Prøverommet and Norwegian Traditional Dress

Fredrikstad, Norway. We visited on the way to Sweden for May Day.

Fredrikstad, Norway. We visited on the way to Sweden for May Day.

What a beautiful country it is! One of the hardest parts of being in Oslo was that I wasn’t able to really explore all that much since I was busy teaching all day, every day. When you add in the difficult jet lag from a 6 hour time jump, I was too exhausted most nights to go out and explore the nightlife. I got to see a ballet on one evening and then hit an old bar on Saturday night.

Prøverommet Conference

The lectures were wonderful! I wasn’t prepared to be the first one to lecture, but I just breathed deep and worked my way through. My presentation was a little choppy as it was the first time I given this particular talk about the historical proportion system as a singular focus. Most of my work centers around the MAKING of things and the proper pattern is part of the process.

Though I felt awkward with the new lecture, the attendees seemed quite excited about the information. I know I have a tendency to be quite passionate and excited about my work and I am grateful that it comes across and other people feel it. Everyone was so polite and so excited about it.

The teaching portion of the week went well, though I will completely restructure the class for the next time. I don’t feel that we made enough patterns or had enough time to really explore the system properly. That’s really my fault. I am accustomed to other types of conferences where we are asked to present several classes and then the attendees move on to other teachers. With Prøverommet, students select an instructor and we work together for the entire three days. I tried to stick to my original class structures and what I SHOULD have done was to scrap the whole initial concept and just focus on making LOTS of patterns that the students could take home and use. I think it would have given them a much firmer foundation and more grounded understanding of the system.

I’ve been asked if I’m interested in returning in two years when they host it again. I told them that I am ABSOLUTELY interested and would be happy to teach it again with a much stronger approach. Most of my classes take a few tries to work out the kinks, but once they are solved, I think it can be a really powerful three days. Once understood, the system should fall right into their hands as an alternative way to work.

Mathew posing in front of a statue of Christian IV, at Oslo City Center.

Mathew posing in front of a statue of Christian IV, at Oslo City Center.

Then I got to spend time with my hosts and meet some of their friends. Much like me, Tommy Olsson, the man responsible for recommending me to the conference is as interested the traditional costume of Norway in the same way that I am interested in the historical costume of Spain. The embroideries and fabrics and constructions of “Bunad” the word for the traditional clothing was utterly fascinating and opened a few doors in my mind which relate to the clothes that I study and the techniques used to make them.

Meeting and talking with people who think nothing of devoting months to a single small embroidery project, or a very detailed set of traditional mittens called “Selbuvotter”, was such a joy.

Norway and Traditional Clothing

I may have the opportunity to return to Norway next year to meet with the Curator of the Museum of traditional dress where we will examine some historical pieces and measure them for proportion so they may be replicated without the ever-present tweaking of modern clothing.

There are two distinct styles of Bunad. One which is rooted in authenticity and which honors the accuracy of the clothing as it is intended to be worn from history and the other style which is rooted in more of a fashion-style mindset. The latter style of Bunad are usually less expensive, made with more machine work and the shapes, cuts and fit are adjusted and changed for modern wear. They are made with fabrics which are often synthetic and which do not fully reflect the actual clothing of the past. However, the people are very proud of their traditional clothing and whether perfectly accurate, or a fashion interpretation, the idea of connecting with history is there.

Mathew with a statue of Frederik II at Fredrikstad, Norway.

Mathew with a statue of Frederik II at Fredrikstad, Norway.

The people know their past, and embrace it in ways that most American communities don’t really make time for anymore. It was so lovely to see and experience. Next year, I will aim to be in town for their May 17th celebration which is something akin to American Independence Day. It marks the signing of the constitution. Instead of military might in parades and demonstrations, The parades are filled with all the young people from schools around the city, parading in traditional clothing. Everyone waves the Norwegian flag and most people dress up in traditional dress, not just the kids.

I can’t wait to see what it’s like. I might make a traditional costume from a similar time period. One which is related the region from whence my family came. Though I know my ancestors were Sephardic Jews, I have no idea where they lived when the family was in Spain. In the 16th and early 17th century, they lived in the Netherlands. So I will research Dutch traditional clothing to honor that branch of my family who eventually made the brave decision in the 1670s to move to the American South from Europe.

I plan on exploring my personal connection with traditional costume and bringing you all on the journey with me. In the end, there may even be a pattern set, drafted in the Bara System, that will be available for purchase. That probably won’t happen until early in 2020, but you can count on lots of photos and information about the journey to understand my family’s past through the lens of clothing.