Norway - VOSS Costume

Teaching Traditional Culture and Building Community Through Costume

"When Jane [Farwell] was teaching German dances, that would be the theme, we would be dressed in lederhosen, dirndls, and fancy dance costumes” - Lila Boyd , Interview 1995

Lila Boyd, Interview in 1995

At Folklore Village, the costume collections serve a wide variety of purposes. First and foremost, Jane’s lessons used costumes to teach about the cultures that they came from.  Jane gave this lesson on Norwegian bunads in an interview in 1995.

“The bunads, as they are called in Norway, were copied from the court and came down through the centuries through the little villages to the land, to the little villages. And then they had to reproduce them with whatever they had to make them with. Every cottage had a weaving room but you had to grow flax for the linen and you had to grow wool, I mean you had to have sheep for the skirts and things. And almost entirely, except for a few exceptions, they were made out of wool and linen entirely….There was not any one person that made them, you made them for yourself, but more especially you made them for your partner kin, so for your niece. You didn’t get to wear it until you were confirmed. It was beautiful to see the processional of the girls and guys as they came out of the churches.

Below, we’ve included more quotes from Farwell as she explains the details of a variety of Norwegian folk costumes.

"This one is from Fana, which is from the mountains above Bergen. And typical of this area, the costumes are red, green and black, mostly....we sometime call this the dress that sweeps a man off his feet." (Folklore Village Collection)
Farwell: "Now, there is a rule that a different color band  must be sewed (on the bottom) when the young girl gets married ..." Interviewer: "So the bottom starts off green when they are single?" Farwell: "Well actually, to be real honest, I think it’s black and then the color gets sewed on afterwards." (Folklore Village Collection)
"This is from Voss in Norway. Which is in the mountains. It has many of the of the same customs as Hardanger, including the apron, which is Hardanger embroidery. Very few of the other costumes have the band around the bottom." (Folklore Village Collection)
"This one has a damask bodice. It should have a linen blouse with a collar… otherwise it would look just about like this...And the pin is a special Gudbrandsdal pin. And the peculiarities of the pins make it impossible to exchange. You cannot use one pin with another costume. You must use the pin that belongs to your valley." (Folklore Village Collection)
"All of them have what are called 'stomachers,' which is what this has... It is a tapestry, in other words, an embroidered stomacher.... One of our local dancers embroidered that from threads that we brought from Norway. She got the pattern from the original town it's from. It’s absolutely authentic." (Folklore Village Collection)
"Notice that the breast piece is beaded, rather than embroidered, like the other one we saw. And this happened at a later stage in Norwegian costume development when the Hanseatic league of Germany had come into the ports of Bergen and the ladies went wild about the beads. And so from then on not only Voss, but Hardanger had the beads on the stomacher." (Folklore Village Collection)
“This is from the Gudbrandsdal valley in Norway. And it is from the village of Lom. There is a bit of difference in all the different costumes from all the different villages....And it has no apron, as you notice." (Folklore Village Collection)
"The embroidery is from the border of Sweden. So it imitates the 'crewel' embroidery of the Swedes.” (Folklore Village Collection)

Through traditional clothing, Jane taught about the types of relationships that people had with each other, the materials they were surrounded by, and the activities that they participated in. Jane’s stories of these costumes also tell us about her own life, the places she visited, and the people she connected with. In the images above, for example, we see Jane’s deep knowledge and respect for the clothing. We learn from her how the stomacher in a Norwegian context, for example, undergoes change like so many traditions; we learn about the ways the clothing is used to signify different life stages; we even learn about some of the “rules” that are a part of wearing regional pins, for example. This collection, thanks to the work of Farwell and others, helps us better understand the ways in which clothing is used and passed down and how that clothing helps people connect to a community.

Makers and Makers-do:

Many of the collectors of costumes involved in folk dance believed that the costumes were meant to be worn, rather than just put on display. At Folklore Village these costumes were used and danced in by many people. In that process, the costumes often became worn, jumbled, or lost. Community members stepped in to help make these repairs or modifications and used their skills and the materials at hand, very much in the spirit of the historic garments they are modeled after.  Community members often have fond memories of wearing and using these costumes and frequently told stories about certain moments that they repaired or salvaged these garments, but the practice of wearing and using costumes sometimes meant mixing old and new materials or borrowing pieces from other garments. 

Sometimes, things went missing when the garments were used at shows. This Dala-Floda Dress was Farwell's favorite and she frequently misplaced the hat, but "somehow, it always turned up." (Folklore Village Collection)
According to Farwell, this Latvian costume "was purchased in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but it was only half done, and we didn’t know it! The embroidery on the grey vest was only done on one side and so we found someone to finish it.... it was embroidered by a woman in Mt. Horeb who has done a lot of the nice sewing." (Folklore Village Collection)
In this note, a borrower of the Rättvik costume writes that the fabric is wearing out and that it should be retired. (Folklore Village Archives)
"The apron is made out of linen, well it should be made out of linen. It has two stripes of embroidery across the bottom and several tucks in it. This one was remade because it came pretty much apart. So we matched the embroidery as much as possible out of one of my mother’s old table runners." - Jane Farwell on the Norwegian Fana Dress (Folklore Village Collection)
Here are instructions for people who are borrowing and using the costumes. (Folklore Village Archives)
The skirt of this dress from East Telemark, Norway, was originally made of wool, but became moth-eaten in storage and needed to be replaced. Unfortunately, it was hard to find a wool that matched the original, so a polyester fabric was used instead. The aesthetics of the dress were preserved, but according to one dancer, “the dress doesn’t swing quite the same way" when she uses it. (Folklore Village Collection)
Sometimes, people needed to make do with what they had in a pinch. This dress from Östergötland, Sweden, should be worn with a scarf around the neck. According to notes in the costume collection, Becky Rehl, involved with Folklore Village since the 1970s, once arrived at a performance to find the scarf missing and dashed over to an antique store to find a stand in. (Folklore Village Collection)
This vest on this costume from Rättvik, Sweden, has been worn thin from frequent use, and the last time it was worn for a performance, it needed repairs. (Folklore Village Collection)

“One of the questions we are going to ask of each costume is 'Should we pull it out of the costume show lineup for its own safety?” So even maybe a costume that isn’t worn at all, but we consider valuable and important enough that we don’t use it for in this context…'"

Doug Miller, 1992 Interview with Jane

In the years since Farwell’s death, the care and use of her collection has been largely in the hands of the community members of Folklore Village. With time, the functionality of the collection for dances has come into question. Many of these costumes are made of valuable, antique, and fragile materials and they can’t be worn for dance performances without damaging the costumes. They would benefit from being stored in special boxes to preserve their materials for future reference. Because clothing is expensive to store, many organizations do not have the time and space to care for the garments properly, especially if they have been mixed around and worn out over the years.

At the same time, the costumes are significant to the community of Folklore Village and the wider international folk dance movement because they were gathered and worn by the community at dances, for dances. For many of the collectors, it was important for them to be worn and used, which is perhaps why so many people left their costumes to Farwell and Folklore Village, rather than to a museum that would choose to store them away for preservation. Additionally, many of the collections belonging to people like the Hermans and Karin Gottier simply get dispersed and disappear completely when collectors pass.

The collection at Folklore Village sits at the tension of these questions around use and collecting. Ultimately, the creation of the Folklore Village Costume Collection was dependent not just on Farwell, but on the large community she was a part of. Paying attention to this community as well as the valuable garments in the collection provides an opportunity to use the costume collection for community building and education, but also as a point of connection.