Rahvarõiva võlu ja valu / The beauty and pain of folk costumes


  • Ele Praks




Last year, Estonian folk costume enthusiasts were blessed with two new comp-rehensive handbooks: a volume on Pärnu County folk costumes published by Saara Publishing House and Pärnu Museum (written by Ülli Kont, Anu Randmaa and Inna Raud, 280 pp), and a volume on Viru County folk costumes published by the Estonian National Museum based on Kersti Loite’s Master’s thesis defended at the University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy (415 pp).

Folk costumes have unquestionably been the most striking and distinctive part of Estonian material culture, an integral part of, and a tangible basis for, Estonian identity. Owning, making and wearing folk costumes has been a means of non-violent political struggle and the silent expression of attitude. In a problematic world of blurring borders and increasing lack of variety, we seem to be facing a new eruption in nationalist sentiment, so the appearance of these books is rather symbolic.Both volumes seek to lend a hand to those making and wearing folk costu-mes, and to provide as detailed a picture as possible of the diversity of patterns and styles; in other words – to improve current practices.

The volume on Pärnu folk costumes is dramatic, attractive, and aesthetically well devised, containing diagrams of the patterns used, as well as gripping desc-riptions of the items.

The short foreword and conclusion of Kersti Loite’s book on Viru folk costu-mes also indicate a desire to provide assistance to enthusiasts – this is supported by some diagrams, as well as the sewing patterns included with the book. But Loite’s hefty tome (hefty, in the literal sense) is also a comprehensive study of the museology of the Estonian National Museum, mapping in detail not only all the items and the information available on them but also the collectors, donors, and previous studies.

I would like to hope that in coming years, the alumni of the University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy continue to publish works of equal quality on local folk costumes – books that are fascinating and stimulating to read in themselves, but which can also be consulted for creating an authentic, wea-rable, distinctive, yet maximally ‘accurate’ set of clothes. Why the scare quotes? Because someone feeling safe and secure with their heritage should not be afraid of moving on from the nineteenth century. Hopefully, the birthing of the next handbooks will be that much easier, now that these two, with both specific vir-tues and small deficiencies, have paved the way. 


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