The course was a collaboration between the Estonian National Museum, Rahvakultuuri Arendus- ja Koolituskeskus, Tartumaa Rahvakultuuri Keskselts ja Jõgevamaa Koostöökoda. She visited her sister in Perth recently and agreed to share her journey with us.
The course included extensive research on the original garments kept in the Estonian National Museum and learning the many different techniques needed to make all the elements of clothing. The idea was also to expand folk-knowledge through the long-term experience of teachers and ethnographers. Evelin began the evening by explaining most of the folk dresses that remain in the museums in Estonia are the pidu clothes or the special event dresses. We discovered just how varied the patterns were in the different areas of Estonia and that there are currently over 3,000 different patterns for striped skirts in the museum collections. Evelin had no idea before joining the course just how many garments are kept in the Estonian National Museum and how precious the collection is to our cultural heritage. People in her course made costumes from different parts of Estonia including Põltsamaa, Pilistvere, Tori, Tartu-Maarja, Põlva, Martna and Setu.
Evelin held us spellbound with the intricacies involved in making each step of the outfit. It was important to have the correct period as well as the correct items in the ensemble to be authentic. Evelin chose to make an outfit from Vaivara because although she lives in Tartu her mother is from north eastern Estonia. She began with stitching the pattern on the midriff blouse which took 10 months. She even handmade the lace from gold thread for the edge of the blouse because the right pattern was not available to buy.
We learnt how important it was to follow the rules so the national dress is worn correctly. There were many nuances we were not aware of. One classmate had completed her tanu (or coif) but not her apron at graduation time. She was advised to wear neither so she was dressed as an unmarried woman. Once married a woman should wear both the tanu and apron.
Evelin showed us how to correctly wear the figured belt which was unbelievably tight. The purpose of the belt is to hold up the skirt, tuck in the blouse and also to provide back support. Once you have been wrapped tightly in the belt for a few hours you can't help but have good posture. No matter how wide your hips it is still important to maintain a curve even if several skirts and belts were worn on top of each other.
We learnt that jewelry was to show off your wealth and standing in the community. Interestingly, once a daughter married her mother would pass on the jewelry to her. One woman in the group was told she had too much jewelry for her age at the graduation and her outfit was for a younger woman. Evelin has also studied throat beads from the 1900s. When a baby girl was born she would receive a ribbon with one bead and for birthdays and significant events on her life she would receive a new bead.
The photo of the graduating class elicited many sighs of appreciation because the outfits were simply breath taking. The colours were stunning, the workmanship extraordinary, the beading and needlework must have been a labour of love. Out of forty people that started the course only sixteen completed the two years. Evelin brought her final paper and many photos showing examples of all the work.
After the talk Evelin gave us a demonstration of "kirivöö" or figured belt weaving and several girls are keen to make their own. The course was taught in Tartu by Silvi Allimann, Virve Valtmann-Valdson, Piia Rand and Reet Piiri who were all very professional tutors encouraging the course participants and making sure the bar was kept very high. Evelin presented the Perth Käsitöö group with the new book, Eesti Kirivöö by Piia Rand and we gave her a book on Aboriginal art showing the very traditional rules and patterns from the Central and Western Desert of Western Australia.
As well as completing the course, Evelin works and has a husband and three children. I asked her mother, Vivan if she was also a keen handicrafter (I'm sure she is as both her daughters are so talented) but she said she was happy to look after the children so Evelin could spend more hours stitching. Evelin compares the course to a university degree program as it was great madness at times to juggle between all the everyday responsibilities and the handicraft. However, she is still convinced that the experience has given her such an abundant passion for traditional Estonian folk costumes that she is sure to pass on to her daughter one day. Currently the family is enjoying visiting the north of Western Australia.
I'm sure I speak for all the Käsitöö girls in Perth thanking Evelin for sharing her inspiration and knowledge and also to her sister Kersti for encouraging her to speak and providing a rapid simultaneous translation to the non Estonian speakers who joined us.