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 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.

On Swedish folk costumes 
Folk costumes in Sweden can be divided into three categories: preserved, reconstructed and 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 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 is the only costume that retains features from the 17th century. Most common is influence from the second half of the 18th century and after that.

 My folk costume My folk costume comes from Åse and Viste härad in south-western Sweden. It is roughly were I grew up and definitely part of the area I call home. It is a reconstructed costume based partly on preserved garments and I will discuss them separately.


The särk, or smock/shift is based on a man's wedding shirt from the early 19th century. The people who were responsible for the reconstruction, which took place in the late 70s, were unfortunately not very knowledgeable in the area of period clothing. They made this shirt into a short blouse, a garment that never was worn in popular costume from the time. As this version is "officially sanctioned" by the concerned local people I didn't want to discard it altogether, but to at least make it logn enough to cover my bum. The most common type of shift in the beginning of the 19th century was 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 but added a lower part and turned it into a 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 at the shoulder of the shift.

The bodice is made after a preserved bodice from the last three decades of the 18th century. You can see it here on the web site Digitalt Museum. My specific bodice is from Viste, but there is a similar one from Åse, the other part of the district. You can see it here. As you can see the only difference between the bodices are that the checks in the fabric are slightly different, but the colours are the same. 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 1770-1790. Most of them are red, but you can also find pink and green examples. And checked, apparently.

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 bodice is rather short, it ends a few centimetres above the natural waist. When the costume was first reconstructed they didn't keep the embroidery from the original (which is now at Nordiska Museet), since they thought it was a later development and they thought that an "older" version would be better. Taking away the embroidery and the boning from the original model they added darts instead. There are so many problems with that that I don't know where to start, but of course the people who make this costume nowadays have taken away the darts and returned to the original cut. Some still leave out the embroidery though. Since this type of embroidery is so common on other bodices from the same time I doubt that a version without the embroidery and boning would be "older" or more period correct.
   The working group that put the costume together in the end of the 1970s did a great job in gathering information about preserved garments from the local area, but this clearly shows the need of someone who knows something about period clothing in general and especially about folk costume in such working groups. Another common mistake done by women making folk costumes all over the country is that they make their bodices too loose. They want them to fit like a modern waistcoat or jacket and not like they were fitted in the past.

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.

The apron is a copy of a wedding apron from the late 18th century. It is from printed cotton, which was popular in the period. This cotton fabric is seen in aprons from other parts of Sweden and even Norway too. The apron has small cartridge pleats and a dart in each side, but the center front is left ungathered. It is a few centimetres shorter than the skirt and is closed with a hook and eye in one side. This is the apron used for festive occasions. The everyday apron is dark blue with stripes and is half wool.

 This is one of two scarves that belong to the costume. This one is for everyday wear and is made of cotton, The scarf was either worn around the neck or tied over the embroidered cap, which was seldom uncovered out of doors.

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.

Bindmössa/ hard cap
The most common headwear for all 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 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. The white lace is called a stycke and is a separate part that probably is the remnant of what once was a cap similar to the elizabethan coif. 

There are also at least two preserved red caps that can be used with this costume, but I don't think anybody does.

Stockings and shoes
At first I used bougth knee high stockings which had  ribbing and some elastan at the top. 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.

The original plan was to braid proper garters for this challenge too, but I have had way too much work to do, so for now I'm using woven ribbon. The shoes are modern, but in a period style, made for people who do folk dancing.

 Material and sewing 
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. In reality it is not that simple. For example my bodice only had five eyelets on each side in the original. Everybody else who makes this bodice copies this, no matter if their bodice is ten centimetres longer than the original (the original owner was very small). I chose to have the same spacing between the eyelets instead and ended up with many more eyelets since I have at least a 20 cm longer torso than she had. Which is right? Five eyelets would not have been functional on my much longer body, the bodice wouldn't have fit very well. I chose to make a bodice that was similar to the original, the way a bodice for a much larger woman would have been similar, but not exactly the same, in period. 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. The latter seems to be a problem for many wearers who can't live without their lipstick though. And who won't wear hats. As with people making historical costumes the things people seem to have the most most problem with are: covering the head, not showing your modern hair styles, make-up etc. Shoes are very expensive so a lot of people have discreet modern shoes in a similar style.
  Forty years ago women also tended to make their skirts too short and wear nylon stockings, though most wear machine knit wool stockings with elastic in them now.

Like in historical re-creation groups there are very strong feelings about what is "right" and "wrong" when it comes to folk costumes and some people feel they have the right to be mean to people they don't think meet their standards. For me what is important is what is right for me, and that is a high level of authenticity, even when it means that I have to do things differently than the norm, and that people enjoy making and wearing their costumes. Since making a folk costume is a huge investment in both money, time and emotions people don't discard their old costumes just because the trend is towards more authenticity. We just have to think about that nobody wants to be wrong intentionally and there are as much feeling invested in a costume made thirty years ago with some machine stitching and way too short skirt as it is in a new costume, made after all the "rules".

2 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?