Ivo Jardas (1888–1978) was a teacher, author, and an ethnographer of the Istria-Kvarner region of Croatia. His invaluable work, Kastavština: Građa o narodnom životu i običajima u kastavskom govoru (Kastav: Material on folk life and customs in Kastav speech), 1957, not only describes the stories, customs, holidays, songs, and even crafts and occupations of the people who lived in the Kastav area of Istria-Kvarner, but it presents them in their local Čakavian dialect.

Ivo Jardas was born in the village of Marčelji near Kastav in 1888, and died in Zagreb 1978. Marčelji is still inhabited today, and has a population of approximately 2,000. Jardas lived in the United States from 1903 to 1908 as a worker and miner; however, he returned to his homeland and graduated from teachers’ school in 1913. He worked in many schools around Croatia, and started collecting materials on the culture of the Istrian people. It is said he went “village to village, house to house, old man to old man” to learn the stories and oral traditions of the local people.

In 1957, Jardas published Kastavština. This book forever seals an important look at the culture and dialect of a distinct European ethnic group, and reflects the lives of people in villages all over Croatia during the first half of the 20th century. There is an interesting story in the book about zapesnice (hand-knit woolen wrist warmers) and Christmas traditions.

A few Christmases ago, a dear relative gave us some beautiful hand-knit zapesnice along with a copy of their story. We were so touched by this personalized bit of local history that we found zapesnice from Kastav to offer in our store.

Here is the story quoted from the book, along with an English translation as provided by a friend:

Drugi dan za Božićen zovu va Kastafšćine “Stipanja”. Kako san već rekal, na Božić se saki doma drži, ne gre sused susedu, a za »polažajnika« Kastafšćina ne zna. Pul Marčeji bi bil rug i špot, ki bi šal na Božić va tuju kuću. Stareji reču još jutro dece: »Deca, danas ni krijanca poć po tujeh kućah, danas se j’ doma«.

Ale na Stipanju j’ se drugačije. Na Stipanju j’ po sen sele pravo božićno veselje. Već rano jutro gredu susedi jedan g drugemu. Ki god stareji pride va kuću, mu ponute žmujić rakije. Dece se da jabuko ale naranća. Frajarica frajaru i sestra bratu da nove kalceti ale zapesnice, ke j’ sama splela od zelene, črjene al modre vuni.

Zapesnice su pet šest unač duge, Mladići nimaju rukavic, pak prek presti na puls navuću zapesnice, a neki reču i pulsi. To njin tepli ruku za pestun ale puls, pak deju:

»Ako j’ puls gorak, gorka j’ sa ruka.«

Zato se i zovu zapesnice, aš se nose za pestun.

“The day after Christmas is called Stipanja (St. Stephen’s Day) in the Kastav region. On Christmas Day people stay at home with their families. They don’t visit their friends or neighbors and the ‘first-foot’ is unknown to Kastav’s region. In Marčeji, if anyone went to someone else’s house, other than your family’s, people would mock you or tell you off. On Christmas morning adults would warn their children not to visit their neighbors and friends because they had to stay at home.

“But on St. Stephen’s Day everything was different—the spirit of Christmas would spread all around the village. Neighbours started visiting each other in the early morning. Adults were offered some homemade rakija, while children got an apple or an orange. Girlfriends and sisters used to knit new woolen socks or wrist warmers (zapesnice), which they gave as a present to their boyfriends or brothers. They only used green, red or blue wool yarn.

“Zapesnice were 14 or 15 centimeters long, and young men used to wear them instead of gloves. They would warm the hands, as it was said:

“‘If your wrist is warm, the whole arm is warm.’

“That is why they are called zapesnice, because you wear them on the wrists.”


Osijek, Slavonia

In 1993, Mara Vakoš started a workshop in Osijek, as she says, “with the aim of preserving, nurturing, and making folk handicrafts for the purpose of applying and affirming the cultural and traditional heritage of Slavonia and Baranja.” In 2013 she was granted a Certificate of Traditional Craft (Uvjerenje o tradicionalnom obrtu) from the Croatian Chamber of Trades and Crafts. She employs traditional craft techniques in making both useful items and souvenirs, in an effort to keep eastern Croatia’s heritage alive and to bring attention to the beautiful work that has been handed down from generation to generation.

All of her work is produced by hand using the old techniques. She practices all types of needlework, including colorful embroidery (vez), gold embroidery (zlatovez), openwork embroidery (šlinganje), and crochet (heklanje or kukičanja). She makes clothing and home goods from “domestic materials that are produced by old weaving techniques…[to] encourage the survival of old crafts.”

Mara’s style of zlatovez is a technique of hand embroidering “gold on paper,” a complex technique using two threads. Beads and sequins are added to create a brilliant dimensional effect. Her designs are inspired from motifs that she finds on scarfs, shawls, and aprons from traditional Slavonian folk costume. She then creates sparkling jewelry and accessories that can be worn on the most formal occasions. You can read more about the history of zlatovez here.

We at DOMA Trading are dedicated to the true craftspeople who are sharing their heritage with us. When you purchase a piece of Mara’s artwork, you are truly purchasing a piece of history, which has been crafted with techniques that have been passed down for generations.

Mara in her workshop ©2020 Mara Vakos

Mara Vakos zlatovez technique

Mara is devoted to the culture of Slavonia and Baranja, which is her inspiration. She wrote: 

“Osijek grad imao je gradske nošnje. Meni je inspiracija cijela Slavonija to jest sela gdje su se nosile narodne nošnje. Koje su jako bogate i raznolike…u Slavoniju se održavaju Đakovački vezovi ili Vinkovačke jeseni. To je bogastvo Hrvatske tu dođu iz cijele Hrvatske u izvornim narodnim nošnjama to je hrana za dušu dobijete puno ideja za radit.”

“The city of Osijek had city costumes. I am inspired by the whole of Slavonia, that is, the villages where folk costumes were worn. Which are very rich and diverse…in Slavonia there are Đakovački vezovi or Vinkovačke jeseni. This is the treasure of Croatia. They come from all over Croatia in original folk costumes. It is food for the soul.”

The two festivals that Mara mentions are the largest annual craft festivals in Slavonija. Đakovački vezovi (Đakovo Embroidery Festival) is held every year in July, and Vinkovačke jeseni (Vinkovci Autumn) is held every September.

Mara Vakos slinga
Mara Vakos embroidery

Mara has been hand-embroidering since 1993. We are featuring some of her stunning pieces of zlatovez in our store.


Goldwork embroidery has been practiced around the world for the past 2000 years, to represent status and wealth. Various techniques have been found on royal and religious vestments and chronicled in images and paintings, from the great ancient cultures including Asia, Egypt, Babylon, Persia, and Greece, to the courts and palaces of Europe. Around the 10th century, goldwork embroidery became highly developed in England for the church, royalty, and military. It was considered a fine art because few possessed the skill and patience required to work with the brittle threads.

Over the centuries different techniques have developed, including winding the metal around strands of hair, silk, cotton, animal gut, paper, or parchment. Although the original threads were truly flattened white or silver gold, over time many different types of thread have developed, including alloying the gold with different metals for increased strength and flexibility, using various metal and core materials, or today even utilizing technologies which have increased the thread’s durability and washability.

Vinkovacke jeseni

In Croatia, gold embroidery is called zlatovez. It has been particularly representative of Eastern Croatia since the 19th century, and is included on the list of Protected Intangible Cultural Heritage established by the Croatian Ministry of Culture. Zlatovez can be seen embellishing traditional costumes as well as articles for the church and the home.

There are two annual festivals which celebrate the rich craft traditions of Slavonija, and feature elaborate traditional costume with zlatovez. Đakovački vezovi (Đakovo Embroidery Festival) is held every year in July in Đakovo, and focuses on the original folklore of Slavonia, Baranja, western Syrmia, and other parts of Croatia. Featured are traditional costumes, dancing, hair styling, and food. Đakovo is also the home of a Lipizzaner farm, so the festival includes horse shows. Vinkovačke jeseni (Vinkovci Autumn) is held every September in Vinkovci. It is a large gathering of traditional national costumes and culture, and promotes local heritage through music.

zlatovez by Mara Vakos
Dakovacki vezovi
zlatovez by Mara Vakos

The finest embroidery is done by hand, but today unsuspecting tourists will often find machine embroidery, which is of lesser quality because of the propensity of the machines to break the golden strands. We at DOMA Trading support and honor the true craftspeople who have learned their art from bakas and artisans, and have refined their skill over decades. They are not only producing beautiful, one-of-a-kind works of art, they are keeping their heritage alive.

Thank you to Mara Vakoš for her beautiful artwork which is featured on this page.


There are three main types of textile handwork traditionally made in Croatia: heklanje, čipka, and vez. Each type has various techniques—some are practiced throughout Europe, some are specific to particular regions in Croatia, and others are specific to individual Croatian towns. All of them are a vital part of the cultural heritage of Croatia.

If you grew up in a Croatian family, you may remember a beautiful crochet cloth on the table during special occasions, a colorful piece of embroidery under your grandmother’s teapot, or lace on a shelf holding a precious memento from Old Country. Each of these treasures is the result of a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation, like a golden thread that binds together past, present, and future.

HEKLANJE (Crochet)

Heklanje centerpiece © 2019 Leslie Brienza Photography

Virginia demonstrating artistry with heklanje 5

You may recognize the intricate crochet work of heklanje from your grandmother’s house. Practiced throughout Europe since the 19th century, heklanje derives its name from the Croatian word heklica, meaning “hook”—just as the French word crochet means “small hook.” As with lace, the artist may decide on a general pattern, but the design develops stitch by stitch, making each piece a unique work of art.

Heklanje begins with a simple loop, on which an intricate arrangement of loops is formed and added. It may begin with a circle with tiny shapes around it, or it may run in a linear pattern. Some pieces may combine several smaller complete designs, joined together in round patterns or rows. It may be made from yarns of varying thicknesses, but the finest pieces are made from thin cotton string. 

Follow this link to read more about heklanje and see a video of an artisan at work.

ČIPKA (Lace)

Čipka is a style of lace that is created with fine thread against a firm backing, usually on a round, square, or cylindrical hard-stuffed pillow. Pins or stitches are inserted to hold the threads as the patterns develop. Lacemaking was first practiced around the Mediterranean and Western Europe during the Renaissance. Today, the three main lacemaking centers in Croatia are on the island of Pag, Lepoglava in Northern Croatia, and the island of Hvar. Each area has its own styles, designs, and methods for making the lace. 

Pag lace is a “needle lace” and is famous around the world. A circle with tiny holes is defined, and thread is pulled through the holes with a needle using eight threaded sticks which diagonally cross the circle. Then small circles, triangles, rosettes, and stripes are formed from the center. This delicate work is called teg. 

Lepoglava lace is a “bobbin lace,” made by twisting and braiding thread on multiple hanging bobbins. The designs are geometric, floral, or even of animals. Lacemaking in Lepoglava dates from the 19th century. Today an annual festival celebrates this beautiful artwork.

Hvar lace, also called “agave lace,” has been made in the Benedictine Convent on Hvar since it was first brought there by local sailors returning from Tenerife in the 19th century; the nuns studied the complex work, and perfected it. The process of making agave lace includes specially preparing threads taken from fresh leaves of agave plants which grow on the island. 

All of these laces are created without a printed pattern, making each piece an individual creation, unique to the artist who creates it. Pag, Lepoglava, and Hvar lace are all inscribed in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. 

Pag lace artistry, Dalmacija

VEZ (Embroidery)

Konavle embroidery detail, Dalmacija

Vez, or Croatian embroidery, is often seen on traditional costumes for men, women, and children, as well as on home goods like tablecloths and linens. Embroidery is a traditional craft practiced throughout all of Croatia. The predominant thread color is often red, with combinations of white, blue, gold, black, green, or sometimes brown, embroidered onto a white or off-white background fabric. 

Traditionally, women embroidered for their families, often using hand-dyed silk thread and sometimes even raising their own silkworms. In Konavle, cultivating silk moths dates back to the 15th century. Today, cotton and other materials are also used, offering a variety of textures and colors. The colorful stitches are pulled through the background fabric with a special needle, using different techniques to create intricate designs.

There are two types of hand embroidery which are especially well-recognized parts of Croatian women’s traditional costumes. In Slavonia, the stunning zlatovez is made with gold thread. In Konavle, fine silk embroidery called poprsnica (pictured at top)—which features symmetrical designs predominantly in red, black, and dark green with golden borders—decorates the two front pieces of a white blouse, and the costume is accented with gold filigree jewelry and golden tassels.

Just as each region across Croatia has its own special use of technique, color and design, each of the different geometric or floral patterns of vez embroidery has its own name and symbolic meaning.

Learn More About Traditional Croatian Crafts

Zlatovez by Mara Vakos©2020 DOMA Trading


Heklanje (crochet) is a style of handwork that has been handed down from generation to generation since the 19th century. As with other types of crochet, heklanje is made by looping yarn or string together with the aid of small hooks.

Designs may be round, linear, or a combination of shapes, with floral, geometric, or decorative themes. One beautiful, old piece of heklanje we recently came across had small flowers that were formed by crocheting a second layer upon the first. Pieces may be symmetrical or freeform, in any size or shape.

Marija's heklanje designs, Dalmacija
Heklanje, beautiful detail by Virginia
Heklanje centerpiece © 2019 Leslie Brienza Photography
heklice tools

A local artist named Virginia Nenadović has kindly taught us a little about the intricacies and patience that go in to this beautiful art form. Virginia was taught by her Nona from the time she was seven years old.

She tells us the quality of a work is based not only on its design, but also on the thinness of the thread and the tightness of the stitches. A small design may take from one to several hours depending on how fine the thread and how skilled the artist. The finished piece can be as simple as a small flower or as complex as a large tablecloth.

Although yarn or other materials may be used, the finest Croatian heklanje is made from thin cotton konac (thread), traditionally in a white or off-white color, using a tiny heklica (hook) made of bone, ivory, wood, or metal. The thread is wrapped around one finger, and with the tiny hook in the other hand, the artist catches the string and pulls it through one or more loops to create intricate designs. Although a pattern may be decided beforehand or repeated, it’s not like a painting where you can sketch out the big picture and then work in smaller and smaller detail as you are inspired. Instead the tiniest details build one upon another to gradually reveal the design that is in the mind of the artist. There is no going back, as the thread and work are continuous. Thus each piece is an original work of art.

Virginia demonstrating artistry with heklanje 6
Virginia demonstrating artistry with heklanje 3
Virginia demonstrating artistry with heklanje 4

Virginia's gift of heklanje

The video on this page is not sped up—it is in real time. It’s difficult to capture still images because Virginia’s hands are moving so fast. She was talking to us while she was working, only glancing at her work. We had heard about this, from stories or memories of a baka or teta who worked so intuitively that her hands knew the stitches without looking.

Today, it is difficult for a visitor to find much heklanje for sale. There isn’t a viable market among locals since Croatian families typically have their own legacies, with handwork made by mothers, grandmothers, and aunts, tucked away in drawers. Like so many other artisans, Virginia doesn’t sell her work. She showed us magical little stars, gorgeous flowers, and stunning table runners, all lovingly created for her family—she is keeping the traditions alive in her own home.

Thank you, Virginia, for teaching us about your beautiful artwork!

Virginia and Boris Nenadovic © 2019 Leslie Brienza Photography
Heklanje detail by Virginia
Heklanje table runner by Virginia
Magical heklanje stars by Virginia
Heklanje flowers by Virginia

Learn More About Traditional Croatian Crafts

Zlatovez by Mara Vakos©2020 DOMA Trading

Kožuh, Leathercraft

Vinkovci, Slavonia

Working with koža (leather) is an old craft in Slavonia and Baranja, and leather richly adorned with small mirrors and intricate detailing is part of the folk tradition. Stjepan Posavčević has been working with koža since he was 16 or 17 years old. Beginning in 1952, he studied and worked in the trade in Vinkovci, Đakova, and Osijek. After military service, he returned to Vinkovci to begin his own business, “Kožuh.”

Stjepan is proud to use only genuine leather with no plastic. He showed me how he individually punches the shapes from a die with a large wooden mallet. According to grandson Luka, his grandmother Ana also started working with the leather when she married Stjepan. Ana showed me how little round circles and flowers are carefully heated on a small burner to curl into button shapes. Then each tiny piece is hand-sewn into place. She also explained how she hand-weaves each leather cord. The tiny mirrors, which can be seen in traditional decorations throughout Croatia, are actual glass which Stjepan hand-cuts.

This lengthy process of preparing the skins, punching and cutting each shape, heating the tiny buttons, hand-cutting every piece of glass mirror, and hand-sewing and embroidering the complex designs, produces an exquisite and intricate work of art.

Stjepan sometimes incorporates decorative dukats into his designs. A dukat (Eng: ducat) is a silver or gold coin that was used for trade in Europe from the 12th to 20th centuries. Gold dukats were worn on women’s necklaces and headwear in Slavonian traditional dress to denote status, and today decorative dukats still adorn ceremonial costumes. 

After my delightful visit with Stjepan, Ana and family, I was in a museum in Slavonia and saw an old book protected in a glass showcase, which had a leather cover embellished with the same type of work that I had seen in Stjepan’s workshop. The art of production of Slavonian leather vests like those that Stjepan makes are included on the List of Protected Intangible Cultural Heritage, as established by the Croatian Ministry of Culture. We are honored to share Stjepan and Ana’s story with you, and to offer you the opportunity to own a bit of Slavonian heritage from true master craftspeople.

Stjepan and Ana Posavcevic, Slavonija
leatherwork, Stjepan Posavcevic
Stjepan Posavcevic in workshop, Slavonija

Stjepan is a master craftsman from Vinkovci, Slavonia, with a 60-year history working in traditional Slavonian leathercraft techniques, featuring leather “button” and flower detail work and hand-cut glass mirrors.