Rajko Balantič, shepherd's cape making from linden bark

zacasno_SI_Rajko Balantic_pastirski plasci_licje (2)

Rajko Balantič from Županje Njive makes shepherd’s capes from linden bark, the kind that herdsmen on the Alpine pasture of Velika Planina used to make to protect themselves from rain. Today, these rain capes are used for demonstrations at different tourist events and folklore festivals. Twenty years ago, Rajko and his mother decided to bring capes made with this fascinating material back to life, and thus joined in the effort to maintain and promote the herdsmen’s legacy. Every year, Rajko makes one or two “pwajš”, capes using the bark of young linden trees.

Name of Craft in the local language
Making of “pwajš”
Type of Craft
Making of linden bark shepherd's cape
Knowledge Holder
Rajko Balantič
Location, Website
Županje Njive 17a, 1242 Stahovica, Slovenia
Contact
rajko.balantic@gmail.com; +386 (0)41 706 121
Type of Business
Leisure time activity
Year of Establishment
2005

Workshop and sales space
Garage and yard, 50 m2
Materials
Bark from locally sourced linden trees
Technology / Tools / Machines
Chainsaw, axe, drawknife, barrel drum, knife, garden hose
Techniques / Processes
Sawing, cutting, bleaching, soaking in water, cleaning and drying of linden bark, arranging the fibres in bundles and tying them with a cord
Education of the Craftsperson
Learned from his mother

Best-selling product
Shepherd’s cape made of linden bark
Average time of production
The cape-making process consists of several stages that take place from May to August
Average price per item
Negotiable

The Balantič family passed on their knowledge to other local shepherd cape makers: Franc Pestotnik, Andrej Prešeren, and others. Through the Planšar cultural society, they have forged strong collaborations with Austrian tourist societies. Rajko Balantič was also featured in a TV news story for the Austrian national public broadcaster ORF.

Rajko Balantič’s connection with the shepherds of Velika Planina runs from his mother and uncle,

who used to graze herds for the local farmers. Shepherds in this area would make special capes back then, so-called “pwajš” – capes made of scrubbed linden bark. They served as excellent protection from rain, with raindrops just slipping down the long woody fibres. Some of these rain capes were preserved and used for the promotion of shepherding heritage by the (now former) Planšar cultural society, where Rajko Balantič was an active member. But as they were made from natural materials the capes wore out and the group needed new ones to present itself in various events. So in 2005, Rajko and his mother made their first rain capes and revived the dying tradition, which Rajko still passes on to others.

Today, shepherd’s capes made of linden bark are part of cultural heritage and protected by different institutions (Peskar Museum, Kamnik Intermunicipal Museum) and individuals who still possess the knowledge related to linden bark processing and its many uses. The shepherd’s costume, which consists of “pwajš”, wooden clogs, and a wide-brim hat, is a popular feature in tourist and folklore demonstrations in Kamnik and the town’s wider surroundings. Today, it has lost its original function, because modern synthetic raincoats do the job far better as they don’t get heavy with rain. Rajko says that scrubbed and dry bark is a highly durable material that was used by wine growers to tie vines to stakes, but it probably also has many other uses that we have yet to explore. As for Rajko, he has a personal relationship with this nearly extinct tradition and enjoys making things, so he uses his free time to keep this fascinating heritage alive.

 

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It takes about six relatively young linden trees measuring 15 centimetres in diameter to make one shepherd’s cape.

The key is to cut the tree down at the right time, when sap runs just beneath the bark, which is around 20 May. Bark is a natural material that can only be harvested at a specific time, so “it’s a lottery; if you’re late, you’ll wait another year”. When he has been given permission by the owners to cut the trees, he saws them to 2.5 metres long pieces and debarks them with his drawknife. This is to make transport home easier. Then he folds the bark into a barrel and soaks it in water for three months. The bark partly disintegrates, i.e. it is “retted” in water. In the past, people would accelerate the process by adding manure to the water. He checks progress in August and, if necessary, soaks them some more. Then he separates the inner bark and makes strips, which he cleans thoroughly under running water. He repeats the process three to four times until the bark is no longer slimy and its texture resembles paper. He dries the strips in the sun, then bundles and “strings” them on the collar of the cape using a nylon cord to tie them up. The width of the cape is determined by how much material he has at hand, and the length is adjusted to the wearer. His wife Maria lends a hand with the final steps.

Rajko Balantič works with linden bark exclusively to make shepherd’s capes. He usually makes one or two in a year, but none if he can’t get his hands on good bark. He only works for patient clients, including folklore groups.

Written by Tajda Jerkič