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. [Update: I did.]
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.
I would totally be there with them. For a 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.
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!)
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.
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.
They have revamped their website. 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,
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:
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.
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!
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.
Next up: details on how to make the shirt.
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.