Friday 16 June 2017

Early 19th century Swedish Farmwife’s Everyday Dress

Back in April I attended an event held at the open air museum of Fredriksdal. It focused on Swedish civilians and soldiers ca 1800-10. We got to live in the houses, cook in the fireplaces, even sleep in the beds. I didn’t do the latter, as the weather was cold and windy, I’m having a bit of a tough pregnancy, and to top it off, had just had pneumonia. I thought it safer to sleep in my own warm bed, and just stayed the one day, but still had a good time. The event, which was rather small and intimate, still attracted participants from the whole country, and even a few from Norway. Fredriksdal is located in the county of Skåne (Scania) and most of the houses are from there, so those women in attendance who, like me, are from this part of the country, chose to dress according to the local fashion, which in this case meant folk costumes, still in daily use at the time. Our feast day clothes wouldn’t do, so we tried to tone it down for an everyday look. Trickier than you might think, as very little evidence remains as to what was worn then. When it comes to the fancy clothes, much is known, but as usual, no one really cared to document what people wore when working in the kitchen garden.

I made a brown wool skirt for the occasion, which I intend to also use as a petticoat for my fancy folk costume. Brown wool skirts from my parish are mentioned in estate inventories, but are far from as common as the usual blue and green, or the reasonably common black. I had a suitable fulled, twill woven wool at home though, so it had to do, even if it was brown.

It is constructed from straight panels. My fabric was 150 cm wide, but as the extant skirts I know of are usually made from narrower widths I cut my panels in half, and stitched them back up again, making four narrow ones in total, and a width of close to 3 metres. The hem was faced with a strip of unbleached linen. 

The skirt is smooth in front, as seen in extant skirts, and has the fullness taken in by stroked gathers at the sides and back, that are secured with rows of stitches, seen only from the inside. 

It closes by a sturdy brass hook and eye half way to the left side. 

I don’t know how they did about pockets – in some mid-19th century folk costume skirts there are stitched in pockets, like in modern skirts of the time, but for earlier decades I’m unsure if they wore loose pockets or not. I left a slit open in the right side seam anyway, so if need be I can tie a pocket round my waist.

In the end the brown skirt ended up used as a petticoat at the event, as I decided I wanted two skirts for warmth, and wore my usual blue skirt on top. In the period manner I flipped the blue skirt up over my shoulders to keep out the wind every now and then, so I didn't make the brown one in vain.

I also made a new bodice. I intend for it to be trimmed with blue silk ribbons, and replace my old fancy silk bodice as that one has become rather too small. For the event I used it untrimmed though. It’s made from fine brushed wool, lined with unbleached linen, and closes in front with three pairs of brass hooks and eyes, but most of the closure is hidden beneath the skirt. The wide opening would be held by buckles and a chain for best, but for everyday was likely left as was. 

At the bottom of the bodice a rather thick, padded linen roll is stitched, on which the skirts rest. Having a full figure was considered attractive by the country folk at this time and place, and you do feel rather important in an "I break for nobody" kind of way when you come walking along the road in all your matronly fullness, especially when you wear several wool skirts on top of each other. It's far from what is considered an attractive figure today, which make rather few people recreate it as close to the originals as I try to, but go the more 'inspired' route. I'll post more detailed pictures of the bodice when it's trimmed and have the buckles attached.

As for the apron, I didn’t want to use my fancy one, as I expected to cook and do greasy dishes – a good decision it turned out. Instead I whipped one up from a piece of cotton fabric that I had intended to purge from stash. It’s not perfectly period, the fabric isn't quite right and it's much too narrow, but woven stripes were popular, and the fabric had a sort of washed out, sun bleached, worn look to it that I thought would do for everyday.

I never got any decent pictures of myself from the actual event (though I can be seen in a couple of these), so I took proper pictures the other day. The weather is a lot warmer now than in April, so I could ditch the knitted spedetröja I had to wear to the event, despite it feeling too fancy. For the pictures I wore the bodice and skirt over just an unbleached linen shift (for an everyday shift I’m not sure if it should have a collar or not...), and accessorised it with the ever present apron and head kerchief. As the temperature is pleasant I went without stockings or any form of shoes. I want a pair of wooden clogs, but all in good time.

The outfit might have been a little later than the event called for, as most of the sources I base it off are from Ca 1825-50, and I generally aim for the 1830’s-40’s in my fancy version of the folk costume, but ah well. I’m still not quite sure how historically accurate this outfit is, but at the very least I think it's plausible and believable. I may have to revise it in future, but then we always do, don’t we?

My Pinterest board of extant clothing and period images from the area. Mostly fancy versions.
Allmogedräkten i Oxie härad, (1978) by Helge Andersson.


  1. I just love how the Scanian folk silhouette clashes so utterly with modern beauty ideals! Well done!

    1. It is rather fun to make, and to see how comfortable and "at home" you can be wearing a style that emphasize the dignity of maturity and motherhood instead of celebrating youth and a slim figure :)

  2. Grattis till graviditeten! Hade missat den glada nyheten

  3. I love well made folk dress!
    Out of curiosity, do you also get comments from modern folk dress makers what they would do differently?

    1. Thank you :) Sometimes I get comments, but most have been appreciative, especially as everyday clothes are rather uncommon to recreate.

  4. Having a full figure was considered attractive by the country folk at this time and place, and you do feel rather important in an "I break for nobody" kind of way when you come walking along the road in all your matronly fullness, especially when you wear several wool skirts on top of each other.

    Ha, I love it!


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