Restoring an old Finnish national costume from Kokkola, part 1
I bought an old Finnish national costume from the Kokkola region. It was made by my friend’s grandmother and I wanted to restore it to it’s original glory. Personally, I don’t have any connection to Kokkola besides visiting the town two years ago. Luckily that doesn’t stop me from wearing the dress.
The dress consists of a pinafore, a blouse, an apron, a scarf and a cap. Kokkola costume is not one of the historically accurate costumes as it is designed more than based on historical examples. Still, it does represent the idea of national costumes in 1913, which, now that I think about it, is pretty long time ago.
The pinafore was in an excellent condition considering its age but the other parts of the costume needed replacing. In this first part, I’ll show what I did with the pinafore to make it work for me.
The video of my restoration of the Kokkola costume
I also need to make a slight correction, since I learned from this site that the Kokkola costume was designed in 1913 and not 1915 that I claim on the video.
The original state of the Kokkola costume
The Kokkola pinafore dress was, like I already mentioned, in excellent condition. It mostly suffered from hastily-made old repairs and it needed some fitting. The other parts of the dress weren’t doing so fine.
Here is the blouse. I showed the blouse to an expert on national costumes and she believed this was made by a Finnish company called Vuorelma. She said that Vuorelma had a machine that produced the decorative stitching shown at the neckline and some other seams and they liked using it a lot. The blouse is also machine-sewn.
The fabric is really soft cotton and is stained and falling into pieces. There were numerous holes and the cuffs were fraying badly. The shirt has been constructed out of rectangular pieces and features 5 cm x 5 cm square gussets. The sleeves narrow down slightly towards the cuff where there are gathers. The cuffs are closed with sew-on snaps. The collar is pretty wide, so it doesn’t have a slit. The shirt is short and lacks the traditional long lower hem.
The apron has been made out of similar fabric as the blouse. There fore it shows the same kind of wear and tear. The apron has a narrow strip of lace and is otherwise unadorned unless you count the gathers at the waist.
The apron is pretty small and smaller than aprons would have been historically. Even if the condition of the apron was better, I’d need to make a new one to match the longer skirt length I needed.
The scarf was in a very fragile condition. The worst parts were near the corners where the scarf was tied or pinned on. Luckily all the Western Finnish national costumes can be worn with silk scarves that used to be very popular and I already have the two silk scarves I got for my Karelian costume.
There’s one last part of the dress I didn’t mention on the video and that is the bonnet or cap called tykkimyssy (from Swedish styckemössa, meaning lace-hat). This is a hat for grown-up women, while girls would have tied a silk ribbon around their head. The cap that came with the costume is a bit worn and stained. The lace is supposed to point forwards but it kept stubbornly flipping back.
I enrolled on a course and am planning to make a new cap out of silk and complete with real bobbin lace.
Washing the wool pinafore
The old handwoven wool fabrics are delicate so they need to be hand washed. The preferred method is to use Marseille-soap. You’ll first shave slices of the soap into hot water until the soap has dissolved. Then you’ll add cold water until the the temperature is cool enough for wool and fill the tub. Then you’ll lower the garment into the water and let it soak for a few hours. It is important not to rub or otherwise agitate the wool as it can easily felt. Soaking will remove most of the dirt.
After the soaking is done you’ll rinse the dress in cold water and then wrap the dress in towels to get most of the water out. Then you can hang it to dry on a hanger or, if the dress is heavy, let it dry horizontally.
My dress wasn’t particularly dirty but I felt it safer to wash it. As I was planning to let out the hem, I ripped out the old hemming before wash.
Fitting the dress for me
The dress was a bit too short for me since it was made for somebody shorter. Also, the preferred length of national costumes has varied during the decades. Nowadays the skirts are made long, meaning 20 cm from the floor at most but they used to be much shorter in the mid 20th century due to the fashion of that era.
ITo use all the fabric I had, I needed another fabric to face the hem. I decided to use green linen leftovers from my bicycle skirt as linen is a traditional material used in national costumes anyway.
I sewed the facing to the hem with a narrow 5 mm seam allowance and then turned the facing to the wrong side and slip stitched it on invisibly. (By the way, in the picture above, you can see the selvedge of the hand-woven fabric very well.)
It was interesting to see some little thread pieces from several old hems at different heights. There were at least three old hemlines!
The side seams had been altered two times with quick and pretty sloppy basting. Furthermore the topmost snaps (The buttons were just for decoration and they hand sew-on snaps underneath to close the dress.) were moved outward. This made the dress front wonky and the side seams a bit weird. I wondered why the snaps were moved at all as the side seams would have had plenty of room to let out after someone had taken the dress in quite a lot.
I straightened the side seams and moved the snaps back to their original position. This didn’t really alter the size but made the dress front look much better. I thought about replacing the snaps with actual buttonholes but I was afraid of the old fabric fraying and decided to leave the snaps in place.
Other little fixes
The fabric edge that was turned under at the vest closure edge was fraying badly. I added some protective stitches to protect the edge and then covered the region with a patch of linen.
The underarm of the dress has been under a lot of stress so the fabric was worn through at one spot. I carefully darned the spot with silk thread. Wool would probably have been a better choice but I didn’t have suitable wool thread. At least the colour of the silk thread matched!
I also took out all the buttons, cleaned and polished them and then sewed them back, this time with matching thread. Then I spend a lot of time pressing the pleats into position. I didn’t manage to get all the creases from the old hem to disappear but at least they are smoother than they were originally. I’ll trust that in time they will smooth out.
The finished Kokkola pinafore
Here is the finished Kokkola pinafore dress. I’m so happy that I could give this dress many more years. I will be sure to wear it on Christmas!
In the next parts of this series, I will show how I made the other parts to complete this Kokkola national costume. So, don’t forget to subscribe!
Thank you for reading, and see you soon! Happy sewing!