Eriline Eesti ikat: Lõuna-Läänemaa lapilised rahvarõivaseelikud / Woollen double ikat skirts of western Estonian traditional costume


  • Liis Luhamaa



This article investigates woollen skirts with double ikat motifs that were made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by women in the western Estonian parishes of Hanila, Karuse, Lihula, Kirbla and Martna. The skirts were worn as part of traditional costume. After the wearing of traditional costumes came to an end in the 1920s, these skirts ceased being made. As this craft has been not been practiced for almost 100 years, the skirts were largely forgotten.

The aim of this article is to give an overview of the materials, tools and methods used in the production of western Estonian double ikat skirt fabrics, to describe the principles used in sewing the skirts, and to describe the colours and patterns used in such skirts.

The material sources for this research comprise 30 double ikat skirts and skirt fabric pieces, as well as an ethnographic drawing of a traditional double ikat skirt. Of these 20 skirts and fabrics (as well as the drawing), ten were held in museums and ten were from private collections. The most important archival sources were Estonian National Museum manuscripts (from both the ethnographic and the correspondents’ archives), as well as dialect texts held by the Institute of the Estonian Language.

For western Estonian double ikat skirt fabrics, single woollen yarns were used (both for warp and weft). Fabrics were woven in plain weave with 14,4 ends per centimetre for the warp and 12 ends per centimetre for the weft, on average. Tow and flax in the form of both fibres and yarns were used as binding materials for tying the ikat yarns. No information was found about tools developed specifically for use with ikat, so it seems likely that general weaving tools were used. According to archival sources, warp yarn groups for ikat patterning were stretched to the same length as the rest of the warp on the warping mill, and then tied, taken down, and dyed. The ikat patterened warp yarns were added to the rest of the warp during warping in the same form, i.e. as warped groups.

There is no information as to how the tying pattern was applied to the yarns, but there is mentioned of the pattern for tying weft yarn being copied from the warp when the warp was already on the loom. Only synthetic dyes were used for dyeing. Both white and yellow yarns were used for ikat. Ikat motifs were re-tied and re-dyed to achieve a multicoloured effect. After weaving, the skirt fabrics were cut into panels, and then sewn together. Pattern matching was usually not a priority. Although about half of the double ikat skirts have pleats, analysis shows that double ikat skirts were without pleats traditionally.

The most common background colour for western Estonian double ikat skirts was red, although blue and purple fabrics have also survived. The view expressed in earlier works that blue skirts were mourning skirts is not supported here. The most populaar ikat motifs were yellow and white, but green, blue, pink and purple motifs were also used. Only two types of double ikat motifs were used, and both are simple and cross-shaped.

Two-thirds of the patterns are on a checkered ground and one-third are on a solid coloured ground. Based on the composition, the double ikat patterns of western Estonian skirts can be divided into four groups. The patterns are typically unique: there are only two instances were two skirts have exactly the same combination of pattern and colours. This supports the view that making traditional costumes that were exactly the same (as though they were uniforms) is not in line with traditional practice.

Keywords: traditional clothing, skirts, double ikat, western Estonia, weaving, dyeing


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Research Article