National costume

There are basically three versions of the national costume, all derived from "Faldbúningur" which dates from the early 16th century.  Prior to that women wore a long loose fitting one piece dress, probably with a belt.  This changed, and it became the fashion to wear two pieces of clothing, a pleated skirt and a narrow fitting jacket.  There was also some jewelry made of bras or silver, the silver often gilt.  An apron was worn, hanging in an ornate silver belt with the help of fairly large round buttons.  A piece of cloth, preferably ornately embroidered, also hung from the belt, and a rather peculiar, chimney shaped headdress.  Doubtless there were some undergarments, but since no garments have survived from this time, the knowledge of the dress is derived purely from illustrations of the time.  Since most of the texts were religious in nature, there aren't any illustrations of people in their underclothing and therefore the
knowledge is limited.  Not much is known about the dress in the 17th century, since most pictures show the women wearing a large overcoat and what is underneath is hardly visible.  But in the 18th century there are some illustrations that show the women's dress  Again, no dresses have survived from this time and the oldest surviving dress dates from 1809.

At that time, there don't seem to have been that many changes since the 16th century.  There was still the narrow jacket, either embroidered or embellished with gold or silver bands, or both.  Under the jacket there was underwear, a lightweight white linen shirt and a corset.  Women also wore up to 7 underskirts, according to some sources.  I guess they needed to keep warm.  The corset which could be in blue, red or green was embroidered with colourful silks with flower motifs and/or embellished with gold or silver embroidery and ribbons.

The corset was closed with filigree silver loops through which a silver chain was threaded.  The skirt was still bulkily pleated and always worn with an apron.  Both the skirt and the apron were embellished on the bottom with embroidery or velvet.  The clothing could be blue, red, green or black, and all the colours could be used together in the same costume.  The colours, naturally, all derived from natural sources, indigo for blue, madder for red and perhaps cochineal (although that was much more expensive) and a combination of weld and indigo for the green.  Black was a difficult colour to achieve, but George MacKensie describes dyeing in an account from 1810.  It was obtained by dyeing with Sortulyng, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Bearberry) and black earth, which undoubtedly contained a lot of iron.  It is also apparent that there was a lot of variation in the dress and women used whatever materials they could find, local or imported.

The headdress is a whole story in itself.  Faldbúningur derives it's name from the headdress, which was was originally a white cloth, shaped like a chimney and called "Vaf".  But in the 17th and 18th centuries that evolved into "Faldur", an elongated cone shape that had a forward bend in it.  This then changed into "Spaðafaldur", a flat spade like form, held in shape by pins.  For every day women used a knitted hat with "Skúfur" a kind of tail hanging down on one side.  This was decorated with silver.

There are now more or less three variations of this costume in use as a national costume.  One is "Upphlutur" which consists of the long skirt with a white shirt, a corset and an apron.  In this version the undershirt and corset are used as outer garments.  This verison is really the working garments of ordinary women of the olden day.  They would often take off their jacket and even the thick, heavy skirt and work in their undergarments.  Nowadays there is a 19th century version and a 20th century version.  Both use quite a bit of silver, both on the front of the corset and in brooches and a heavy belt.

The second version is Peysuföt, a tight jacket, almost always black nowadays, hooked in the front but gaping slightly over the breasts.  This version has lost the embroidery of the old jacket, but is always worn with a bow.  The skirt is the same heavy pleated skirt, again always black and there is the same type of apron, although Peysuföt were, by the 19th century considered better clothes and therefore the apron would not be a course woolen one, but made of silk or linen.  With this there is little jewelry, only a brooch and the silver for the hat.

The third type is a revival of the 18th century Faldbúningur and is in my mind the most spectacular.  It is colourful and ornate and it isn't a depressing black.  I want to make one, but it takes someone diligent about 3 years to make it.  And that's assuming one buys the silver.

I have already made a silk apron and knitted a hat.  I am in the process of sewing a shirt and wills take a course in sewing an underskirt (petticoat - I love that word.  I used to buy a British magazine with that name back in the seventies) next week.  I have studied the construction of the other pieces and can hopefully make some practice pieces for fun this summer and start in earnest to sew next winter.  I want to start the silver work soon, though.  I'm really holding back not jumping into that, but there is a lot of stuff to do before I allow myself to do that.


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