By Carol Colburn
There is growing interest in making and wearing these traditional shirts. Learning the techniques for sewing the classic work shirt aligns with the ‘slow fashion/clothing movement’ where time invested in sewing results in garments that are made to last – perhaps a lifetime. Prior to developing workshops making these shirts, I studied work shirts and fabrics used for them in museums in Norway, Sweden, and in Scandinavian-American Midwestern communities. After studying photographs, remaining shirts, and scraps of fabrics, it is clear that in the 19th and early 20th centuries, there had been a variety of fibers, weave structures, color and patterns incorporated in the sturdy fabrics used. Cut and detailing also varied according to how the shirts were to be used, whether for agriculture, factory work, forestry, or fishing. Bringing this background into the classroom has resulted in creative ideas emerging through combinations of fabric and garment details. Sewing together with a group is a great way to develop skills and new ways to think about traditions.
In workshops taught in a number of settings students are making updated versions of the work shirt that suit our lives today. Starting with ten different sizes of patterns that range from toddler/child sizes to adult XXXL, students can make further pattern adjustments to custom fit their shirts to their size and preferences. Planning their shirts with specific uses in mind is part of the fun. Some make adjustments to their shirts specifically for gardening, woodworking, musical performance, folk dance, work as artists, fishing, sailing, hiking and camping, etc. The workshops almost always have a mix of men and women; they bring a range of sewing experience from beginning to advanced.
For about eight years in Busserull/Scandinavian Work Shirt workshops taught at Vesterheim Folk Art School and North House Folk School, students have used commercially available fabric in my workshops, either imported from Norway or purchased from fabric sources in the U.S. Recently, handweavers have become interested in weaving yardage for making Scandinavian work shirts. It is a perfect garment to make from handwoven cloth, because the traditional patterns are based on squares and rectangles, making very efficient use of handwoven fabric which can be made on a variety of looms. The shirt provides an opportunity to showcase fine weaving and sewing techniques together, and results in a comfortable and adaptable addition to a wardrobe for men, women or children. The first handweaver that I worked with came to a class at North House Folk School with cotton yardage already woven for two shirts. Debbie Cooter from Two Harbors, Minnesota made her first custom handwoven shirt of cotton, and has gone on to make further shirts of cotton and wool.
The idea has caught on with more handweavers. Members of the Weaving Study Group at the Duluth Fiber Handcrafters Guild are now weaving yardage and preparing to make Scandinavian work shirts. Barb Dwinnell is leading their weaving and I am coaching the sewing, using my range of Scandinavian work shirt patterns, and incorporating techniques for sewing garments with handwoven cloth. The group meets monthly for new information and demonstrations, and works at home between meetings. The fabrics woven by the study group have the use of natural fiber and warp stripe patterns in common. Cotton, linen, silk, and wool are among the fibers being used in a range of fabric weights and stripe designs, using colors and rhythms that suit the individual weaver’s aesthetics.
Another class for handweavers coming up in the Twin Cities will be sponsored by the Weavers Guild of Minnesota. Kala Exworthy and I are planning to lead a class in Fall 2016 for handweavers to weave their shirt fabric and sew work shirts. There will be two class meetings in September to plan fabric and adjust patterns, and then a three-day workshop later in the Fall for garment construction. For inspiration for the weavers, Kala has designed a very lively set of shirt fabrics, inspired by history and beautifully updated for sewing and wearing today.
Two more formats for Scandinavian work shirt classes are on my schedule for Spring, 2016. At John C. Campbell Folk School a five-day workshop in making Scandinavian work shirts is scheduled during Scandinavian Heritage Week. In this longer class we use commercial fabric. The class is designed to allow the opportunity for learning more about the background and heritage of the shirt, and incorporating more variations in work shirt construction. With a longer format more fine patterning and sewing details can be incorporated.
At The Nordic Center located in Duluth, Minnesota, a unique streamlined two-day class will be offered in late April, sponsored by a Minnesota State Folk Arts Grant. All students will make child sized shirts from imported Norwegian busserull fabric. The grant funding makes the class affordable by providing fabrics and sewing supplies free for all students. By making small shirts, students will learn all the sewing techniques for work shirt construction before making a personalized adult sized shirt on their own.
John C Campbell Folk School, Brasstown, NC, March 20 – 26, 2016. Phone 800-365-5724
The Nordic Center, Duluth, MN, April 30-May1, 2016. Phone 218-393-7320, Tom Rebnord
Weavers Guild of Minnesota at the Textile Center of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN. September 17th-18th, and October 21-23, 2016. Phone 612-436-0463
North House Folk School, Grand Marais, MN. Usually scheduled each Fall season. Phone 888-387-9762
Carol Colburn, Duluth, Minnesota, teaches garment making workshops that incorporate Scandinavian textile traditions along with contemporary craft. Through her travels, she has found inspiration in everyday as well as the festive clothing traditions throughout Scandinavia, with a focus on Norway. Her publications discuss the design, techniques, and meanings behind Scandinavian folk clothing, and in her teaching she seeks to bring new life to time tested design. She taught historical clothing classes, pattern making, and sewing in universities before she began teaching focused heritage workshops in settings such as Vesaas Farm Studio in Telemark, Norway, Vesterheim Museum in Decorah, Iowa, North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota, John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina, and in other cultural settings. Students in her sewing workshops are introduced to an appreciation of traditional techniques while creating contemporary garments with custom fit and including individual detail.
Contact Carol at email@example.com