Textiles on Textiles

A new-to-me tablecloth, found at one of the various Myrorna stores in Uppsala.  Faded and a bit stained, but I couldn't pass it up, especially when I saw Miss Dalarna:

This is where my boyfriend's mother is from, and the roots run deep.  Dalarna is a part of Sweden that feels much like New England to me, seriously invested in its history and identity, and I fell easily into the family's emotional and locational affiliation.  I read up extensively on Dalarna's folkdräkt (folk dress), partially to inform my project of sewing a linen shirt for boyfriend's own folkdräkt.

Dalarna is a landsting, one of twenty-one counties in Sweden, like Värmland or Närke, as you can see sartorially represented in the picture below.  Each of these counties is divided into many smaller areas, each with its own dress, which for the purposes of this tablecloth have been mashed and 1940s-ified into the outfit you see above.  It's a simplification of traditional Rättvik dress, identifiable by the colors and pattern of the apron and the conical headcovering.

This is a rendering of the more elaborate (and possibly more accurate) dress, which features a beautiful brocade vest over the shirt, various embroidered pieces and jewelry around the neck, and town-specific embroidery at the wrists (from here).  Arguably, Rättvik is one of the most identifiable and visible parts of Dalarna; it is not surprising that a simplified version of this dress was used to represent the area in this textile.  The boyfriend's mamma comes from Boda, the traditional dress of which is quite similar to that of Rättvik, and can be seen in some breadth here--the large swaths of red and orange in the apron should be noted, as I have been told is a feature of Bodadräkt which is being replaced in memory by a striped pattern much more similar to the above.  It probably doesn't look that similar in those photos, but compare it to the representative dress of Värmland and Närke seen below.  Bodadräkt is even featured on the cover to the map of Skansen, the world's first outdoor museum which has saved and recreates historic Swedishness (think Plimoth Plantation on a huge scale, with a zoo and free bread samples).  If you scroll over the image at the top right, it will magnify for you the outfit with attendant accessories and give you a peek at her red stockings.

I love folkdräkt.  I love that it is so important to my boyfriend's mother and her family.  I love that his parents were married in Boda folkdräkt.  I love that Erik is planning to wear it to his PhD graduation, and has threatened to wear it to any fancy events we are invited to, as it is considered an appropriate alternative to black-tie here, another thing to appreciate.  Swedish identity is fiercely defended, and the importance of each geographic and sartorial distinction speaks to that.

The individual nature of the apron pattern, embroidery, hand-worked gloves also reinforces the value of this clothing, which to a certain extant is still important here.  Yes, this is the home of H&M, but it is also a place where your boyfriend learned how to knit from his father and his male PhD advisor built his own loom.  I was told that one of the most important things to remember when knitting your own folkdräkt stockings is to keep them baggy--historically, the bigger they are, the more money you have to "waste" on yarn, a common theme in dress history.  Love these constant reminders of value--even through vanity.

There is so much more to folkdräkt than I have clumsily introduced here, and I hope that I haven't mixed up Rättviks and Bodas traditional clothing too offensively.  Look into this blog, she does an excellent job, even if it's only in Swedish (and sometimes a dialect, yikes!).  Here is a good example from that blog of the difference (and similarities) visible between Rättvik, on the left, and Boda, on the right...this is högtid dress, for the most formal and happiest of ceremonies; keep in mind that this is one of so, so many manifestations of this clothing that I am getting a bit tongue-tied.  I can give you a good bibliography to help--if you read Swedish!  The writing of this blog is a partly a practice to help myself understand this new country as well as the phenomenon of dress, and I hope you will stick with me.

But back to this piece: it is obviously not meant to be taken as true representation, but rather celebration of the range of costume that is still valued as much as a copper pot or a painted trunk.  One small step for material culture-based costume historians!

I did want to think briefly about textiles-on-textiles, too.  We can see this in tapestries, of course, one of the great costume history sources for medieval dress.  There's not much of a comparison here, as this tablecloth is an intentional representation of (a version of) clothing representative of Sweden, whereas tapestries generally depict clothing as a matter of course, inherent in the main themes of People Doing Things.  But this humble tablecloth can serve as a good reminder of how we read our sources: what is truth and what is stylized?

It feels like a souvenir, but I saw a second one at another thrift store or flea market in the area, and it doesn't say SWEDEN anywhere.  Was it meant to be a tea table covering welcoming to all your friends, even those foreigners from different counties?  I can't imagine it's really from the 1940s, but the illustration style seems to suggest inspiration from that decade.  Is this looking back not only to the centuries folkdräkt is culled from, but also to a time when people and their clothing could easily be categorized and essentialized?  I write that as if this piece is some mysterious Byzantine textile scrap, rife with potential symbolism but with no supporting textual or pictorial evidence...maybe this is too dramatic for a piece that could be easily written off.  But I want to think too much about Things, even these everyday things; I feel like it's part and parcel of the pursuit of higher education, institutional or personal.  I hope you're with me.

Here's what I also think: this is a great start to a textile-on-textile collection....


(I wanted to take a picture of the whole thing, but couldn't find an easy way to exhibit the whole thing; thought of pinning it to the curtains, but they were too bright and overpowered the tablecloth.  Then the whole hardware system fell down on me and a pin that was evidently holding one end together jammed much further into my finger than I'd want to describe to you, which brings me to how AWESOME cut-your-own bandaids are.  Still somewhat textile-related? Why don't we have this??)