Stripping feathers in old Poland
This is another entry from the month of February from the diary of Marianna Malinowska Jasiecka in the years 1890-1914 compiled by Janina Fedorowicz and Joanna Konopinska. It describes the custom of women getting together during the long, cold (and often tedious) winter nights to strip feathers. The women got together at each other's homes to help each other strip the down off the quill of feathers obtained from ducks, geese and chickens in order to make pillows and comforters. Done alone, it was an onerous task. Done together it was a social event lightened with talk, music and food. These get-togethers lasted only until the beginning of Lent when all such social activities ended.
Polwica, February 1895
Besides the domestic help, a few women and girls from the manor farm and from the village have come to strip feathers. Sometimes there's twenty people who gather together. The feathers from ducks and geese and the better feathers from chickens are stored in white bags in the attic. We've brought them down to the room designated for stripping and so as not to mix the different types of feathers, the contents of each bag is placed on separate tables. The best down is obtained from geese and these are later made into pillows. The kołdry and pierzyny (feather quilts) are made from mixed down. The feathers that aren't stripped that is, the worst ones mixed with chicken feathers are cut with scissors instead and made into spodków----or as some call it, a feather bed, which is placed on the mattress to make it soft and warm. Recently I've been hearing some talk that sleeping on feather beds is not healthy. Even my girls refused to sleep on the feather bed the last time they were home during winter recess saying that nobody slept on them at school. I can see I'm old fashioned since I sleep on a feather bed from November to April. Michael does the same.
Stripping feathers generally starts in country cottages right after the feast of Three Kings and lasts until the middle of February. Here it will probably last till the end of the month. After supper, around 7pm the women start arriving and take seats on long benches and work until 9 or 10 in the evening while at the same time sharing news, gossip from the entire neighborhood and even legends. One of the favored themes are tales about unusual happenings, about spirits. It happens at times that some of the local young men stop by to see the girls and play on the harmonic or fiddle, everyone sings and its very merry...these evenings have a charm all their own. Outside it is cold and snowing, a frequent storm and darkness with the wind howling beyond the windows and we sit in warmth with kerosene lamps lighting the interior and the roll of pleasant conversation. At the end of the work, Bejmowa(servant) brings out coffee made from grain with milk and large chunks of freshly baked sweet bread and offers it to everyone.
Stripping feathers is a bit of a fashion show. On such a night the girls and younger women dress up to show each other their clothes, explain how to embroider a particular motif for an apron or ruffle, how to crochet a scarf or trim stockings that are knitted from wool. I always wonder when they have time to crochet and embroider. The country woman is always overburdened with work in the house and field, has a passle of children. Where does she find the time for something like hand work. But the women manage to do so and often very nicely. Mama encourages the girls to knit, believing that it is an indispensible skill in the life of even the most well to do women. So even small Jadzia knows how to make wool socks and knows some basic crochet work.
Candlemas Day in 1895
I have loved reading diaries since I was in elementary school. I still read children's diaries, teen and adult ones and I especially enjoy diaries kept by Polish women.
The book "Marianna i Róże" (Marianna and Roses) was written by a female descendant of Marianna Malinowska Jasiecka. It is based on a compilation of family documents, historical facts and the contents of a diary kept by Marianna Malinowska Jasiecka that was found in an old chest.
The diary begins in April of 1892 at a time when Poland was partitioned by Prussia, Russia and Austria and Poland as a country ceased to exist on the maps of Europe. Marianna was considered gentry, married to a man with a significant amount of property, had servants and enough free time to keep a diary. She lived in a manor house in Polwica in Wielkopolska(Greater Poland). Her entries are filled with her day-to-day life as wife and mother, her family history and genealogy, what life was like under Prussian rule but also includes the yearly customs and traditions of the times. Here is an excerpt for Candlemas, celebrated on February 2.
Polwica, February 1895
In the morning we went to our parish church in Śniecisk. Everyone had a large blessed candle called a gromnica, decorated with a white ribbon and a sprig of myrtle (author note:myrtus communis). The "gromnica" or blessed candle is lit when expecting the priest to come "na kolęda"( author note:Christmas visit by the parish priest) or to visit the sick as well as during a storm and definitely when someone was dying or next to the already deceased individual. There still exists among the village people a superstition that if someone manages to bring their lit candle from church to their home, then no one from that family will die that year. As a result everyone tries to get home with their candle still lit. Depending on the weather, it's not always easy. It's amusing how people walking along the road are protecting the faint glimmers of light with their scarves or coat so it doesn't go out. The candles are kept near holy pictures or, as is with us, in special candleholders. The candle is lit during storms to distance away the thunder and placed in the hands of the dying so that they can have an easy death and can more easily find the gates of heaven by the light of the blessed candle. That is why the holy day is cherished and solemnly observed.
My next blog will share another entry from Marianna's diary depicting the stripping of feathers for making pillows and a pierzyna (down quilt).
Google photo/ Young Polish girls with their gromnica (thunder candle) Date unknown.
One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.