Feresi or a straight sarafan dress.
My projects,  Sewing

Making an early 19th-century Karelian dress: The Sarafan

Finally, this long Karelian dress project is done! The last bit to make was the beautiful pleated straight sarafan that is called feresi in Finland. Then I could finally combine all the elements of the dress together!

Here are the previous parts of the series:

Part 1: The rätsinä shirt

Part 2: The weaving of the belt

Part 3: The accessories

My YouTube video

Here is the YouTube video about the making of this dress:

Materials and the pattern

My fabric was this lovely printed cotton sateen I ordered from Tallinn. Straight sarafans became popular when printed fabrics became widely available and red was a very popular colour in Karelia. 3 m was enough to make a sarafan dress with a bit left over, too.

The cotton sateen fabric.

For the facing, I used leftover checked cotton shirting that I had in storage. The check pattern helps a lot with the pleating process!

As the pattern is basically a big rectangle, I didn’t need a pattern. However, I wanted to learn traditional methods, so I ordered a set of instructions from Soja Murto who specialises in Karelian costumes. Still, there was plenty of things left to figure out as the sizing is determined by the pleating.

Lessons in pleating the sarafan

I learned that the pins that I used to help with the pleating process actually made the dress smaller. When I was done basting down the pleats the dress was a bit too big. Luckily there was a small portion of the back that I first left unpleated. To make the dress fit better I manipulated the pleats at the back of the dress so that they started at the centre back. This meant that I had to deviate from the instructions and remake the lining at the place where the shoulder straps start to hid the raw edge of the pleats.

Pleating the sarafan.

By the way, you may notice that even though I did sew the dress by hand, I cheated just a little bit and basted the upper edge of the facing on with a machine. I did pull most of it off afterwards, though and none of it shows underneath the binding.

Pleated sarafan.

Details and trimmings

In the picture below, you can see the centre front with the buttons and the thread loop buttonholes. The horizontal chain stitching holds down the pleats and keeps the upper edge of the dress smooth.

The front opening of the sarafan.

I used ready-made bias tape to finish the upper edge and the raw edge of the shoulder straps. However, using bias tape is not really historically correct as the bias tape is a rather modern invention. I should have used a straight bit of fabric but I didn’t realise my mistake in time. Well, luckily it is not very visible.

Binding the edges.

On a whim, I decided to make my own trim for the hem. I found this green cotton cross-grain ribbon at the Recycling centre and decided to combine it with this golden braid. I first sewed the two together and then sewed the whole thing onto the dress.

Making a trim.

To add another detail, I sewed the decorative trim with a contrasting silk thread. I think that the stitches look very nice like this.

Sewing the trim on the dress.

However, I do regret using the braid a bit since I can see it getting fuzzier in use. Right now it is still okay but I may need to change it at some point for a trim that is more durable.

The finished Karelian costume

The finished costume has the rätsinä shirt, the sarafan dress, two different silk scarves, a pocket and a belt, a cap and a pair of shoes. I bought the shoes second-hand as well as the blue and red scarf. The green scarf is from Ebay.

Here is the sarafan dress without the black silk apron:

The finished sarafan dress.

From the back and with the other scarf:

The back with another scarf.

For a special occasion, a Karelian woman would don a silk apron. Here is mine:

The front with the silk apron.

Of course, this dress is perfect for twirling!


I am really happy how this costume came together. Now I can show my Karelian heritage in style!

Compared to some more modern Feresi dresses that were developed in the 1930s and that are often worn by folk dancers, this original straight sarafan makes much more sense. The heavy pleating gives structure to the dress and combined with the belt, gives nice bust support. I can see how these kinds of dresses were very practical in other ways as well. The looseness allowed for pregnancy and the slit at the top made breastfeeding easy. The size could be easily adjusted with the pleats if you gained or lost weight. Young girls often had horizontal pleats at the hem which allowed mothers to easily lengthen the dresses when the children grew.

Thank you so much for reading and do subscribe to this blog and my YouTube channel, if you haven’t already done so! Happy sewing and see you soon!


I am a mother of two. I sew, knit and create and blog about it.


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