My folk costume: Åse&Viste härad

Even when I was little I wanted a folk costume, or at least something folk costume looking - like a dirndl type dress. I guess the main reason was that I wanted something that looked like something that girls in fairytales wore. Since I joined the SCA in 1993, and later also other medieval groups, I have plenty of opportunity to satisfy my inner princess. But I still wanted a folk costume, so in 2002 I made one. And then I took it in, and let it out, and took it in - and let it out again ;) And in 2013 I made the white linen scarf, and in 2021 I made the everyday apron from half wool. I also made a second bodice in 2021 and made a piece of embroidery on tulle that I bought material for in 2002.

So to the left you see the festive version, with an embroidered linen batiste neckerchief and a printed cotton apron, and to the right an everyday version with a cotton neckerchief, which is usually mentioned as a headscarf, but these square pieces of fabric were multi-purpose accessories.


For most of the time I have owned my folk costume, this is how I have worn it - with the cotton apron and cotton neckerchief.

But the blue cotton neckerchief is, as I wrote above, usually described as a headcloth, and in the 19th century the small hard caps, which are called bindmössa, were for the most of the time only worn uncovered indoors, and when out of doors they were covered with a kerchief - like this:

Or without a cap under, like this:

In this version I am wearing a neckerchief from printed cotton too, because I felt a little naked without a neckerchief. This type of kerchief is common all over Sweden, they were initally mostly made in Switzerland and were sold by itinerant pedlars. There is one such neckerkerchief preserved from the area where my folkc costume is from, so it is not "wrong", even if it doesn't have exactly the same pattern. More about this further down.

On Swedish folk costumes in general

Folk costumes in Sweden can be divided into three categories: preserved, reconstructed and newly created costumes. The former are those that were in continuous use until the second half of the 19th century or those who were well documented before that. For these costumes you have all the original garments in museums and private collections, and there is often a large variation between clothes worn on greater holidays, lesser holidays, on normal days etc.  Many preserved folk costumes are from Dalecarlia, but you can find them in all parts of Sweden except in the far north and of course, close to towns.

    The reconstructed costumes are based on some preserved garments and contemporary descriptions of the clothing worn in a specific area. When a garment is "missing" from the concerned area you use a garment from a neighbouring area or from the time the rest of the costume is from, to complete the costume. This is the type I own.
   The created costumes are made where there are no remnants of an older popular costume, but people still want to have something that signifies their local area. The costume is then created based on the idea of how a folk costume should look.

Contrary to popular belief the Swedish rural population's clothing in the 18th and 19th centuries was affected by fashion, and you see the impact of "town fashions" also in areas far away from towns.  But occasionally for some reason the development in a specific region halted, and the way people dressed became more static and different from the current fashions in the towns. One theory is that it was during economic prosperity that the fashionable elements entered the costume of the farmers, and when times changed for the worse the costume became partly fossilized. Which time this happened varies from area to area. In Scania one can see a lot of renaissance influence, while Toarp in Västergötland retains many features from the 17th century. Most common is influences from the second half of the 18th century and after that.

The making of folk costumes today 

There is much ideology when it comes to making and wearing a folk costume, traditions, both old and new, that set the rules for the making and wearing of them. For the Swedish speaking reader I recommend Ulla Centergran's book Bygdedräkter, bruk och brukare, which is also her doctoral thesis and was printed in Göteborg 1996.
   The view on how to make a folk costume have changed considerably in the last hundred years, but today the ideal is that the copy (your costume) should look just like the original, the fabric, the construction and the stitches should be the same. The fabric for a folk costume should also ideally be hand woven, but it is accepted that linen fabric is machine woven, since it is very hard to get that fine hand woven linen nowadays. The wool fabric is always hand woven however, and quite expensive.
   In general the goal is to make the clothes the way they were made and to wear them the way they were worn. 

My costume - and its parts

My folk costume is a reconstructed costume based partly on preserved garments and comes from Åse and Viste härad in south-western Sweden, which is roughly were I grew up, and definitely part of the area I call home. It was reconstructed around 1980, through the thorough work of Ann-Viol Dellstrand, Monia Persson, Britta Persson and Kristian Johansson.

 I will now present the different garments that I have. And also discuss possible variations, and what I have made differently from the instructions that I got when I first made my costume. Being a dress historian I just could not refrain from making some changes ;)

The särk, or smock/shift is based on a man's wedding shirt from early-mid 19th century. Now in the museum in Grästorp. You can see a bad photo by me of the original in Grästorps Museum, here:

In the instructions I got this is a blouse, which is a garment that wasn't worn in popular costume from the time, at least not on it's own. For practical reasons I wanted to make it long enough to cover my bum, so I made one of the most common types of shift in the beginning of the 19th century: A shift made in two parts with a seam roughly at the waist, the lower part often made of coarser linen. This was a good way to be able to use your clothing longer since you could replace the lower part if it got too dirty or worn and still use the embroidered upper part. So I used the same pattern as in the instructions I got, but added a lower part and turned it into an överdelssärk. The seam can be seen in the lower part of the picture.

The cuffs are embroidered with linen thread and there are lots of small pleats both at the cuffs and where teh sleeve connects to the body of the shift.

There are three different variations of bodices for my folk costume, all based on preserved bodices. from the last three decades of the 18th century. They are referred to as Åse, Viste and Bäreberg, after the places they are from.

My bodice is from Viste härad, and based on this original, in Nordiska museet.

That I am fatter than the original weare is without doubt, but luckily I also have a long torso, so I could keep the original proportions of the bodice, just adding more eyelets to keep the distance between them the same as in the original.

The half wool is hand woven, but I used machine woven unbleached linen for the lining. The embroidery is made with unbleached linen thread and there is boning in front of the bodice and four on each front side. There is also boning and embrodiery on the back side.

The role of the bodice is to support the bust, so they need to be fitted. The boning also helps with this of course. I used plastic German boning, but in period rattan was the most common.

The Åse bodice has a slightly different embroidery, a different lining, and also a different check, but the cut of the bodice, the material: linen warp and wool weft, and the colours are the same. Link to the bodice at Nordiska museet.

The third variant is made from dark blue half wool, and is privately owned. I have not yet confirmed this, but it is likely that it is the same bodice which can be found on photographs taken by the textile artist, expert on textile handicrafts and important organiser of the handicrafts movement in Sweden :Lilli Zickerman. These were photographed some time between 1910 and 1932 (link to the photo at Nordiska museet, about the collection, in Swedish)

I have made this bodice too, to have some variety. Ignore my messy hair and unicorn socks in the photo.

Another bodice from Bäreberg can be found at Nordiska museet. 

This bodice was probably the model for the folk costume of the nearby parish of Essunga, which was also reconstructed in the 1970s or 80s.

This type of bodice with embroidery and visible boning channels were very common in Bohuslän and Västergötland, two counties in southwest Sweden (Åse and Viste is in Västergötland). They are influenced by rococo fashion and date from ca 1770-1830. Most of the early ones, which are longer,  are red, but you can also find pink and green examples. And checked, and dark blue, apparently.

The skirt is made from red "half wool" twill, the warp is unbleached linen and the weft is thin one ply wool. There was no extant skirt so the fabric is taken from a quilt, but it is of a type that was very common in skirts in the place and period, and the model is based on a common skirt type from the end of the 18th century.

In the front it has a broad, inverted box pleat followed by broad knife pleats toward the sides. In the back it is gathered finely, with the gathers "locked" with chain stitch. It is sewn with unbleached linen thread. At the hem it has a broad facing of unbleached linen. The waistband is also from unbleached linen.

The skirt opens on the left front and is closed with a hook and eye. When I was pregnant I sewed ties to the edges of the opening and tied it around my by then non-existing waist. Since the apron covers the opening you couldn't see that I couldn't close the skirt properly.

There are two aprons for the folk costume: one everyday apron from half wool (cotton warp, wool weft) and a more festive one from printed cotton. This may seem backwards to us now, when the hand woven wool apron is much more expensive than the printed cotton one, but the reverse was true in period - when the cotton apron of course also was hand woven.

The half wool apron is made afte a privately owned apron from Tengene parish, and I only got the material for and sewed mine in the summer of 2021. The apron has a small dart in each side, and then three knife pleats, and the center front is left unpleated.

It is a few centimetres shorter than the skirt and is closed with a hook and eye in one side.

The cotton apron is a copy of this apron from the early 19th century, from Håle parish. It is now at Nordiska museet.

The apron has small stroked gathers and a dart in each side, but the center front is left ungathered. The waistband is rather broad and has loops on each side, through which a machine made ribbon from wool and linen was thread. I don't currently have a similar ribbon, so I am using a simple red and white cotton ribbon for now. This fabric has been reproduced in other colours too, by Berghems väveri.



This is one of two kerchiefs that belong to the costume. This one is for everyday wear and is made of cotton, This kerchief was either worn around the neck, tied over the hard cap, which was seldom uncovered out of doors, or used as a head scarf on its own, as you can see in the photos above.

The festive scarf is in very fine white linen batiste and with lots of tambour and drawn thread embroidery  in white linen thread. I have made the tambour part, but not the drawn thread embroidery yet. And it is not ironed in this photo. 

It is said to have been worn by a bride, and I don't feel really comfortable wearing it other than on very festive occasions. Also, it is not nearly as fine as the original, now at Grästorps museum.

From the same area are also preserved two printed cotton kerchiefs, now at Nordiska museet. The red one is of course the inspriation for the red one I'm wearing in the photos above.

Kerchief from Täng parish, Åse härad. At Nordiska museet.

Kerchief from Särestad parish, Åse härad. At Nordiska museet.

I would like to have reproductions of both of them of course. My current red kerchief looks like this:

This linen kerchief with stripes in red cotton, in the collections of Nordiska museet, is from the 1820s, and from Täng parish.

Bindmössa/ hard cap
The most common headwear for female folk costumes in Sweden is a hard cap usually made of silk, called bindmössa. They were usually either embroidered, with tambour stitch, or made of brocaded silk. There are also caps made of printed cotton, usually red. 

These caps and the way they look are not specific for any region. They were an 18th century fashionable accessory which lived on in rural costume. This Swedish painting (a garden decoration) from c 1790-1810, now at Nordiska museet, shows the cap worn with fashionable dress.

The caps  were bought ready made and the embroidery was done by professionals. According to the instructions my cap is to be made of thin black wool, although I suspect the original was made of silk. The cap is mounted on a hard base made of paper and it is not done by me, but by Dr Ulla Centergran. 

To my folk costume belongs two different stycken, one from embroidered cotton tulle, and one from bobbin lace. The stycke is probably the remnant of what once was an under cap, and is made up of  lace, which is sewn to a piece of cotton or linen.

The lace on the stycke in this photo is not specifically from this area, but like the caps, printed cottons and kerchiefs, these seldom had a specific local look, but were part of the general rural fashions of Sweden in the late 18th and 19th centuries. 

In 2021 I finally made the embroidered tulle stycke

Please ignore the scrunchie in my hair, I was just trying it all on for a quick photo.

 There are also other preserved caps from the same parishes as the rest of the costume.This one in white, is now in the local museum in Grästorp. 

Bad photos through glass by me. It is made from silk and embroidered with tambour stitching

Nordiska museet also has several preserved caps from Åse or Viste härad:

This red cap is from Täng parish, and is registered as a bride's cap, but this only reflects what the collector put down in the late 19th-early 20th century, and not necessarily the usage it originally had. Silk with metal bobbin lace.

This one had a stycke made from tulle with embroidery.

Another "bridal cap", from brocaded silk, from Täng parish in the collections of Nordiska museet (link)

A red one (silk?) with tambour embroidery, Malma parish. Nordiska museet.

This light blue silk cap with tambour embroidery is from Friels or Tun parish, also at Nordiska museet.

This silk cap is in the collections of Västergötlands museum. I absolutely adore the red and black ribbon.

And here's a dark brown embroidered silk cap from Västergötlands museum, from Trökörna, Grästorp or Viste.

As you can see there are many possible cap projects for me in the future, even if I don't travel to have a look at the locally kept ones.

Stockings and shoes
At first I used bougth knee high stockings which had ribbing and some elastic at the top, which is the most common in Sweden today. But after I started knitting again I thought that I should make a pair of more authentic stockings.
The pattern that I used I got from here. Except that I improvised the heel, because when I reached that stage I was too tired to read instructions and just improvised, and then did the second one the same way. The were knit on size 1,75 needles in Perin's baby sock yarn, which is wool and some synthetics to make them last longer.

My plan is to braid proper garters, but  for now I'm using woven ribbon. The shoes are modern, but in a period style, made for people who do folk dancing.


These lovely bridal gloves from Främmestad, dated 1800-1825, would also be suitable for my folk costume, for really festive occasions. They're made from red chamois leather and lined with sheepskin. Nordiska museet.

Another exampel of bridal gloves, from Håle parish, also at Nordiska museet.

Finally, since folk costumes aren't uniforms, and especially aprons, kerchiefs and caps were similar in many parts of Sweden I chose to make myself another apron from a reproduction fabric based on an apron from Varola, also in Västergötland. Mainly because I found a piece of the fabric at a thrift store. The original was red, but it has been reproduced in many colours. I used the same model as for my other cotton apron. In these phots I am wearing a silk kerchief which I also found at a thrift store.

All photos, except those of me, which are taken by my husband, and those of my garments and from Grästorp museum which are taken by me, belong to Nordiska museet or Västergötlands museum. 

3 kommentarer:

  1. Wonderful! But those stockings would never stay up on me, I would need Duck tape. Excellent work again.

  2. Nu när jag har läst din beskrivning blev jag ännu mer sugen på att sy en dräkt själv. På bilderna i digitala arkivet är inte snörhålen jämnt fördelade. De är tätare högst upp och längst ned. Varför är det så?

    1. Oj så dålig jag är på att kolla kommentarer - skyller på utmattningen. Det är frö att man snör i spiral och inte i kors - det är enda sättet att få det jämnt i över- och underkanterna då.