Donauschwaben in den USA

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New Tracht for Competition


by Erika Neumayer

American Aid Society of German Descendants


          As an active member of the Jugendgruppe, when I heard that we would need new Trachten for competition, I became concerned. I began wondering who would be able to invest the time to make new skirts, aprons, vests etc. I have participated in two competitions and each year we have had points deducted because, “our Trachten look too much like Dirndls”. I wanted the judges to be interested in our performance, not how much our underskirts are starched. I knew I could help, but I didn’t know anything about making a Tracht. I was talking to my school advisor, Dr. Susan Strawn, about this issue and she suggested that since I already had an interest in the traditional Donauschwaben Trachten, I should put together an independent study project. An independent study meant I would have one semester to complete the tasks that I made for myself and I would receive university credit. I would make up a schedule for myself and stick to it. I was nervous, but Dr. Strawn assured me that she would help guide me, keep me on track, and make this endeavor worthwhile.


Wearing the Batsch-Sentiwan Tracht with Mrs. Stein



           I decided that in order to learn how to make a Tracht I would need to talk to those who have made them. Mrs. Stein immediately came to mind since I knew she had designed and been the driving force behind the Jugendgruppe Trachten. I also thought about Mrs. Diestl.  My boyfriend, Mike Schneider, and his mom always talked about the Trachten she made and the Donauschwaben Trachtenball, so I thought she would want to help me. And finally, I knew my grandmother Katherina Wagner, had a small collection of Trachten in her basement that I knew nothing about and she had made Trachten for my mother when she was in the Jugendgruppe at the Donauschwaben. I couldn’t decide whom to work with, so I decided to work with all of them. I would work for five weeks on one Tracht, making the entire garment. I would also talk to each of the women and learn about how these garments changed their lives and what the culture was behind these unique dresses.


Working on the blouse for the "Neu-Slankamen Tracht"


          After proposing my idea to the fashion department in May 2007, they gladly accepted my project and I could begin my research, and our trip to Europe was just the place. At the Donauschwaben Zentralmuseum in Ulm, I tended to drift from the group and stare blankly into the closets filled with blouses, underskirts, vests etc. Thanks to Renee Stein and her super digital camera I was able to photograph most of the Trachten. There was so much to look at, but I still didn’t know how they were made.


Putting on all the layers of the "Neu-Slankamen Tracht"

I am wearing the "Neu-Slankamen Tracht" with Mrs. Diestl


          In Sindelfingen, we visited the Donauschwaben headquarters. There they had an extensive library with everything Swabian. I was sure that there would be some kind of book that had all the different Trachten from the Donauschwaben region, but when I asked… the woman simply said, “No we don’t have a book like that, but you can come back here and write one!” I was not ready to start anything like that! Anyway, they also had a beautiful collection of Trachten, which Renee photographed for me, so I had some type of visual to show Dr. Strawn upon my return.


          When we got back to the US, I tried to organize the pictures, but it had been three weeks since I had been to Ulm or Sindelfingen and I had lost track of where many of the Trachten came from. So I called up Mrs. Stein, Mrs. Diestl and my grandma to set a date to talk with each of them about the project and make a plan. And sticking to the plan, when the fall 2007 semester rolled around I was ready to start working on my first Tracht with Mrs. Stein.


          The Batsch-Sentiwan Tracht was one that Mrs. Stein herself never wore, but she remembered her mother wearing one. We looked at the Batsch-Sentiwan Tracht from the Museum in Lake Villa for reference and other pictures she had at home. I met with her once a week and she gave me regular assignments and carefully critiqued my work. She was a great mentor.


          This Tracht included, a cotton blouse, fully pleated top skirt, scarf and apron. I tried my best and for my first attempt I felt very proud of my work. I tried to make a scarf with a floral inset by using two fabrics and I made replica thread buttons from key rings and thread for the blouse. Pleating the skirt was the hardest part, especially considering I underestimated the amount of fabric I would need. The finished skirt used nearly 6 yards of fabric! After working from September 7th to October 5th ,2007, I had finally completed the first Tracht and was ready to start the next with Mrs. Diestl.


          When I arrived at Mrs. Diestl’s condo, she was all ready for me. She took out all of the Trachten that she had made in the past and showed me the Neu-Slankamen Bilderbuch. We talked about the fabrics and the petticoats and all that went into making this Tracht, so for our next meeting we were ready to start. I had a very difficult time finding the right fabric, but when I did the only colors available were peach and bright yellow…I opted for the peach. Together we made the blouse, top skirt and underskirts and we were ready to starch them. Having never starched anything in my life this was a new experience.


Starching the underskirts with my grandparents in their basement

I am wearing the "Hodschag Tracht" 

with my Grandparents,

Katherina and Jacob Wagner


          Once the skirts were starched I brought one to school to show Dr. Strawn. While the skirt was sitting at my sewing station, one of my classmates come over and looked at it with a puzzled face. She proceeded to touch it and asked me if I made this skirt out of paper! I explained to her that it was starched and she was very impressed with my work. The Neu-Slankamen Tracht, had a blouse and top skirt, but this proved to me much much harder than I ever imagined. This garment took more time and work than any project I have ever done for school. After working with Mrs. Diestl from October 5th to November 9th,2007,  I felt proud to have completed my second Tracht that was so different from the Batsch-Sentiwan Tracht.


          I met with my grandma and as we were talking she explained to me that in her town, Weisskirchen, they didn’t wear Trachten anymore when she was growing up. She said that only the older women wore a Tracht and it was usually dark colors and no one younger than them wore them. I was stuck…. Now what? Then my grandfather chimed in and started talking about how wonderful the Trachten from his town, Hodschag, were. After talking with Dr. Strawn, I started making a Hodschag Tracht. A friend of my grandfather’s came to visit a few years ago and left 4 full Trachten and many men’s clothing with my grandma, all from Hodschag. I photographed all of them and then we spent a few hours inspecting them and learning how to make them.


          The final piece included, a blouse, vest, handkerchief, scarf with hand tied trim, top skirt, apron, four underskirts. With the completion of this Tracht, I was finally finished. I wrote up a paper about my experience, all the wonderful stories I heard and presented it to Dr. Strawn.


          After hearing about my project and seeing the photo documentation notebook that I created, the head of the fashion department wanted the Trachten to be in the annual Dominican University Fashion Show in April. I am also participating and showing my Trachten project at Dominican University’s First Annual Exposition of Undergraduate Research and Creative Investigations as well as possibly entering in an apparel research competition in the fall. My sister, Monika Neumayer and I proudly wore two out of the three Trachten and presented them at the annual Donauschwaben Trachtenball on January 26th, 2008 with our partners Mike Schneider and Mark Bappert. I received first place recognition for my Tracht and I was honored to have my work appreciated by the Donauschwaben community.


          I am so happy that I completed this project. My admiration for the Donauschwaben Trachten has increased as well and my appreciation for those who wore and created them. With the knowledge I gained from working with my three mentors I am confident that with this new experience, I can help create new competition Trachten for the Jugendgruppe and keep the Trachten tradition alive.


          I would like to continue my research in this area and I hope to one day put together a Donauschwaben Trachten Bilderbuch of my own, just as the women from Sindelfingen suggested.  I am currently looking to scan images into my computer to start this project.  If anyone would be willing to let me borrow any books they have about their hometown, I would greatly appreciate it and you would be recognized for your help.  Thanks for reading about my project and I hope to continue my work and carry on the tradition of those who came before me.


Erika Neumayer



My sister, Monika, wearing the Hodschag Tracht.

Mark Bappert is wearing an original Hodschag shirt from 1910.

Donauschwaben Trachtenball

Erika and Monika Neumayer

Donauschwaben Trachtenball

Erika Neumayer and Mike Schneider

Presenting the first place Tracht entry

at the Donauschwaben Trachtenball

Erika Neumayer wearing Hodschag Tracht
Closer view of Tracht



For more information visit Erika Neumayer on her website at:


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