat at Christmas? I could clearly go on and on! I’ve been back in Nebraska for about ten months now, but it’s still difficult to talk about all these experiences in the Czech Republic without getting emotional. I miss it every. single. day. At the same time, I know I have to be grateful for each of these memories that will last a lifetime, for the irreplaceable friendships I made, and for each of the stepping stones that made me who I am today.

The only advice I can give is this: GO. Whether it’s a trip or a move, please go. It is good and beautiful to celebrate the Czech heritage and culture our ancestors brought with them so long ago, but culture evolves. It is not frozen in time. Appreciation of the past is magnified when you see and experience the present in real life. Participating in Czech clubs, events, and the pageants in Nebraska further sparked my interest in all things Czech that my family had established long ago. My first trip to Czech Republic, living there for a summer, and ultimately moving there were a culmination of the passion I’ve had for over a decade. If you are able, I urge you to go experience it for yourself. Don’t let years pass by full of wonder and miss your chance to visit the fairytale Czech Republic. It’s as lovely as the national anthem so poetically describes. For me, one thing is certain. I’ll never sing Kde domov můj? (Where is my home?) the same way again.

 

If you missed the last three guest posts you can find them here:

Let me know what you think of Carrie’s post below or on Facebook! And have a safe Memorial Day weekend!

What Happens When You’re Comissioned to Make Kroje

imageI was commissioned to make a set of three matching kroje for a family from Wilber. When they came to me, I had one photo and a name of the town for reference. They asked me with complete confidence to complete them by the second week of June, giving me just over a month to make them, and the freedom to create as I saw fit. I have made quite a few kroje, both for myself and others, but I have never had the task of making a kroje from scratch with so little details and a strict time line.

After seeing the photo, I knew that I wouldn’t have a problem making the kroje, I just needed a few details. I contacted the museum where the photo was taken and asked for a photo of the back of the kroj and started searching for the fabric I would need. I got the fabric needed to make both the vest and blouse and constructed them without problems.

The issue comes with the skirt and apron. In the photo, it is unclear if the top layer is a skirt without an apron or an apron with an unknown skirt below. I still had not heard from the museum half way through my timeline and the fabric needed to be order online, so I had to make a decision. I was making a skirt, no apron.

Today, after almost three weeks of (not so patiently waiting and worrying), I finally heard back from the museum! The picture shows an apron with a white eyelet skirt behind. I would’ve never guessed what the skirt looked like and I almost made the apron as a skirt. I am so relieved to have the answers. Luckily, I hadn’t bought anything yet.

Now, I just have to wait for the fabric to come in and work like crazy to meet the deadline. I have some finagling I need to do for the fitting and embroidery and design on the vest to take care of.

Sitting here reflecting on my progress so far and on the process as a whole, I am really proud of myself. I look forward to making more kroje and learning more about how they are made so differently from village to village. I find it fascinating to discover all the new techniques, fabrics, and designs used. Stay tuned for a progress report and final results of this exciting project!

 

If you didn’t see my how-to post on making a Vintage Apron, Czech it out here! And as always leave me a line below or on Facebook.

From Iowa to the Czech Republic and Beyond

Waters Headshot1This is week three in my guest posts series and I am so excited to share a post from my friend Janna. She is eccentric, a great listener, and works like the energizer bunny! For her talent at nationals, Janna gave a puppet show completely in Czech! It was definitely one of the coolest talents I have ever seen! I hope you enjoy hearing about all the cool things she is doing!

I was so honored and excited when Danielle asked me to write a guest post for “My Czech List”. As we here in Iowa get ready for Houby Days, and the 15th Annual Miss Czech-Slovak Iowa Pageant this weekend, it seems like the perfect time to reach out to all of you. I care to wager that most of you, the readers, are probably unfamiliar with who I am – so without further ado, please allow me to introduce myself.

My name is Janna Waters. I was the Miss Czech-Slovak Iowa Queen of 2014-2015. I am originally from Marshalltown, Iowa, and graduated with my Bachelor’s in International Studies: Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies from the University of Iowa in 2013. During my time at Iowa, I participated in 4 study abroad programs that spanned 5 countries: Russia (twice), Italy, Estonia, Ukraine and the Czech Republic. I was a student of Czech language, literature and culture for 3 years, and also founded The Czech Connection – a university student organization.

Ever since I was a little girl, my dream has been to earn my PhD and teach History at the university level (ballerina and professional basketball player also topped the list, but this seemed to be the most plausible). After my graduation in 2013, it took me a couple of years to find the right program for me. In the meantime, I became a non-degree seeking graduate student at the University of Iowa and a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Asian and Slavic Languages and Literatures Department. I also worked full-time as an assistant store manager at a retail store; all while keeping up with my queenly duties and events (If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I have 2 speeds: “0” and “100,” and not much in between!).

To say that my year as Iowa’s Queen was nothing but magical would be a complete understatement. It changed my life, pure and simple. The people I met, the Midwestern communities that welcomed me in as one of their own, and the sisterhood that I formed with past, present and future queens will remain with me for the rest of my life. Our Czech and Slovak culture is truly special and completely unique; it is our privilege and duty to preserve it for future generations.

During my last few months as Iowa Queen, I was admitted into Russian and East European Studies Master’s programs at three universities: The University of Michigan, The Ohio State University, and The University of Texas at Austin. After many hours of research and campus visits, I decided to make Ann Arbor my new home. Michigan’s Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies (CREES) is one of the best, most respected programs of its kind in the US, and I knew it was where I was meant to be. On my very first visit to Ann Arbor, the program director asked, “Aren’t you Janna, the Czech Queen of Iowa?!” and that has been my identifier ever since…even when I meet important scholars! My focus in the program is on Imperial Russian History, and History of the Czech lands under the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I am the only Czech and Slovak specialist in my cohort; something that I take a lot of pride in. The University of Michigan has been very good to me, and I have loved my time in Ann Arbor so far. In Fall 2015, I was hired as a Graduate Student Instructor in the Slavic Languages and Literatures Department for the upper-level undergraduate course “The Czech New Wave and Its Legacy.” Fate always has a funny way of working out, and as luck would have it, my course supervisor was also the supervisor of my mentor from Iowa during her time at UMich in the early 1980s. During the Winter term (which is the equivalent of a “Spring” term at almost any other college/university) I was hired to work with the course “Central European Cinema,” and we watched a number of films from the previous semester. As a terminal Master’s student, our funding is not guaranteed, and GSIships are not promised to us. I have been exorbitantly fortunate for the opportunities that have been presented to me, and the amazing faculty that I get to work with every day. In Fall 2016, I will start another GSIship with the Screen Arts & Cultures Department teaching a mid-level “What is Film?” course. My teaching resume is becoming ridiculous!

Our program highly encourages us to work on our language skills and/or research for our thesis over the summer break. At U-M, we begin classes the day after Labor Day, we only get a 2 week winter break, our Winter exams are over by the end of April, which frees up 4 months of summer for us! As I have noted above, I rarely take the “easy” way out in any situation, and my summer plans are no different this year. After spending many hours on funding applications and research proposals, the academic gods smiled on me. I am the recipient of a Foreign Language/Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship through the federal government; I will be spending 7 weeks in Prague (beginning in June) studying Czech language at Charles University once again. When my time is up in the City of A Thousand Spires, I am off to Bratislava to begin my internship with the Bratislava City Gallery. I will spend 2 weeks there, and in mid-August I will travel to Náměšť nad Oslavou (near Brno) for a Moravian Folk Music Master Class. During the Winter term I took a course called “Czech Poetry Through Song”. As the only non-vocal performing student, I worked on researching lesser known composers and poets, as well as folklore, language and history; my time at the Master Class will be spent similarly. We’ll be living and working in a 17th century castle, so life could be a lot worse. When that week is up, I will travel back to Bratislava and resume working at the Gallery for another 2 weeks before flying back to Detroit on September 1st – Fall term begins on Sept. 6th.

In addition to my FLAS fellowship, I also received 4 other forms of research funding from various institutes and centers at the University of Michigan, such as the International Institute, the Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia, Rackham Graduate School, CREES and the Slavic Dept. I am completely humbled, yet proud, to announce that I am FULLY FUNDED for my 3 months of work in Europe!! I received the most summer funding out of anyone in my cohort (but, I am also doing more work in comparison). My research project is entitled, “Folklore through Sculpture, Print and Song in Moravia and Slovakia,” and I will be working on small parts of it in Prague, with the majority being conducted at the Gallery and Master Class. I plan to dedicate a section of my thesis to this project; as of right now, my Master’s thesis will look at folklore representations during the Czech and Slovak national revivals.

So, I guess the big question is, did my reign as Queen influence my future scholarship and career? I would say “yes” and “no”. Before my coronation, I had planned on studying Russian and Czech history in graduate school, and making that my life’s work. I will say that my time as Queen heavily influenced my thesis topic, and preliminary research trips for it.

I wish I had been given some glimpse into just how drastically my life would change as the Iowa Queen before I was crowned. This opportunity was an important stepping stone on my life path; while I cannot compete again due to my age, I still stay very active in the Cedar Rapids Czech community and with the Miss Czech-Slovak Iowa Pageant. My intuition tells me that I have not yet ridden out all of the ripples that the Miss Czech-Slovak Organization created in my life, and it makes me excited about the future of our culture.

 

As always, if you have questions, comments, thoughts of any kind, please leave them below or on the facebook page! If you want to read either of the previous guest posts, you can meet Michaela here and Meagan here!

Choosing your Kroje and Success at Nationals

Meagan0I have another amazing post in store for you today as we continue week two of guest posts from the Czech community. Miss Meagan Kurmel is the current Miss Czech-Slovak US! She is from Omaha, Nebraska where she and her fiance are engineers and travel most weekends as ambassadors to the Czech and Slovak communities. In the following post, Meagan talks about how kroje impacted her journey to and success at Nationals. She also gives some fun tips to anyone looking to compete in the pageants. Here we go!

While I was preparing for the Nebraska and then national pageant, I was constantly centering myself on encouraging involvement in the culture and preserving the heritage. However, I wanted to ensure that I was being genuine to myself and was portraying myself as I am. Since the pageant topics are very encompassing, I found it was easiest for me to digest them in smaller pieces.

After accepting the honor of representing the Omaha chapter, I sat down with my family to discuss the pageant. We had a pretty good idea of where our ancestry was from. There were also some kroj that we had that were authentic in my family. After long talks, my family and I decided together that going authentic was the best route for me. However, when I ran for Miss Czech-Slovak Nebraska there was a rule stating that you could not wear more than one authentic piece. So we recreated one of the kroj and wore the vest as the authentic piece, in addition to authentic jewelry.

I have found that choosing Authentic or Americanized kroj is a deeply personal choice. Whichever is chosen, I would suggest to link it to you, your family, and your heritage. Making this choice sooner in the preparation for the pageant gives you and your family more time to research, design, make, and prepare your kroj. And trust me, more time is better! Another item I have found with kroj is that you need to make it your own. You should wear your kroj proudly and it should represent you, your family and where your family is from. Don’t forget the little details that bring your personality into it. For me this is totally about the shoes! See below for my description that I used:

Meagan is wearing an authentic kroj replicating her grandmother Helen Janicek-Kurmel’s kroj. This dates back to the early 20th century from the Piestany region of Slovakia. Meagan’s great-grandfather Frank Janicek emigrated from this region in the early 1900’s. The Piestany region is known for highly skilled silversmiths. Their craftsmanship is reflected in the silver embellishments seen throughout the kroj.

 Meagan’s blouse and cap are replicas of her grandmother’s. They are of fine cotton and decorated with yellow and orange cutwork embroidery, incorporating metallic threads in a floral design. The vest is of floral brocade and trimmed with ribbons and features three silver clasps, silver wire, and ten silver buttons. These clasps are traditionally on a black, blue or green bodice where the metal craftsmanship can be seen.

 Meagan is wearing her grandma Helen’s skirt. The full skirt is a two piece skirt-set made with black cotton fabric and smocked around the waist. Each is trimmed with embroidery in ivory, yellow and peach. You can see the many small stitches creating the raised designs. The skirt is trimmed with an ivory bobbin lace.

 This is completed with black boots and a floral Czech ribbon tied into a bow. This is the same sash her grandmother wore with her kroj. Meagan has accessorized her kroj with garnet jewelry. Her favorite piece is the garnet bracelet from her parents. The collection of garnet pendants from various family members reminds Meagan of what she values most in life…..family, love, and kindness.

The way I see it, the personal interview and the on stage interview really go hand in hand. I felt it was important to be very familiar with the history of our culture, be current on present day events, and know some about the culture. I also felt that, since I was wearing an authentic kroj, that I was knowledgeable in what I was wearing. I made sure to research what type of kroj was worn, from what villages, and when. I also found it fun to learn the small differences that set one village’s kroj apart from another. This is such a fun and interesting way to learn about our shared heritage.

One little tip I learned from being nervous for interviews, both on and off stage, is to take a deep breath and just be you. There is nothing better you can do than be you! And maybe, crack a really good joke!

For talent, I have found that each judge is looking at your presentation from a different angle. I would suggest to do something that you feel showcases your talent. Keep it clean and streamlined. If you are going to sing, keep your whole talent presentation about your singing. Also the stage size could play into how you present your talent. This is definitely not a determining factor, just one to consider. Finally, remember to smile! This is the talent and showmanship part of the competition.

After all of the preparation and the competition, I felt that being able to represent my state and now my country as a cultural ambassador was a wonderful culmination of myself, my family and my friends’ hard work and efforts. Passing on that heritage is important to myself and my family. Preparing for the state level and national level competitions, I also discovered a connection between my heritage and my chosen career field. I’ve discovered that Czechs and Slovaks have been prominent in science and engineering. Czechs and Slovaks have pioneered medical research, created drugs and treatments for diseases like AIDS and HIV. And even invented things like soft contact lenses and sugar cubes.

One time that I will always remember is the evening right after I was crowned. In Wilber, I walked with my family into Sokol Hall. The whole hall started cheering, it felt almost as loud at Memorial Stadium. It was a very enjoyable, family-centric time and to me that is what shared heritage is all about: family.

For those individuals who are preparing for their pageant, who are excited about sharing their heritage, and who may now want to be a queen, remember that a crown and sash does not make a queen; it’s the heart inside you and the example you leave that make a queen.

I strongly encourage others to promote their heritage. If there is anyone who is interested, please feel free to reach out to me.

Meagan Kurmel
Miss Czech-Slovak Nebraska 2014-2015
Miss Czech-Slovak US 2015-2016
missczechslovakus15@gmail.com
www.gofundme.com/missczskusa2015

**Photos by Mary Chavez of Mary Chavez Photography

I hope you enjoyed Miss Meagan’s perspective! If you missed last week, read about Michaela Steager’s experiences as Nebraska queen here! And as always, leave a comment below or on the facebook page! I would love to hear from you!

How to Make a Vintage Apron

I am so excited to share with you my first tutorial! I hope you like it!

Apron Title*NOTE: You will need to know how to measure the length of your fabric, basic gathering, and turning fabric inside out once stitched in order to do this tutorial. I will do my best to explain how I did it.

Apron2The very first thing I did was to write out a plan. I’ve made this apron quite a few times, but I wanted to make sure not to miss anything when I wrote down the tutorial. So, the image above is the sketch. However, I got excited a skipped ahead. Right under the title is the correct order the steps that should be taken. *This tutorial does not have a pattern. Instead, I give you the measurements you need to fit anyone in this great vintage apron!

Apron1Now that you’ve seen an overview, you should gather your materials:

  • You will first need 1-1.5 yards of fabric, I used cotton, but brocade or light utility fabrics can also work well. I wouldn’t use any knits or stretch fabric for this tutorial.
  • You will also need a sewing machine (I have a Brother SE-400) that can do a basic straight stitch, back stitch, and increase stitch length.
  • A serger if you have one (or you can use a zig zag stitch to stop fraying, or just roll under the edge so their not exposed).
  • And scissors (or rotary cutter and self healing mat), ruler and measuring tape, pins, and thread.

Lets get started:

  1. Measure your waist and length from waist to calf to get the numbers you need to cut the correct size of apron.
    • To measure your waist you need to wrap a flexible measuring tape around the smallest part of your waist (the area between your chest and hips.) That number in inches is W.
    • For the length measurement you may need help. You need to use your measuring tape to find the distance between your waist and the center of your calf. This number in inches is L.
  1. Use the following equations to find the correct lengths to measure the fabric:
    • Piece 1 is the waistband: (½ W +2”) x (2.5 x desired width of waistband). In my example: my waist is 29” and my desired width is 2”. So ½ 29 +2 =16.5 (I used 16”) and 2.5 x 2= 5.
    • Piece 2 and 3 are the same because they are the ties: W x (2.5 x desired width of waistband). 29” is the length and 5” is the width. However, if you want the ties to be longer you can do 1.5 or 2 x W.
    • Piece 4 is the main piece of the apron: 1.5W x (length +1”). So 1.5 x29 =43.5 or 44” and the length with extra inch is 25.5 or 26”. (I would rather over compensate.)
  1. Cut the 4 pieces to the proper lengths.
  1. Serge the edges so the don’t fray and look more professional.Apron16
  1. Sew tails (piece 2 and 3) to either side of waistband with right sides together at ¼”. Set aside.Apron3
  1. Turn under the edges ¼” to the wrong side on the 2 long sides and 1 width side of piece 4.Apron4
  1. On the other width side run a 4 length stitch about ¼” from the edge. Run another 4 length stitch just short of ½” from the edge. Make sure not to back stitch and leave thread tails.Apron17
  1. Before pulling to gather, fold piece 4 in half and mark the center, fold the already folded in half piece in half again mark center (so there are 3 marks: ¼, ½, and ¾). Do the same on piece 1 (waistband), don’t include the tails.Apron6
  1. On one side of the center grab the top two tails and pull at the same time until all the fabric is gathered on that side of the center. You may need to push the fabric back away from the tails as you pull to get the gather. Do the same for the other side of center.Apron7
  1. With right sides together line up the center marks on both piece 1 (waistband) and piece 4 (main). Do the same with the 1/4th marks and 3/4th marks.
  2. Now even out the gathered fabric so it lays flat on the waistband. Sew at the standard 2.5 length ½” from the edge.Apron8
  1. Now with all the pieces attached, fold only piece 2 (tail) in half long ways, right sides together. Start sewing with standard 2.5 length 1” from the waistband at ¼” from the edge until 2” from the end of the fabric.Apron18
    • Put the needle down into the fabric and turn it 45 degrees to the left. Sew to end and backstitch, which will make the triangle on the tail. Do the same for piece 3 (other tail).Apron9
    • Snip off the triangle.Apron20
  2. Take one of the tails. Grab the opening where the tail is attached to the waistband.Apron21
    • While holding onto the fabric with your thumb and middle finger on either side, use your pointer fingers to push the fabric from the tail in side (just like turning a pair of paints inside out).Apron22
    • Continue until you’ve push all the fabric in.Apron23
    • Now, on the other end, pull the fabric out, so you see the right sides of the fabric.Apron24
    • Continue until you get to the triangle.Apron25
    • You will need something pointed to help make the point (I used a pen).  This may need finessing. You can use a chopstick or skewer to help push the fabric in if you need. Do the same for the other tail.Apron10
  1. On the long edge of piece 1 (waistband) that’s not sewed to piece 4, fold under the edge 1/4” wrong sides together and iron it down. Also iron where piece 1 and 4 meet so that the seam is flat as possible. This seam is also what I will call the “ditch.”Apron11
  1. Line up the folded-under side with the backside of the gathered “ditch” seam. Let the folded-under piece cover the “ditch” and go over it by about 1/8”. Pin in place.Apron12
  1. Flip the apron over to the right side and stitch in the “ditch” across (piece 1) the waistband. You will need to start your stitching about 1” from the waistband where you left space and continue to the other side about 1” past the waistband.Apron13
  1. Flip to the backside and check that the back is stitched all the way across and there aren’t any holds. Whip stitch any missing spots.
  1. Flip back to the front and check for there is any thread below your stitching line (the ditch), if so, seam rip it out gently. The thread is from gathering.
  2. Finally, iron the entire apron so that the seams are all flat and crisp!Apron14_Apron15
  3. Yay! You’re done! Now wear that bad boy!

Send me a picture of your finished product or with any questions or clarifications along the way! I would love your feedback and thoughts on future tutorials as well! I welcome constructive criticism and suggestions on what I can do better in future posts below and on facebook.