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The Suiti traditional attire

Suiti skirts

Skirts (lindruki, lindūki)

Lindruki were casual clothing the Suiti women wore straight over their shirts. Regular skirts were made from wool or woolen mixture, while in some cases they were made from flaxen for working purposes. The fabric used in Suiti lindruki is monotone, without any stripes or checks, except for some texture of short intermittent lines or tree needles.

The skirts were made from bright red cloth woven in form of tiny droplets. The earlier version of skirts was less red, but rather purple-reddish. The skirts are longish and start from some inches above the waistline and go all the way down, till the area somewhat above the ankles. The upper part is gathered in tiny pleats to make the skirt as full, as possible. For practical reasons, a bodice ņieburs was stitched to the skirt. The skirts were buckled with woven belts or metal belts sleņģenes.

The territory of Latvia being at the remote part of Europe, the modern trends were introduced some time, some ten years later than elsewhere. Despite this, since the 17th century, the Alsunga residents had a close relation to the processes of European culture. The same goes to the war in 1812, which caused direct consequences in Kurzeme, as a result making a great impact on the Suiti wardrobe. Thus, the Suiti people dressed up-to-date, as far as they could allow themselves in terms of wealth, conservatism and type of character. The aforesaid high-waist skirt was trend of the Empire style, though the structure of straps stitched to the skirts traces back to more ancient period, probably from some cultural roots of the Northern peoples. Similarly, the ancient forms of skirts were fixed by straps, not belts, also by the Livs, the neighbouring people.

There have been a lot of discussions nowadays about the possible age of the orange (red) shade typical for the Suiti skirts. Although there is only little material evidence from the ancient times left, there is some interesting data available, based on which various speculations can be made. For instance, a quote (Laurentius Müller, “Septentrionasche Historien” … 1595, S. 33-34) from monograph by A. Spekke “Latvieši un Livonija 16. gs.” says: “…even in winter time (non-German, i.e., of Latvian origin) females wear just one piece of blue or red cloth, wrapped around: that is their clothing.” Unfortunately, it is unclear, whether he speaks of villaines or wrapped-around skirts, nevertheless, it proves that the “red colour” (while we do not know its shades, nor the process of dying) did exist in the clothing worn by the people of 16th century in the territory of Latvia.

Also, due to the colonial policy by Duke Jacob in the second half of the 17th century, the red colour may have already been popular during that period. “Having seized the colonies, the Duke’s ships brought abundance of wood containing colorants from Tobago Island and the coast of Gambia, like Pernambuco wood, mahogany, also the indigo colour. Emburga and Mežotne each had an indigo dye-house. In contrast, the Swedish and Danish colonies were private proprieties, so they did not bring as much productions to their respective countries. Thus, through the Duke’s instances Tobago and Gambia provided colorant for every Baltic country. This resulted in the Swedish great merchants inducing their king to conquer Kurzeme in 1658. The dye-houses were used not just for dying, but also for making different colorants in form of powder and oil paints. The dye-houses operated until early 18th century, though they narrowed down and were shut down in the chaos of the II Northern war.

The textile colorants prepared in the said Kurzeme manufactories must have been packed in small portions to sell at various European countries. One cannot tell, whether the common people were wealthy enough to get hold of the imported red colorants (that must have been quite costly) in such great amount to dye a sufficient stack of yarn for skirt weaving. Not to mention a probability Duke Jacob would just give away the colorants to his peasants, when such materials could return a good profit in Europe.

The observations by Matīss Siliņš seem more plausible in respect to the colour change of the clothing the residents Alsunga area wore after 1870, since he was able to meet and talk to the contemporaries of the period. “Until 1870, in Alšvanga, one of the most conservative areas in Latvia, there was a lot of respect and care shown to folksy adornments and artistic value. That was followed by a period of weariness, until 1900, thus in few decades the period of national taste faded away, having left some affection solely in the eyes of the older generation. The younger generation has totally changed their ways towards the European, industrially produced fashions.

The first significant change the folksy taste went through was the colour of costumes and clothing. Before, the favourites were “blue” or brownish “purple”, for example, in female skirts rinduki (also known as lindroki or brunči in other places), whereas now the “red” colour has emerged, just like a random whim. Especially the female national attire in the Alšvanga area has suddenly turned from the traditionally ancient dark red into bright red: red skirts, red sweater vamzis, red (red-yellow checked) villaine or seģene or sarkanā drēbe, red silk shawl on the maiden’s head with a spangu vainags crown of yellow metal shining from underneath.

How was it possible for Matīss Siliņš to know the precise year, when the colour shade changed in the clothing by the Alsunga ladies? That was due to introduction of chemical colorants in Latvia that took place in the 1860-70’s, when besides dying textiles with herbal colorants, there emerged the opportunity to use new chemical colorants, thus achieving much brighter and intensive shades of red, pink, black, purple, green and other. 60. It must be said, the oldest attires in black and purple referred to by M. Siliņš, could not possibly be more ancient than the red-orange attire, since all the chemical colorants were introduced to Latvia at the same time. Most probably the earlier attires were black and purple simply because for several centuries the customary colour for festive attires was blue and the black and darkish purple shades seemed closer to dark blue, so, in terms of psychological meaning, people were more eager to adopt these instead of jumping straight to the red shades. It was also in line with the sense of fashion at that period, when both man and women made festive attires in black or very dark shades. Apparently, Alsunga was no exception. In late 19th century, interestingly enough, the stitched on bodice (the strap part) was woven as plain cloth in the same colours the monochrome skirt was – with orange, dark purple or blue thin stripes.

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In 1860-70’s, a period of active usage of chemical colorants of textiles began in Latvia. In Vidzeme, people started weaving their striped and checked skirts in brighter shades, as well as shoulder shawls (red checked), and šatieris blankets (with gradient patterns), since yarn could be dyed in various shades. The Kurzeme ladies, perhaps for showing off, weaved bright colours in their rose-patterned blankets (rozīšu segas), knitted gloves and socks with bright ornaments, samples of which they looked up in the handicraft publications (ornament books) of that period, and changed the skirt colour. M. Siliņš speculates the red colour in Alsunga may have been adopted from Nīca: “The change of colours must be copied from Nīca, in Kurzeme, not so far away from here, situated to South of Liepāja, where they have the same red colour, though complemented with bright ethnic patterns in different colours, which is not the case in Alsunga, although earlier, when using the blue shade, there were bright ornaments abundantly used also in Alsunga, namely, in villaines, vamzis jacket and so on. But, the red colour in Nīca clothing is not so ancient either. Elderly people claim it was brought in by some outlandish impressions of female clothing style, though it evidently has taken place no more than a few generations before, in comparison to Alšvanga. This is why the Nīca image of red attire had managed to combine with the style of ethnic ancient patterns completely, whereas in Alsunga the new colour came too late and such unification was missed.”

No doubt, the winds of change of the second half of the 19th century affected the Alsunga area greatly, however the tradition to wear monochrome clothing, whatever the colour it was, remained alive until the 20th century.

The shades of skirt colour range from orange and red to pink and purple ones.
In former times dark blue skirts, so called mēļie brunči, were worn, too. These were also used as a part of the bride’s dress in the 19th century.

The sewing of lindruki consists of two parts – the upper and the lower part. The latter goes rather high – all the way up to the middle chest, where it is attached to the upper part, always in different colour, even striped with vertical thin lines. It hangs by the shoulders and holds the lower part upwards. The lower part is usually gathered in tiny pleats called buntis. To contain the pleats in place, the waist is buckled with so called sleņģene belt from metal or, in later periods, a prievīte (patterned belt). There were cases, when lindruki had no upper part. Instead they were hanging by metal chains that were crossed over the chest part.