Sunday, June 5, 2011

Lielvarde costume, Vidzeme Province, Latvia

Hello all,
Today i decided to continue the series on Latvia by presenting one unique and different costume from each of the remaining cultural provinces of Latvia. I have already presented one costume each from Courland [Kurzeme] and Latgalia [Latgale]. Today i will present the costume from the region around Lielvarde in Vidzeme. Vidzeme means 'midland' in Latvian. Here is our map again. Vidzeme is shown in yellow.

You can see Lielvarde in the mid south of this province. I chose to present this costume because of some unique and interesting features that distinguish it. Here is a map of the region i will be covering.

I will start by presenting one of the commonest and also often least reliable sorts of data which one finds when researching costume. [Aside from dolls, dolls can sometimes be very helpful, but very often the costumes on dolls are completely made up.] I am speaking of artist's images on postcards. They can be accurate, but often they are only vaguely helpful. You may recall the print of the Nica costume. Here is one of the Lielvarde costume.

It is a good generic overview, but it is romanticised, and not helpful on details. Here is a photograph of an actual Lielvarde Costume.

You should be able to see at once by now that this is the costume of an unmarried girl. Her hair is uncovered, and she is wearing the vainags, the crown shaped headress typical of the Baltic area. Compared to the other Latvian costumes we have covered, a couple of things stand out. First, her skirt is attached to a bodice, and second, she is wearing a very large, very fancy sash. The skirt and the bodice are plaid, there are lots of variations, each professional weaver had their own design. Here is the cut of the bodice.

The skirt and bodice were also made of horizontally striped cloth, but not as often

The sash is tied by putting the middle in the front, wrapping it around in both directions and then tying it. A sash does not stay unless it is wrapped at least twice. If you look closely at the sash in the first photograph, you will notice that the design woven into it does not repeat the length of the sash. This is a very typical feature of these sashes. They were woven by hand, with supplemental warp, and this is proof that the designs were picked by hand. All of the sashes of this region, and others nearby are like this. No two are the same.
Just one more example, these are amazing.

This way, you don't get bored with the pattern you are weaving. This also results in an extraordinary number of patterns being invented and preserved. The attached bodice and skirt was worn over a chemise, of course. In this region they used the same cut as the Ukrainians, Russians and many Polish costumes, rather than that more commonly used in Latvia. this cut has a rectangular shoulder inset between the front and back body sections.

These chemises were extravagantly embroidered in white on white as well, which you can see in the photo above if you look closely.. This type of costume apparently fell out of use in the mid 1800's, so not many of these chemises are preserved. It was replaced by a skirt and a separate jacket, which seems to have done away with the lavish embroidery on the chemise. They were called greznajes krekls, or 'splendid shirts'. Here are some closeups of the one she is wearing above. Collar


Shoulder insets, you can see the seam with the upper sleeve at the bottom of this photo.

The upper part of the sleeve, just below the seam

You can see embroidery at the bottom of this photo, this embroidery continues the full length of the sleeve, you can see the edge of it in the photo of the cuff.

A pin holds the chemise closed, either round or heart shaped, often set with stones and sometimes with pendants.

The Vainags, the maiden's crown is not that different from the kind worn in Latgalia, although often taller.

Here is another photo of a couple of variants of the Lielvarde area costume.

One thing you will notice is that the Villaine [shawl]  is not embroidered. There are historical records from the early 1800's that show the Villaine heavily embroidered in the same style as is common in Eastern Latvia, [see my posting on the Latgale costume], but here by 1860 for whatever reason it had disappeared. Likewise the large bubble brooches had disappeared from this region. Here is a closeup of the Villaine the girl above is wearing.

The woman on the right is wearing a slightly later costume with no bodice and a separate jacket. She wears no sash, and accordingly wears an embroidered apron, which is more common among married women.

She is wearing a version of the tall headdress common in Vidzeme, which is also common in Estonia. For whatever reason, in this region the embroidery that used to adorn the Villaine was transferred to the headdress. In no other region in Latvia is this type of headdress embroidered like this. The designs used are very similar to those used on the Villaine in eastern Latvia, if somewhat simpler and narrower.

Here is a photograph of another woman wearing this headdress. This photograph was printed as an example of how NOT to wear this garment. The hair should be completely covered.

This is called cepure, which is proof of the antiquity of this garment. Married slavic women wear various kinds of caps to cover the hair, and in the various slavic languages they are called chepets. The same root.
The cepure is a rectangle embroidered along one edge, sewn shut on the opposite edge and gathered in the back along the other.

The costume is finished with finely knitted stockings in white with an open design, shoes, pastalas [moccasins], or vizes [homemade shoes woven from birch or linden bark]. Rings, and glass bead necklaces were also worn.

Thank you for reading. I am continually amazed at the treasures of beauty to be found in folk costume and embroidery.

Feel free to contact me with requests for research. I hope to eventually cover all of Europe and the Former Russian Empire/Soviet Union. I also gratefully accept tips on source materials which i may not have. I also accept commissions to research/design, sew, and/or embroider costumes or other items for groups or individuals

Roman K.

Source Material:
Velta Rozenberga et al, 'Latviesu Tautas Terpi II Vidzeme' [Latvian National Costumes II Vidzeme], Riga, 1995
N. Kalashnikova, 'National Costumes of the Soviet Peoples', Moscow, 1990
Ilze Zingite, 'Latvian National Costumes', Riga, 2000
J. Sudmalis, 'Cimdu Rasti' [Mitten designs], Riga, 1961
Aija Jansone et al, 'Ieteikumi Latviesu Tautas Terpu Valkatajiem', Riga, 2002
T. Razina, 'Folk Art in the Soviet Union', Leningrad, 1990


  1. Thank you for this in-depth look at folk costumes in Vidzeme. My family was from this region. I have one friend from far north Vidzeme in Ainazi but is here in the USA and she will enjoy looking at these pictures. She is in her 80's and remembers a time of festivals and parties where the women and men would wear their finest. We must not forget. You are keeping the traditions alive and available to those who search for a time most have forgotten. My Latvian knitting repertoire is now expanding into embroidery and someday, weaving. I can only imagine learning this craft under women as talented as those that have made these costumes in your pictures here. To think; machines didn't do this, hands, humble working hands did. My grandmother was taught at the Riga Textile school and wished to open her weaving shop downtown. She had all the supplies delivered and was ready to open the doors when downtown Riga burnt down. She fled with her brand new husband not long after and spent many years in a DP camp. Here in the states, she made wonderful needlepoint, cross stitch and crochet items. She would never sit at a loom again. It was too painful. I have her costume she made upon graduation from Textile School. The intricate stitching, the woven cloth, the details are breath taking. In a time where history is forgotten, there lies a beauty in the pain of a country struggling for their independence, the threads binding generations together forever. Many blessings on your studies!

  2. I am glad I found this page. My mother passed away years ago and always mentioned that the folk dress from Riga was different than that of other areas. I have a few pieces but nothing complete. Thank you for explaining the history behind the clothing. Paldies par dalīšanos.