National costumes of Estonians were presented in Ukraine

National costumes of Estonians were presented in Ukraine
June 1, 2012 20:17

When seeing Estonian national costumes for the first time, unintentional analogies with Ukrainian traditional costumes come to mind. They have practically the same color palette and ornaments as decorations; the same cut and costume elements. Nevertheless, after looking closer for several minutes one can clearly see that there are a large number of differences in spite of the general similarity. And as for the exhibition that opened in the National Museum of Ukrainian folk decorative art on the 21st of March, it allows for having a good look at these specifics. Costumes form the funds of the Estonian National Museum of Tartu (the center of the Southern Estonia) were brought to Kiev; they are characteristic for both continental and island parts of Estonia. All the costumes are hand made.

National Estonian costumes are reproduced using historical models


Embroidery ornaments resemble Ukrainian ones


Dance festival in Estonia


Head-dresses of Estonian ladies


Men’s pullover-troi from the Kihnu Island used to serve as a working one. In the second part of the ХХ century this men’s clothing item became the most popular one. Women started to wear such pullovers, too. In the ХІХ century on the Kihnu Island these pullovers used to be knitted from natural undyed sheep wool of white or brown color. The ornament used for the pullover-troi was (is) knitted on the glove fingers. Usually, the collar, the hem and the sleeve edges have ornaments knitted using red threads. .


Belts are one of the most important details of the women’s clothes. Belts used to be wound around the waist tightly thus forming a circle so that no evil was possible to penetrate inside. It was considered that the belt ornament system concealed a magic force; people especially believed in its protection from diseases. There are hundreds of different ornaments. Belts presented at the exhibition are woven in the ХІХ century.


Estonian women’s choir

According to the scientists’ data, the Museum collections comprise 120 thousand of the costume elements; in particular, 2 thousand of skirts only. However, only about ten of complete sets of holiday costumes and head-dresses were presented in Ukraine together with modern clothes having elements of traditional ornaments.

Reet Piiri, the exhibition curator and a research assistant of the Estonian National Museum

«The purpose of the exhibition is to show that the national Estonial costume is alive; it is being investigated and reproduced» - were the words of Reet Piiri, the exhibition curator and a research assistant of the Estonian National Museum. According to the curator, the exhibited costumes are not authentic; they were reproduced in the ХХ century, mostly in the 1980ieth. However this fact does not diminish the value of these costumes because they were created strictly following the ancient models. Mrs. Piiri says that the Museum has a school of national costume in which people of different professions learn to sew, embroider and weave in order to be able to make themselves full-value national costumes to be worn at different ethnic festivals.

Lauri Lepik, the Ambassador of Estonia in Ukraine

Some of Estonians wear traditional clothes in their everyday life, especially inhabitants of the islands; and the islands which are close to the coast number up to a thousand and a half. At least, this is stated by the Ambassador of Estonia in Ukraine Lauri Lepik. But, to say the truth, he hasn’t bought a national costume for himself yet: «I have not found a proper one yet, since for four generation we’ve been living in the city and it is very difficult to find a city costume. But if to have a closer look at the genealogy and history – and I am from the Southern Estonia – certainly, there were men’s costumes in them».

A woman’s costume from the Hiiumaa Island


A dress belt with metal decoration


Hiiumaa Island


A woman’s costume from Saaremaa Island


Each detail is created tastefully

Costumes from the three of the largest islands— Saaremaa, Hiiumaa and Muhu — have their own peculiarity compared to the clothes of the population of the continental Estonia. Island women used to wear striped skirts, on Hiiumaa and Muhu – long and striped ones, starting from the second half of the ХІХ century. A blouse called «kaised» is characteristic of women’s costume of the Hiiumaa Island; a long-sleeved blouse is characteristic for the costumes of Saaremaa and Muhu islands. Head-dresses used to be either tied up under the chin or had a shape of a cap, sometimes with a pompon.

South Estonian costumes


Women’s head-dresses of the Southern Estonia


Southern ornaments were influenced by Russia patterns


A brooch or a button called

General regional differences exist at the continental part of Estonia. In particular, the character of the costumes of the Setu inhabitants (Southern Estonia) was influenced by close relationship with Russians from the adjacent Pskov region. Costumes of this region were generously enriched by precious silver decorations.

The most original decoration is the brooch or a button called “pros’” which fastened two blouse foreparts in women’s costume. It had to be made from silver because Estonians believed that silver protected them from the evil eye. Sizes of such brooches came up to improperly large ones and weighed as much as 8 kilograms. One brooch cost one cow. Silver decorations were handed down in families.

Women’s costume of Southern Estonia


Shirts of the Northern region are decorated by embroidery


Head-dresses are also rich in embroidery


Vegetative themes are predominating

Decorations by vegetative ornaments of satin-stitch embroidery mark out costumes of the North Estonia population. Sleeveless shirts and splendid light blouse «kaised» which was worn over it attract attention in the women’s costumes. Men’s woolen clothes and women’s outer clothes were made of Indian-blue colored fabrics. Scientists say that costumes in the North of the country have more ornaments.

«North Estonia has more colors and ornaments. Maybe it is because of the fact that this part of the country is colder and people stayed at home embroidering when they didn’t have anything to do», — this is a supposition of Mare Litnevska, the Head of the Estonian friendly association in Ukraine.

Outer clothes of natural colors made of wool and decorated by copper buttons were worn at the territory of the Western Estonia. Skirts used to be striped, checkered or decorated with satin-stitch ornaments. Women’s head-dresses were also of a great variety.

Sometimes the prevailing colors of the costumes were determined by the herbs which grew in the region because woolen fabrics used to be dyed using herbs. Wool and linen were the most common fabrics for making clothes.

Experience in making and wearing national costumes is taken over by the contemporary Estonian masters. The main requirement is following historical models.

Besides, heritage of national costumes is always an inexhaustible treasure for modern designers and modelers. They often use combinations of old needlework techniques with contemporary forms or, on the contrary, old shapes appear in the modern style. Popular fashion is already formed, too. It is based on the ethnic themes and includes such things as, for instance, socks, tights, footwear, bags etc. made at factories.

Modern things with traditional taste


Designers adopt ancient ornaments

Ukrainian and Estonian traditional costumes: common and different features

Lyudmila Sivtseva-Klimuk, a designer and the author of the authentic Ukrainian costume “Noble clothes”:
«Titanic efforts are needed to create such a costume: to find and investigate a model; to find people who are able to make it; to find funds for this work and a wish to perform all this.

Lyudmila Sivtseva Klimuk, a designer

With Estonians, all these components came together I am glad for them. I wish we had such possibilities in Ukraine: some Costume Center or something similar so that our young designers, who want to work in this, would have possibilities to create really nice and correct products of high quality.

Somehow Estonian costumes remind me of the Volhynia and Rivne region by their composition, location of the old decorations; woven components of the front parts of the shirts remind me those of the Western Ukrainian Polissya.

As for the symbolism, it does not differ much from the Ukrainian one. Maybe, they even have something in common or compliment each other because Ukrainian Northern regions, Polissya in particular, were a part of the Lithuanian state some time ago and this aesthetics was born in the same conditions».

Oksana Kosmina, an ethnologist, a candidate of historical science, senior researcher of the Ethnology Institute of the National Ukrainian Academy of Science, the author of the publication «Traditional Ukrainian Costumes» (Volume 1– Forest-Steppe, Steppe; Volume 2 – Polissya, Carpathians):

«They have a costume which is not only similar but looks quite like a Ukrainian one and it’s a pity that it is not presented. Speaking about the ХХ century, Brokariv embroidery reached this country, too. They also have shirts embroidered by roses because the fashion came down to the folk costumes as well. It is not reasonable to bind embroidery and geometry to some particular nation. For those who are familiar only with the Ukrainian reality it seems that it is only ours; but if to have a wider look it will be seen that the same is characteristic of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, to say nothing about the Near East. In particular, Morocco embroidery has a lot of common with Ukrainian Podillya one.

Oksana Kosmina, an ethnologist

As for the Tartu museum, they keep things in such a great order that I haven’t seen in any other museum. When I visited them in 1989, I was asked to wear special clothes before I was let into the fund: shoe covers, overalls, a head cover and gloves. There are special temperature conditions inside. All things are located on separate large trays in sliding boxes; all of them are interlaid with special paper.

The Ukrainian community of Tallin has addressed me recently with a request to develop for them sketches of Ukrainian traditional clothes to be made. They said: “We look like beggars there in our light embroidered shirts of unknown origins and regions. We feel ashamed when we visit ethnic festivals and see the way Estonians and foreigners are dressed“. I made the sketches and sent them and I was promised a result but I don’t have any photographs yet.

Estonian costume is notable for a large number of volumetric metal decorations. Looking half-face, this decorations (“pros’” – auth.) even deform the shape because such components protrude from the figure for about 15 cm. I think these components are remains or rudiments of some ancient costume sets in which they were functional as fibulas (Metal fasteners which at the same time served as decorations – auth.). Even by the costume it is clear that the decorations come from different epochs. Ukraine does not have this number of metal decorations; only some as ducaches and zgards.

All folk costumes are united by the simplicity and archaism of their cuts. All that was overlaid during the later centuries was complicating the cut and often was adopted from professional city costumes. We can see that Estonians borrowed a lot from the city costumes. Ukraine does not have as many complicated cut kinds.

Embroidery on a woman’s skirt from the Muhu Island

Together with special geometry, Estonians have a lot of vegetative ornaments and artistic satin-stitch. In our country, we practically don’t have this at all. Satin-stitch is present only in belts made on the manufactured woolen fabric and widespread mostly in the Central Ukraine and Podillya.

Knitted wear has ancient traditions in Estonia. The most ancient knitted piece found in a burial mound, a piece of a glove, is dated ХІІ-ХІV century. At present it is known that this glove fragment is the oldest knitted item found at the entire territory of the Northern and East Europe. The exhibited gloves are knitted by the students of the Viliand Culture Academy and are copies of the museum exhibits.

One thing which is present in the Estonian culture and is absent in Ukraine is wooden footwear, a kind of French sabot, which are worn over the knitted socks. Estonians have a great variety of knitted wear: caps, tights, mittens. In our country, decorated woolen socks are widespread only in the Gutsul region.

Costumes of Estonians and their neighbors are also distinguished by lacework and minimalism in the embroidery of the women’s shirts. In Ukraine holiday shirts are always richly decorated by embroidery or by weaving means».

The exhibition of the Estonian traditional costumes in the National Museum of the Ukrainian Folk Decorative Art lasted till April 23, 2012.

Kateryna Kachur, «Rukotvory»

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