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A Thousand Bodice Inserts

We were so lucky as to get to see the exhibition of 1000 Bodice Inserts at Hardanger Folkemuseum at Utne last October.

A bodice insert is a separate piece of fabric covering the front opening of the bodice on the folk costume from Hardanger and some other areas.

 

Folk costumes in Hardanger, and also in other areas in Norway, were influenced by continental fashions. The renaissance fashion trend with waist and skirt in differing colours, and often heavily decorated bodice inserts, kept its stronghold in this area till the costume was embraced as the National Costume of Norway in the late 1800s. It was a living tradition, so no need to go back to study old garments in order to reconstruct the costume, as has been done later in other areas to create local folk costumes. (We now have lots of different folk costumes in all areas of the country.)

 

Luckily a lot of old and new bodice inserts from Hardanger have been donated to the museum over the years. There are also collections in neighbouring districts, and some of these were also on display, – a total of more than 1000 bodice inserts, and not two alike.

 

People have used a variety of techniques to decorate the inserts, and cross stitch embroidery seems to have been a popular method. All the inserts on the wall to the left in the photo above, are decorated in this way.

 

The amount of decoration vary from very simple to elaborate. People used the same style of clothing both for every day use and for Sunday best and other festivities, and they often had several bodice inserts to fit the occasion.

Unadorned bodice inserts were used when attending funerals, and grieving.

 

The size of the inserts vary a lot. This may be due to variations of the waist front opening, and also the fact that people come in different sizes. A couple of hundred years ago, people were generally smaller than we are now.

Even though hardly two bodice inserts are alike, there are some common standards. They all have a ribbon hem on top. Most have a defined motif of various geometric shapes sewn on red or white fabric. Between the ribbon and motif there is often a border made of metal lace or ribbon, beads, or embroidery.  The decorated parts are mounted on a piece of fabric, which is mostly made of home woven wool or linen. This background fabric is not visible when the bodice insert is in use.

It is almost as interesting, – or perhaps more so, – to observe all the different background fabrics that have been used.

The most common geometric motif is by far the eight pointed star, also called an eight leafed rose in these parts. The variations are many, there may be one big star, or a few or several smaller ones set in a grid, most often on point. The grid itself may be narrow, or wider with geometric decor elements of its own.

In quilting terms we might call the decor on point blocks with narrow or wide sashings.

 

Quite a few inserts have beads on them.

At a time when most household items were home made, purchased objects would be regarded as finer and having a higher status. Beads have been produced and sold for many years, and bodice inserts decorated with beads were regarded as especially fine and for best use. The inserts can be dated by looking at the colour of the beads. White, green, mustard, and black beads were first available. Blue beads and straw beads came later. Also the older beads are bigger and of more irregular shape than newer ones.

The motifs are again mostly geometric borders and eight pointed stars, but also heart shaped decor has been popular.

 

On one insert with very small beads, they found that the maker had used horse hair to thread the beads. The horse hair is so stiff that you would not need a needle, which would perhaps have been to thick for the small pearl openings.

 

Pearls have been combined with both embroidery, metal lace and ribbons, and also applique as in some of the photos below..

 

There is a story about three vicar’s daughters from Ulvik who used to do very fine applique, mostly eight pointed stars. When their father died, they supported themselves by making fine bodice inserts for sale. At the time, paper was used inside the top hem to make it stiffer, and much later one of their father’s sermons was found inside one of these inserts.

 

 

Not all bodice inserts were made from woollen fabric. Some used fine imported silks, silk velvet and calamanco. A few of these were displayed behind glass.

 

The pattern darning technique has also been used to decorate bodice inserts.

Pattern darning is a very old embroidery technique, – even older than cross stitch, – and this technique has been used quite a lot.  Pattern darning is often used alongside other techniques, where the pattern darning will compose the grid, or framework, for the motif, while other techniques such as cross stitch or satin stitch, are used to fill in the pattern repetitions.

A very common motif on pattern darning inserts is the “eldjarnrose”, which looks like a modern day hashtag set on point. It is most often worked in black, while the surrounding grid has been made in red yarn.

 

This last group of photos show some inserts made in a variety of techniques, and some of them with unusual motifs. There are a few examples where the cross stitch embroidery patterns are made to look like bead embroidery or threaded bead grids. There is also one with a great variety of stitches, including the only example of chain stitch that I noticed.

Lastly, here is an insert mounted on a piece of fabric cut from a beautiful woven coverlet in the “krokbragd” pattern:

 

 

The exhibition was scheduled to be taken down last January, but due to its popularity, it has been extended till 1st November 2019. If you get the chance to visit, grab it with both hands.

It is well worth a visit.

 

🙂

Eldrid

 

 

Ukranian Folk Costumes

During the recent Olympic Games in Sochi, quilters everywhere admired the Games’ patchwork theme, which I wrote about back in May 2011.

The fact that the patchwork bits were inspired by different traditional crafts, including embroidery,  reminded me of some photos I took not very long ago, and which I intended to show you here.

The museum at Maihaugen, Lillehammer cooperated with the Museum of Folk Architecture and Customs of Lviv, Ukraine,  to show part of their collection of Ukrainian folk costumes at Lillehammer last summer.  We travelled through the area at that time, so we planned a stop at Lillehammer to visit the exhibition.

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I have spent some time during the last week or so, sorting through the photos I took there. Meanwhile, the political situation in Ukraine has escalated, and is still unresolved and threatening as I write this.

Amidst all the turmoil, maybe it is fitting in this situation to also have a look at the beauty that has been created in this region. One term that comes to mind after studying these dresses is: “Flower Power” 🙂

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As the small poster accompanying the exhibition tells us, the costumes are from late 19th century and first half of 20th century, during which time the sewing machine came into use. The poster explains how the shape of the costumes changed after the introduction of the sewing machine. (Click on the photo to enlarge).

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At the exhibition, the costumes were divided into two groups: before and after the introduction of sewing machines. The latter group, above, has costumes with sewn waists, while the group below has the older long shirts with woven belts.

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Here I will post some photos of the youngest costumes, and will have to make a new post with the older ones later.

(Click on the small photos above to see the full version of the photos.)

Like we do with quilts, I find it interesting to study how things were done, and to sometimes wonder why. The joyful red colour of the embroidery above (which seems to have been colourfast, by the way) is very prominent on the white background, and would certainly stand out in a crowd. The shirt is very well made with lots of detail and even stitches, and the edges of both the collar and the cuffs are beautifully finished off with embroidery stitches. From a distance the waistcoat is the most eye-catching piece, with the larger flower embroideries.

However, when looking closely, one can see that there is a difference in workmanship between the shirt and the waistcoat, and also in the waistcoat itself, namely between the embroidery and the general construction, including the machine stitching. It looks as if more than one person has been involved in the making, or perhaps some older item with embroideries still intact, has been remade into a waistcoat. Lots of questions pop up when you start looking closely.  The buttonholes, for example, puzzled me especially, – why buttonholes (and not very well made at that) and no buttons? At least the maker took care to cut them in between the flowers so as not to ruin, or unravel, any embroidery stitches.

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The “make-do”- phenomenon, which we often see in quilting, is also present here. The maker seems to have run out of the flowery ribbon and had to use some yellowish ribbon instead on top of the left front piece (to the right on the photos). It goes both vertically and horizontally at the top, but in the corresponding horizontal space on the other front piece, there is no ribbon at all. Again the question pops up: why?

The skirt raises similar questions. It  looks like hand embroidery, but the border patterns do not fit at the seams, at least not all of them. Why go to all that work and not have the pattern fit?

But let me assure you: none of these questions entered my head while walking through the exhibition. At the time I was just impressed with the gorgeousness of it all, and had no time to contemplate the details. It is when I look at the photos afterwards that I start noticing things.  So, any young or older woman wearing this costume, would just look beautiful, I think.

Below are more costumes, and similar questions could be asked about a few of them. There is always something to wonder about when you are curious, but I will try to not repeat myself too much.

This one was quite restricted colour-wise, – only “a few” coloured flowers and leaves on the vest, –  but the blackwork on the shirt is to die for. You can also see that the machine stitching in black is very well done. The distance between the two parallel seams is so even that one might suspect a twin needle has been used.

There was no written information about the individual costumes beyond the general information on the poster at the top, except for the name of the region the costume came from. The two above, and the next two below are all from the Lviv Region.

The costumes were behind ropes, and the lighting was a bit varied. I had to zoom in on some details where I could not reach close enough with the camera, so not all my photos came out great. I could only use the flash sparingly, so on some of the darker costumes, the details do not show up very well, or they are a bit out of focus. Still, I chose to post some of the lesser photos anyway.

Here the flowers are blooming in a riot of colours. The shirt has lots of flowers arranged in orderly borders. It is interesting to observe the arrangement of the decorative elements on the shoulder pieces. Also, I love the creative use of colours in the embroidery on the vest.

This costume strikes me as a celebration of earthly gifts: golden wheat fields with poppies in them, and an abundance of grapes. And then the flowers on the apron. The amount of work to make a dress like this is awe-inspiring.

The pattern of the necklace could be an inspiration to any quilter.

This costume is from the Polissya region. The flowers have been left behind, except for the cuffs. Also notice that the embroidered pattern on the collar is widely different from the one on the cuffs, – and then the shoulders and sleeves have yet another pattern, which is a bit similar to the woven pattern on the skirt.

I found this costume especially interesting as it was the only one with sewing that resembled quilting on the waistcoat, – or maybe the term machine embroidery could be used.

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Also, we can deduce that at one point the owner must have put on weight, or the dress has been passed on to a new owner and needed to be fitted.  As you can see, some of the buttons have been moved.  The old positions are still visible for the two buttons at the bottom. With the buttons in the old positions, the quilted leaves forming a zig-zag pattern, would have fitted nicely at the front, so this was well planned from the beginning.

When looking closely, you may also notice that the red fabric in the waist border is a twill fabric, while both the red and black fabrics above are satin weave.  The two red colours are so similar that the difference is not noticeable, except when looking very closely.  With so many different elements coming together, one could almost call this a patchwork project 🙂

The last costume for now comes from the Boiko area, and is almost solemn compared to the riot of colours displayed on most of the previous ones. As with the  rest of the costumes, the shirt does not lack decor, particularly on the shoulder pieces. I also love the smocking on top of the sleeves.

This was it for now.

I will start sorting through the rest of the photos, and eventually write another post showing you the older costumes.

🙂

Eldrid