Making a Tinn bunad, part 1: backstory and overview

A tutorial for the truly desperate Norwegian-American.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional seamstress; I am a determined amateur. Also, I am not a native Norwegian. If you have some insight about the following post, please leave a comment. Thanks! Og hvis dere vil lese om emnet på norsk, se gjerne her.

If you are a regular reader of this sporadic blog, you know most of the beginning to this story already. I apologize for restating it, but this is just the sort of subject that will draw  one-time readers for years to come. For them I begin with the background.

I am an American of Northern European descent and I identify primarily with my Norwegian side. Three of my Nordic ancestors hailed from the fjord-coast villages in Sogn og Fjordane, north of Bergen, and one was born of Telemarker parents; her mother was from Sauland in eastern Telemark and her father was born in Atrå, which is a woodsy riverside section of north-eastern Telemark next to Tinn. Beautiful place; I’ve seen pictures. I hope to see it in person on one of these trips to Norway.

So, part of me is from Tinn.

Norwegians have a special affinity for and are rather particular about their national costumes, which are called “bunader” (plural) or “en bunad” (singular). Each region of the long, thin country has its own, both for men and women. Some folks are really strict about the exact interpretation of each costume while some people are slightly more flexible. Must the shoes have a buckle? Can 15mm buttons be used instead of 13mm? Red petticoat or no? There is an entire monthly magazine dedicated to the subject of bunader and their various forms. Furthermore, there have been rules in the past about who can wear which one; you had to be from that particular area. Those rules have softened a bit in the last decade.

Norwegians have figured out how to market these various niche dresses and outfits to each other (with the possible exception of the Tinn bunad), but have not yet opened up the world of bunad boutiques directly to the many Americans who are descended from Norwegian emigrants. Perhaps this preserves the purity of the art of the bunad… I’m not sure. Anyway, Ebay has a few for sale at the time of this writing, ranging in price from $750 to $4,800 and Larsen husflid has a few used ones as well. You would have to be pretty serious to fork over that kind of money for an outfit you’re going to wear once a year- and probably in the rain. By most estimates, there should be about 5 million Americans who claim Norwegian heritage. By comparison, the population of Norway is… yup, 5 million. Not all Norwegian-Americans would wear a Norwegian national costume for the 17th of May celebration, of course, but many people do.
Norsk folk dancing

17. Mai Fest in Salt Lake City, Utah, 2015 ©Maren Mecham

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I would totally be there with them. For Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 8.55.31 PMa mere 35.447 NOK (roughly $4,335) I could purchase all the parts to a basic dress and all the appropriate silver jewelry for a women’s Sogn og Fjordane bunad directly from a shop in Norway. Shipping, of course, would be extra. Let’s hope it would fit correctly.

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As any right-minded American might ask: isn’t there another way?

Americans innovate, right? Well, innovation in the realm of bunader is strictly forbidden. But creation isn’t. So, looking at the 3 bunader from which I could legitimately choose, I went with the Tinn bunad. It is less frequently seen (read: impossible to find), more unique, allows for more individual expression, is said to require less silver (cheaper??), and is a very pretty shade of clover green. Plus it has such lovely embroidery….(Oh my!)

Tinn bunad Duran 1

Used with permission.

Tinn bunad Duran 2

Used with permission.



Bunader from relatively populated areas can be purchased in beautiful and personally-attentive Norwegian boutiques (for jaw-dropping prices) and some can be hand-made using kits that can be purchased somewhere in Norway- or so I’ve heard. The actual acquiring of such a pattern- even by a semi-Norwegian-speaking American- is difficult at best.

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Looking for a pattern, finding limited information.

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Of the two leads given above, one was the little sewing shop of a woman who can be found at the Tinn Handwork Center. On the old version of the website (when I began this project), I could see pictures of bunader hanging in their display area, but there was no way to contact them aside from a phone number. And, though I was quite desperate, I was not going to call them. I’ll bet Arne doesn’t even have Skype. Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 1.10.59 PM

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They had revamped their website but it has since disappeared completely. You can read about the center at the VisitTelemark website or on their Facebook page. Hope of finding out more information about who makes Tinn bunader or maybe how to find one might be hard to come by.

The other lead given by the fellow at Bunadtilvirkerne was to contact a lovely group of women who specialize in bunader from Telemark: Almankås. Their website shows a gorgeous selection of the OTHER two Telemark bunader: from East and West Telemark. Apparently, very few people make the Tinn bunad anymore. Below is my correspondence with them. They were very gracious and kindly gave the names of three individuals in the Tinn area who might know something. Maybe. But how to contact them was another matter. (Well, it was a start, anyway….)


Til Ingebjørg Almankås AS,

… Jeg søker etter en mønster for slik bunad (særlig det grønne livet) og det spesifikke bandet for en Tinn bunad. Jeg vet at dere spesialisere seg i bunader fra Telemark og jeg lurer på om dere har informasjon om bandet og mønstre fra Tinnområdet. Det er veldig vanskelig å finne noe herfra. Hvis dere ikke har informasjonen, vet dere hvem kan hjelpe?

Mange, mange takk,
Maren

Hei!
Vi har dessverre ikke bunad fra Tinn i vårt utvalg. Det er veldig få personer som driver med denne etter som jeg forstår.

Mulig du kan få noe informasjon fra disse navnene jeg har:
[3 navn]


Those of you from the American Mid-West will undoubtedly be wondering, “Can’t you get that sort of thing from Ingebretsen’s in Minneapolis?” Nope. I asked about patterns and embroidery in 2013, but even they could not find anything.


Hi Maren,
 
Marlys is at one of the University of Minnesota libraries.  As you will see below, she is working hard on your Tinn request.  I see that you also discovered the folk costume blog she found because it included an e-mail from you to the blogger.  Hopefully, one of the future blogs will give you what you are looking for. 
 
I also checked with the Nancy, the librarian at the Textile Center of Minnesota, and she did some research for you in that library’s collection.  The Director of the Goldstein Gallery at the University of Minnesota also went to bat for you.  Everyone has been SO eager to help you, but they haven’t turned up what you need.  Cross your fingers that Marlys will run across something.
Best wishes,
Sandy
 
Hi Sandy,
I started looking for what we had here.  Many of the books were in Wilson Library (Mpls., West Bank). I had the titles sent over here.  I have some information for your customer, probably not what she was hoping for, I’ve included some links I found on Internet.  I’ll also send you some photocopies of either diagrams of patterns, or photos of the costume. Many of the descriptions are in Norwegians but usually have a color photo.

http://folkcostume.blogspot.com/2012/06/costume-and-rosemaling-embroidery-of.html

http://pinterest.com/p8ronella/eu-no-telemark/

http://www.amazon.com/Traditional-embroidery-Telemark-Norway-Ukraine/dp/3845407921

It will take me a few days, as I have to gather it all up. We are also getting ready for Fall Semester.  One of our librarians goes to Norway periodically and I can ask him for some suggestions for Norwegian mail sources of kits, etc.
Thanks for your patience!

-Marlys


And that’s all I heard from either of them. I did not follow up with further requests for information for several reasons, including the fact that I was not ready to start the project at the time, but also because it appeared that they were doing essentially the same research that I was.
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After such fruitless casting about for information as I described above, I had a stroke of marvelous luck. If you are a person who believes that your ancestors can go to bat for you on the other side and make connections for you, this could well be one of those situations.

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As I was combing through flickr.com for photos to use as resources and patterns, I came across some gorgeous images of Telemark textiles by a photographer named Tom Holmberg. Mr. Holmberg’s images from a local textile exhibition were detailed and beautiful, and I decided to ask if I could have permission to use one or two for a future post. He was quite nice, and we exchanged emails several times regarding the topic of bunader. His wife sews them and attends an evening bunad course. (Imagine such an opportunity!!) She was willing to find a contact for me regarding a source for the woven belt that belongs to the Tinn bunad. The Holmbergs introduced me to a woman who specializes in Tinn bunader. In fact, one of the very same three women whose names were given to me by Almankås (above). Yes, one of the women for whom I could not find the contact information. Yes, one of the only three women who could actually help me- like in this whole world, probably. My language skills were coming in handy daily as we corresponded in Norwegian several times. I’m not perfect, but she was very patient.
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In fact, Ms. Ohren has been more than kind. She agreed to weave the 3-meter long band/belt that cannot be found online and which I do not have the skill to create myself- yes, at Norwegian prices, but she’s Norwegian, so, yeah. She said it would take three months and cost 1.200 NOK ($140-ish at the time of this writing). I would have it by Christmas!
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She was also gracious enough to offer to make a vest pattern for me based on my own measurements. I mean, really, what are the odds that I would ever find this source? I was feeling very fortunate, indeed. I sent her a picture of my first pattern prototype and she said it was okay. She had offered to whip one up for me and I knew I would accept. A custom-made Tinn bunad vest pattern. For free. Giddy doesn’t even come close. I anticipated this like few other packages. Now that I have the pattern in hand, I will begin the exacting task of translating/understanding her instructions and constructing one of the hardest parts of this project.

The Process:
Here are the basic steps I recommend in order to make a Tinn bunad. I will elaborate on each step in upcoming blog posts, so you’ll want to stay tuned for all the wooly details. The instructions I will give assume a moderate skill level with a sewing machine, embroidery needle and pattern modification- or at least a willingness to try until successful.

Be patient; this is truly a labor of love. In fact, I found a conversation about bunader online in which one woman said, in Norwegian, “I always wanted to have a Tinn bunad, but I would have had to have ordered it 4 years in advance.” So she bought the East-Telemark bunad instead. Yup. Four. Years. I will have done mine in less than one, all told. (Maybe there is just a slightly larger demand than supply over there?)

1. Start sourcing materials. You will need light-weight white cotton or cotton-linen blend, black and green wool yardage, cotton black velvet fabric (1 yard), a lining material (heavy linen), wool embroidery thread in a variety of colors, black jacquard (silk, wool or polyester), a certain inkle-woven belt, 12 silver buttons, two cuff links and a set of neck buttons (sorry- you will have to order those last 4 items from Norway), some sølje (silver brooches of a specific variety which can be purchased from Norway- or Ebay if you are lucky), pilgrim shoes or lace-up Victorian boots, and a long red cotton underskirt if you want to be really proper. There are a few other optional items: an woven hair band or a black hat, two silk scarves and a wool jacket or a cape. I will give all the information I can about sources in the upcoming posts.

1. Make the white shirt, with or without white-on-white cross-stitch at the collar and cuffs. Such needlework isn’t strictly part of the Tinn bunad, but that’s the way mine looks. (See, I have a hard time sticking to the rules. But I’m trying….) The shirt I made is modified from a men’s Revolutionary War era reproduction shirt pattern. (To the Norwegian readers: no laughing.) I only had to make it twice- including the needlework- to get it right….

2. Sew a full black wool skirt. This is the easiest part! Then begin the rosesaum band for the hem; expect it to take a long time. This is the part that makes the bunad your own. The Tinn bunad is special in that it is one of the bunader for which the embroidery patterns are not strictly specified. Tinn embroidery has a certain look to it, but the creator designs her own pattern and gives it her own touch. It is the mistakes- I mean artistic variations- here that make it yours. This part takes forever, especially if you are creating your pattern from scratch and have never really done this kind of needlework before, but it can be done! I estimate that I was working at about an inch an hour in the beginning. My speed picked up slightly as I gained experience with the work. Mine skirt band was about 100 inches long. You will put in a few hundred hours just doing the embroidery. You can read more here and here.

3. Begin the beautiful rosesaum embroidery for the vest. My vest strap pieces were about 48 inches long each.

4. Create a pattern for the vest- or adapt mine to your measurements. I am making multiple prototypes of the vest before I expect to reach a version which I feel comfortable committing to expensive green wool. Finally, trim the vest in black velvet ribbon and add the 12 silver buttons and the 4 black strips of rosesaum embroidery.

5. Sew a black apron with embroidery along the bottom and a specific woven sash set in a particular way along the top. More rosesaum, of course. This is where one begins to think that $4,800 is pretty doggone cheap considering the amount of time (and money) going into this project. And while we’re at it, for that price, I could have bought a fancy electronic embroidery machine, a loom, and a herd of sheep….

6. Put all the pieces together and go find your local Syttende Mai celebration! Buy yourself a $5 bottle of Solo- you’ve totally earned it.

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Next up: details on how to make the shirt.

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Good resources:
Norges Bunader og Samiske Folkedrakter by Heidi Fossnes, published by Cappelen, 1993

The Scandinavian Folklore series by Laila Durán, published by Duran Publishing, 2012

Other sources to follow in the various sections.

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5 thoughts on “Making a Tinn bunad, part 1: backstory and overview

  1. Pingback: Making a Tinn Bunad, Part 2: The Shirt (Skjorten) | Thirty Marens Agree

  2. 1. The white shirt is most commonly made by cotton. And is quite easy to make.
    2. Make the “rosesaum” – the embroidery.
    3. Make a pattern, and sew the vest.
    4. Make the black skirt.
    5. Make the apron.
    6. Put it all together.

    The silver may be ordered online at http://www.sando.no

    • Thank you! If one is new to this sort of project, would it be easier to work on the skirt first and get lots of practice doing the rosesaum there before working on the upper part? Or does the vest have to come first? I will have a write-up on Sando when I get to the accessories a few posts from now. I just have to check a few facts…. 🙂

      • The rosesaum is embroidered on pieces of wool, and stiched to the dress later. Normaly you make all of the rosesaum – for the skirt and the vest, before you start making the vest.

  3. Pingback: Making a Tinn bunad, part 3: the skirt (stakken) | Thirty Marens Agree

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