By Sue Mansfield
Editors Note: Sue’s article originally appeared in the newsletter of the “Collapse Pleat Bump Study Group,” part of the Complex Weavers Group, in November 2011. We reprint her article here with permission (and gratitude).
In June 2011 I took a vadmel workshop in Norway. Afterward I met my Norwegian relatives. One of the guests at a family christening wore a bunad, or folk costume, from the Setesdal region. I took photos of her and the back of her skirt. Several days later at the Norsk Folkmuseum in Oslo I saw the same bunad and a display of making the pleated black skirt fabric. Immediately I thought of woven shibori, except this pleating was done by hand sewing. The process takes two years. Laurann Gilbertson, the Vesterheim Museum Curator, lent me a VHS tape on the pleating process based on research by Aagot Noss and answered questions for me because the language on the tape was Norwegian. (Viewing a tape without understandable narration doesn’t indicate elapsing time between processing steps and repeated processes.) Black and white photos come from Stakkeklede I Setesdal by Aagot Noss with permission from Novus forlag.
The warp is wool single ply Z twist at 16 threads per cm and the weft wool single ply S twist at 8 threads per cm and is woven as a two-two twill. Initial size is 181.5 cm x 65 cm. The sheep breeds for wool for textile work in general in the Setesdal Valley are Spælsau and Dalasau. Spælsau is an old Norwegian short tailed breed with a two layer coat which dates back to the Vikings. Dalasau is a cross between Spælsau and English breeds (Cheviot, Leicester, Sutherland). (7)
A length of white fabric, with or without colored weft as spacing indicators at intervals, is stitched four rows at a time with linen or bast fiber thread. Each of the parallel stitching lines has a separate needle. When the entire width is stitched the sewer tightly pulls up the four threads and ties a knot using pairs of two threads. She continues with the next four rows. When the entire length is pleated, it is stretched out flat and then rolled around a rolling pin and pinned closed. It is rolled on a board to flatten out the pleats. It is stored for a year on the rolling pin before fulling and dyeing.
After the storage time it is unrolled (still pleated) and put in an iron pot filled with water which is then brought to a boil. The steaming hot fabric is removed and rubbed on both sides with lye or “green” soap using a wooden washboard. (The lye soap is made with hemp oil.) The fabric is rubbed and rolled on the felting board and put in the pot again and boiled. This process is repeated several times. Finally the fabric is rinsed in a bucket of water.
Mordanting and dyeing
Five tablets of copper sulphate or blue vitriol are put in the iron pot filled with water, allowed to dissolve, and then the fabric is added. The fabric with the mordant is boiled for an hour, then cooled in the pot with a rock placed on sticks to weight down the fabric. In the morning it is pulled out. Now the fabric is a bit green. The dyer empties the pot and refills it with water and adds 100 grams of iron per 8 hectograms (800 grams) of fabric. 750 grams of logwood chips are also added to the pot. This is cooked for the dye to develop, then the fabric is added and boiled for an hour. (The logwood chips are still in the dye bath.) (Photos p174, p175 top left–dyeing) The tape shows the dyer checking the density of the dye by pulling apart the pleats. When there is complete black dyeing –no white streaks or dots, she lets the fabric cool for five or six hours with sticks and rock weighting on top of it. The logwood chips below and the rock above help to keep the heat in longer.
The fabric is stretched out flat on the ground and cold ash from birch trees, bjørkeoske, is sprinkled on both sides. It is rolled up with the ash; the next morning it is rinsed in the lake and hung up on a clothesline to dry.
The dried dyed and pleated fabric is rolled on a rolling pin and fastened closed with pins. No pleating threads are removed while it is stored. Laurann Gilbertson says, “The fabric is left for at least one year before it can be sewn into a garment. Noss says that her informant, Jorann T. Rysstad (the one in the film), said her mother had left the fabric both eight and ten years. I can’t tell if that was for better colorfastness and pleating or if that’s just how long it took her to use some of her prepared fabric.
The holes in the fabric indicate that the pleating process was authentic. I asked whether the tape showed the traditional method. Laurann says, “ This is the historic/traditional process. The only modernization might be the stripes woven into the fabric that make it easier to sew straight lines. The old samples (strip page 172 and detail page 173) (Detail photo of grey gathered fabric p 173.) do not have the dark strip woven in. It is possible to make the fine pleats with a machine and it’s also possible to use synthetic dye instead of logwood.” Noss says, “Pleated garments were worn in Norway back to the Middle Ages, though some of those garments haven’t remained in use (like men’s balloon-shaped knee pants) in the 19th or 20th centuries. Other regions in addition to Setesdal in Aust-Agder in Norway use pleated fabrics.”
The Setesdal bunad has a black skirt with green and red bands at the hem which is stiffened with a triple layered strip of fulled white wool. The videotape also included sewing details.
Another weaver, Patrice George from New York City, was inspired by the Setesdal process to make a pleated pillow using woven shibori technique with waxed cotton upholstery thread for the gathering at desired intervals. She, however, didn’t use the traditional fulling and dyeing process. She washed the fabric in lukewarm water and steamed the pleats. Her pleating wouldn’t necessarily survive cleaning processes; the warp and weft were already dyed.
For those of us in the study group the traditional process described above could be modified to full the pleats, i.e. use caustic solution of lye soap or hot soapy water, and boil with agitation or use a washing machine.
- Stakkeklede i Setesdal by Aagot Noss, Institutet for sammenligende kulturrfoskning, Novus forlag, Oslo Norway 2008
- VCR tape –Stakkefeddung og farging og Bunadssying I Setesdal (I: Norsk filminstitutt)
- Laurann Gilbertson, textile curator Vesterheim Museum, Decorah, Iowa
- Patrice George, FIT New York, personal notes and article in Veyer I Vev, pages 48-49
- Vyer I Vev, by Tove Gulsvik and Ingebjørg Vaagen, Norges Husflidslag
- Advice from Carol Colburn, professor of history and costume design at University of Northern, Iowa, Cedar Falls, Iowa
- Thesis reference provided by Laurann Gilbertson for possible identification of sheep breed: Svensøy, Kari Grethe. “Det va inkje hobby; det va arbeid:” Tekstilarbeid i Bykle ca. 1900-1935. [It was not a hobby; it was work: Textile work in Bykle] Masters thesis, University of Oslo, 1987. p. 178.
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sp%C3%A6lsau_%28sheep%29 Information on spelsau sheep