Sunday 25 July 2010

Folk Costume

My folk costume from the south-west corner (more specifically, Oxie, Vemmenhögs, Skytts och Bara härader), of the county Skåne (Scania) in the very south of Sweden, is, after having working on it for the past year or so, now almost completed – enough for it to be worn anyway. I will now show it, layer by layer. This is what an unmarried farmer’s daughter of rather comfortable means might have worn to church and parties in about 1820-50. I’m afraid there’re no close ups, since the batteries in my camera died, and some of the pictures aren't very good for the same reason. I've linked to previous posts on the different garments, in case anyone would like to go back and learn more about them.

First it’s the sleeveless shift, hankasärk, made from half bleached linen.

Then the opplöt is put on, a blouse made from fine, bleached linen, with a collar of fine cotton voile. Black wool stockings are worn. I haven’t knitted a period pair yet, so I’ll have to make do with a cotton blend for now – they won’t show that much under my long skirts anyway, and at least the colour is right. Black is a rather unusual colour in Swedish women’s folk costume stockings, in most other places they’re white or red.

The hair is braided and wound round the head, as seen in this painting from Torna härad. Or maybe you can't see, the picture being rather small...

The painting is not from my area (in Skåne there where 23 areas, called härader, with slight or pronounced differences in dress), but borders to it, so some elements of dress are the same (notice the red spedetröja the girl in the middle is putting on), while others differ (like the shape of the collars, and the married woman’s white headdress). I’ve woven the wool ribbons in the hair myself.

After the opplöt, the knitted, woollen spedetröja, trimmed with silk, is put on.

The silk bodice, liv – the roll at the bottom of it looks quite ridiculous, but that’s what they looked like. I must confess I’m thinking of making it smaller though – after all, this costume is not to be worn in living history settings, but on festive occasions in modern day society, so even if my aim is to make it as right as possible, I wouldn’t feel too guilty with this compromise. As long as its purpose, to support the skirts and prevent them slipping, is there, I’m satisfied. The liv is laced with a steel chain at the moment, but it will be replaced with a silver one eventually. Btw, I found buckles almost identical to mine in the database of Nordiska Museet, which made me quite happy.

The heavy, wool skirt is next. Notice the look of “a comfortable size” the roll of the bodice gives the hips. This would be even more pronounced by the multiple layers of wool skirts, that was the custom back then. Skåne was comparatively rich, having good farmland, and everyone wanted to show of their wealth, not only by silver and as fine materials as they where allowed, but also by looking well fed. Not a look we tend to go for today, is it? The skirt has a tuck just below knee level, to help hold out the skirts. A silk ribbon with a pattern of woven-in flowers was often sewn on between the tuck and hem, but I have yet to find one in real silk.

The woollen apron, with its woven cotton waistband/ties. It ties a little off centre, with a bow. An apron was always worn, even to church, by the farming community; no woman would be seen without it. On the head is a cotton kerchief – this kind could be worn by married and unmarried women alike.

The starched, white headdress was worn by married women alone, as a symbol of their social status. A married woman would not be seen outside the immediate family without a kerchief of some sort on her head. Today, most people who wear folk costumes in Sweden omit the hats and headdresses, thinking they look silly. I can agree, but think it depends on the setting. I might do both, wear it over my braided, tied-up hair sometimes, and at other times wear my hair uncovered in the styles I usually wear, all according to the occasion. Like I said before, the costume is to be worn to parties and such in this time and age, so making some exceptions and adaptions is all right in my mind. I will for example wear make up, though I will probably not wear modern jewellery.

And that’s as far as I’ve come. I will, when the money, wish and time is there, add spedetröjor, liv and skirts in other colours, aprons in different patterns and materials, and several opplöts, so I can mix and match according to my mood. When it looks like I’m likely to marry, I’ll start to embroider the white headdress. But the costume is perfectly appropriate to wear as it is now. Yay!

Saturday 24 July 2010

Finished Spedetröja

This (or should I say yesterday now?) morning I finished my spedetröja – yay! For the ones of you who might not have read my previous posts on this, a brief history. This sweater is to be used with my folk costume, from the south-west corner of the county Skåne (Scania) in Sweden. The sweater is called spedetröja in the local accent, and was an important part of rural women’s wardrobe in that part of the country in the 18th and 19th centuries – even after the folk costume as such had gone out of use, the spedetröja was one of the articles of clothing that was still in some use at the very beginning of the 20th century.

The county Skåne was divided in a lot of smaller areas, and they differed a little, or much, from each other costume wise. In my area, the spedetröja was black, sometimes green, and often red for more festive occasions - then as now, there were clothes for working as well as dressier clothes, and the same went for spedetröjor. The ones not to be used in the everyday work on the farms where frequently decorated with knitted patterns, all over the surface or just in a few borders. They where also decorated at the neck and sleeves with silk or velvet, sometimes several rows of different silk ribbons. From what I’ve been able to find from looking at online museum collections, most of the red ones had trimmings in pink and/or black silk. Since I had pink silk at home, I decided to use that. The way the trimmings looked differed from place to place, but in my area they where generally quite simple, compared to other places.

As I’ve said before, the spedetröja is knitted in thin wool yarn on needles 1,5 mm (US size 000, UK size 17). The bottom is knitted in double seed stitch, and up the sides at back and front, there are knitted borders. Another type of border is knitted at the shoulders. These borders are made by knit and purl stitches, in period and geographically correct patterns. The silk is pleated to fit the shape of the neckline and sleeves. It’s sewn on with tiny, spaced backstitches. The inside of the neckline, and the short slit at the bottom of the sleeves are lined with white linen.

I will eventually invest in reproduction silver buttons to close the sleeves, but for now I’ll settle for brass hooks and sewn bars, which I still have to make.

It took me just a couple of days more than four months from the day I received the material to the last stitch on the silk trimming, much, much faster that I’d have thought. I did a mistake on it though; the increases should have been put on the other side of the vertical borders, but never mind – they will be mostly hidden by my bodice anyway. I just have to make it better next time, I plan to make a black spedetröja sometime in the future.
With some luck, there'll be a post about the completed folk costume soon, with all the layers, now the spedetröja is done.

Thursday 22 July 2010

Air Raid Sirens

Just a question: Have you watched too many movies, TV-series, and documentaries if the sound of British WWII air raid sirens make you jump and wonder where the nearest shelter is, and still sends chills down your spine once you realise, half a second later, that it comes from a mobile phone?? Or do you just have too vivid an imagination? Even when being prepared for it, it makes me shiver. It’s one of the eeriest sounds in the world.

Hmmm…. Being a sucker for history can have its side effects, I suppose.

Sunday 18 July 2010

1940's Style Dress

The 40’s dress got finished yesterday. I am rather pleased with it, though not all the details are as I would have liked them. I wore it to church today, and one of my friends said I reminded her of an old picture of her grandmother. I took that as a great compliment; seems I managed to give the dress the right air.

The dress is made from rayon, with a hidden zipper in the left side. The front of the bodice is gathered at the shoulders, and there’s a ribbon tie at the neck. The bodice is eased into a waistbant to which the skirt is sewn in smoothly. Another ribbon ties round the waist, and is held in place by loops sewn at the sides. The sleeves are gathered at the shoulders, and have an inverted box pleat at the edge, sewn down about 2 ½ inches up the arm, making the sleeves narrower at the bottom. Thin shoulder pads where made to create the right silhouette. The skirt is rather long, placing the dress in the early 40’s. The shoes are vintage, made in England, and bought at a charity shop some years ago.

That’s really all there is to say about it. Didn't get any better pictures of it today, regrettably. And yes, I was tired when I took the pictures. Now I’m off for my third night shift at the hospital. Yawn.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Dealing with the Heat - Vintage Style

The weather is still horribly hot and suffocating. I truly wasn’t made for this kind of weather; it has me wilting like a thirsty flower. The only thing to be done to survive it without a fan is to dress in cool clothes, put your hair up, keep in the shade, and be as still as possible. Luckily, I’m not working today, so I’ll stay at home sewing all day.

To make dealing with the heat a little more bearable, I dug out my linen 40’s style dress from the back of the closet. Linen is the best material when it’s hot and humid. This dress is made from the same pattern as the polka dot one I’m working on now, though I’m making a few changes on that one.

I put my hair up in a matching hairstyle and tied a scarf round it. Much better.

Now I can even feel just a little bit stylish in my suffering. If the weather forecast is right (which I cross my fingers for), there will be rain and thunder later today – I hope it will cool and clear the air so I can breathe again.

Monday 12 July 2010

Medieval Socks and a WWII Dress

Seems a bit silly talking about wool stockings when the temperature has been in the 90’s for the past few days (almost kills me, it does - feels like it, at least), but here goes:

About a week ago I finished a pair of socks in a technique called nålbindning / nalbinding / needlebinding. It’s an old technique, found, amongst other places, in ancient Egypt as well as in Scandinavia and the Viking-ruled part of Dark Age Britain. It pre-dates knitting by hundreds, probably more than a thousand years, and was regularly used in some parts of Scandinavia well into the 19th century for mittens and socks. This makes it perfect for re-enactors doing Viking- and middle ages. You use a rather big, flatish needle made from wood, bone or horn, and you use torn-of pieces of yarn (usually very, very long - you want to piece them as seldom as possible). You then sew the sock, mitten or whatever, stitch by stitch, using your thumb as a base. When you come to the end of the piece of yarn, you lay it together with a new one, wet the join and rub it between your hands until it felts together. The fact that you sew them like this makes them very sturdy – if the yarn should break somewhere while you’re using the sock, that’s all that happens – the sock won’t unravel. However, if you want to go back and change something, that takes quite a while. There are a lot of different stitches, so one thing made in this technique can look a bit different than another one.

I learned the technique from a re-enactor friend some years ago, and began making the socks at that time, but they have been forgotten amongst all my other projects until the event two weekends ago, when I brought them. The other ladies there had brought their nålbindning projects as well, and they where so much prettier than my poor socks and, most of all, they where finished. So last week I sat down and finished mine, even brought them with me to work, and made everyone at the lunch table curious. Turned out one of the girls there recogniced what I was doing, and when I asked her how she knew, it turned out she's a re-enactor herself. Figures.

I then tried to felt them, as that seems to have been very common, making warmer and (again) sturdier clothes. Unfortunately, it would seem I used super wash wool, so it wasn’t very easy, and I couldn’t get them as felted as I’d have liked, but they will do.

And now something completely different: last weekend I began making myself a 1940’s dress from the polka dot fabric I bought some time ago. I use a pattern I made some years ago, having looked on the outside of a Vogue Vintage Pattern for inspiration. I have used that pattern once before and rather liked it. This is the shoulder detail.

Now I’m going to continue working on it, and to watch the first season of Foyle’s War that I bought today. Always nice to watch something from the same era you’re making clothes from, I think it’s inspiring.

Tuesday 6 July 2010


Last weekend I went to an event with the late 14th century group Albrechts Bössor (Albrechts Gunners), and it was brilliant. I really liked the people, and five of them have blogs that I follow. Nice to meet the persons behind the words, but it feels a bit silly writing about an event when I know some of the people who where there will be reading it, and probably have experienced it from a slightly different point of view. Anyway, the event was a medieval faire held in the old fortress at Varberg. The market part of it wasn’t very good – actually, it was mostly horrible, with crushed velvet and poly-satin dresses, plastic swords and goth jewellery being sold, and street performers in silly costumes – the usual stuff. Most of the good tradespeople where at a viking festival down south, I believe. Too bad, I had hoped to buy some fabric… Still, there where a few good things and most people seem to have had a good time.

The weather was sunny with the occasional wisp of very thin cloud, extremely hot and rather windy the first day, and stiflingly still and windless the next. We all kept reminding each other to drink water and rubbing on sun block.

Picture by Anders

As night fell it got a bit chilly, which was nice as a change. I find I'll have to make myself another dress to go over the yellow one; it got a bit too cold. The london-hood proved to have been a good thing to have sewn, very cosy.

Picture by Elin

We slept quite comfortably in hand sewn tents, on woollen blankets laid out over straw. The group is very particular about authenticity, which is why they caught my interest in the first place, and one of its main aims is teaching and educating the public, so the camp and equipment was kept as closely as possible to how it might have been back in the day.

The food prepared by Peter where based on recipes from 14th century cook books. Forget boiled vegetables – it was deep fried pies filled with meets and cheese, porridge served with raisins, cinnamon, and almonds, omelette, and bread pudding served with butter and cinnamon, with a smoked herring on the side. Yummy!

As all re-enactors and living historians know, the commonest task, when done without electricity, is extremely interesting to the public, and everything gives an opportunity to teach. I had the pleasure to explain about spinning and sewing, and to let a few children give carding wool a try, which they where thrilled about. Maria, Elin and Anna explained about qualities of wool, weaving, plant dyeing, needle binding and embroidery. Being a military camp, of course there where demonstrations on fighting, armour and weapons, but being extremely ignorant in that area, I won’t even try to report on it as I’m sure to get it wrong.

I spent most of the weekend in our camp, helping with the cooking (which included fetching water and wood), sewing, needle binding, playing with the children in the group, visiting with the others, and learning how to spin on a drop spindle. I had tried that quite a few years ago, but it didn’t turn out very well, now though, it went much better, having gotten some tips from Maria who’s very talented in many textile crafts. After a while, I could even manage to spin while walking. It was so fun that I’ll have to buy another drop spindle now, which is not good at all – I really don’t need any more interesting things to take my attention from the many projects I already have, waiting to be finished.

So, that was my weekend, and a really nice one it was. To those of you who where there, thanks for making it so good, and I hope to see you all again soon.