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“Kappakjolen” – the Story of a Dress

We have just celebrated my mothers 90th birthday this weekend, and during the festivities, an old family photograph turned up. Below I have cropped the photo so it just shows  a 7 or 8 years old me in the most beautiful dress I have ever owned.

My mother related the story of the dress, which for the most part I knew, but there were some new-to-me details. Anyway, here it is:

My parents had built their house close to my paternal grandparents’ home, and we moved in when I was two years old. At about the same time, an old chapel (bedehus) was taken from its original location and moved further into the valley, closer to the farms where we lived. My paternal grandmother, Helene, and neighbouring women formed a society with the aim of raising money for a new organ for the chapel. They organized bazaars and raffles, and my mother helped by making some of the prizes for the raffles. She made this dress and gave it to the society to use as a raffle prize. She made it out of a thin, white nylon fabric with tiny raised dots, using an old Bernina treadle machine, and at a time in life when she had 4 children aged 1 to 6, was expecting her 5th child, and still had no washing machine. How she mustered the time and energy I do not know. Just hemming all those ruffles would have taken forever.

My grandmother Helene won the dress at the raffle, and she gave it to me, probably because I was the right size for it at the time. Lucky me.

The first time I remember wearing it, was during the Christmas celebrations when I was 5. By then I was in a hospital in Oslo, 600 kilometres away from home, and alone, except for some distant relatives and friends visiting now and then. When it was decided that I would not be able to come home for Christmas, my parents sent the dress and a pair of not-quite-new shoes, which my father had made glossy and new-looking by applying some black lacquer, so I would have something nice to wear for the celebrations. I remember the nurses oohing and aahing over my dress, and I was very, very proud of it.

Later I remember wearing it to the Sunday school Christmas celebrations at the chapel, where there now was an organ, partly thanks to the dress that my mother made. We did not have a car (they were rationed till 1960), so my parents loaded the family on two kicksleds, two children on each seat, and one standing between the seat and the parent, who then kicked our way the 3 kilometres to the chapel. Once a storm blew up on our way home, and I can still remember the feeling of hails stinging my face as we crossed an open, boggy area before we got in between the trees. Of course we were all dressed as if we were going on a polar expedition, but the beautiful dress was underneath it all. So the first thing we did upon arriving, was to go downstairs to shed all the thick wool, put on our best shoes we had brought along, and then it was time for my mother to comb our hairs and put in the big bows (which I hated, by the way) before entering the big room. 60 years later I have been told by some of my contemporaries that they still remember that dress.

The photo above is the only one that exists of that dress, that I know of. I was then 7 or 8 years old, and the dress is already too small. Later it went to my two younger sisters, each in their turn. I am not sure what became of it after that, but it was probably passed on to some younger cousins, – that was how things were done back then. If so, I hope they enjoyed wearing it as much as I did.

🙂

Eldrid

 

Lagre

Lagre

Lagre

Lagre

Lagre

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4 Responses

  1. What a wonderful story! I’m so glad you shared it and that you have at least one picture. I too remember some beloved handmade clothes (not as beautiful as that) that I wore until they were far too small just because I couldn’t bear to part with them.

  2. Wow – what a talented mother – I can see where you get your skills from! And she made it for the church? I guess donating the fabric costs as well as the time – how lovely that it came back to your home!!!! Xxxx

    • Thank you, Benta. As I remember, fabric was not as expensive back then, compared to ready made clothes, – it actually paid to make ones own. Nowadays fabric is more expensive than clothes, so adding the time it takes to sew, you end up with very expensive garments. Kind of backwards, in a way.

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