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The Suiti traditional attire

Villaines and shoulder shawls

The Suiti heritage contains a vast variety of self-made and manufactory-made woven villaines, yet they do not show sophistication around their denominations. Bigger villaine for cold weather, let it be grey or brownish, is called simply lielā drān’ (meaning the big clothing). There are mainly villaines and shoulder shawls called in peculiar names. For example, there are villaines known as the sarkanā drāna (the red clothing) or raibene (the multi-coloured one), kanisers or the black shawl, baltā rakstītā (the white decorated one) or aizsitene and trakā drāna (the crazy clothing). The types of shoulder shawls are the following: zīdstrīpa, govkuņģis and garpraņa.
The most popular Suiti shawl is trakā drāna. The Suiti ladies still wear trakā drāna at great celebrations, and the integral part of it is the great brooch (the wealthiest ladies decorate themselves with a brooch ring, too). It is unclear, why this type of villaine is called that way. Usually it is meant for to its bright colours. That is to say, the crazy bright colours, which lead to the denomination trakā drāna.

Aizsitene, the decorated white villaine

The Suiti traditional attire is special for its versatile and bright villaines and woollen shawls, each characterized by luxurious design and special denominations. At great celebrations the decorated white villaine and mēlene were put on, as they are considered the most luxurious ones, produced by the most complicated techniques. The decorated white villaine is combined with the mēlene, and they are fastened with a brooch. The mēlene is worn under the decorated white villaine. Historically, when people moved from one place to another by foot or horse-carts, they put on travel villaines. The travel villaines were woven just like the decorated white ones, except they did not have the patterned band and fringes. The travel villaine covered the celebration dress.

The decorated white villaines were gorgeous and versatile, which is well demonstrated by the depository in the National Museum of Finland, in Helsinki. When going on an expedition in early 20th century, Axel O. Heikel, researcher of ethnography, ended up in the Suiti area, among other places. The material he gathered in this area was handed over to the museum depository. The material obtained on the expedition was demonstrated in publication Axel O. Heikel, “Volstrachten In den Ostseeprovizen und in setukesien”. – Helsingfors, 1909, Taf. XIII.

Three decorated white villaines from the materials of The National Museum of Finland.

The decorated white villaine is attributed to the attire of bride and young girls. In early 20th century it was called aizsitenis. M. Siliņš describes it in the following manner: the decorated white villaine, an inseparable combination with the mēlene, i. e., the dark blue villaine, covers the mēlene over its copper string circles, by an extension of a hand-width.

Sometimes, just for the sake of showing off her dowry, the villaine was folded or hanging over the lady’s arm with the most luxuriant brooch the lady had pinned in it.

Mēlene

Mēlene is villaine in dark blue colour of size 90 x 140 cm. The mēlene is made from rumpled plain or huckaback woollen cloth with a cord tailored into its lower edge, where bronze or brass pendants could be attached to.

The pattern of villaine is formed in spirals of two lengths. The pattern band is created along the villaine lower edge and within its corners. The patterns in the villaine corners can be various.

Kanisers or the black shawl

The black shawl was considered under the category of the great shawls and was one of the favourites in the Suiti female wardrobe since its beginnings. The Suiti loved the shawl for its red colour and the bright lines along the shawl edges. The shawl was also put on the coat or fur coat during winters.

In early 20th century, the shawls in Alsunga were woven by Nikolajs Heņķis.

Ilga Leimane tells that her mother (Anna Porziņģe from Balande (1907-1994) and other women had a saying that every decent lady ought to have a trakā drāna, govkuņģis and kanisers in her wardrobe.

Garpraņa

The term garpraņa refers to its long fringes that can be even over 20 cm long. “These shoulder shawls were worn by girls on Sundays to show off their dowry,” Ilga Leimane explains.

Govkuņģis

Today, govkuņģis (meaning cow’s stomach), is one of the most popular shoulder shawls in the Suiti ladies’ wardrobe. They put govkuņģis not only to cover the traditional attire, but also combine it with the regular festive outfit (at church, celebrations, events), so called Lutheran clothing.

Speaking of the shawl’s denomination, Ilga Leimane explains its texture resembles cow’s third stomach. The origins of the shawl’s name are referred to also in the book “Balandnieki” by P. Upenieks, describing the Suiti life in details: “Also today, the second day of Whitsunday, at dawn, every Balandnieki dressed up un put on the posh Suiti skirts and, with the weather being rather cool, their shoulders were covered with the warm woollen shawls, called govkuņģis. They have a red-black checked pattern with green and white striped fabric, which looks like honeycombs.”

These were not self-woven textiles, but imported from probably Russia, though they have become popular especially in the Suiti community. The uneven texture of the shawls made someone think of cow’s stomach, so they started using the peculiar denomination.

The shawls were woven from wool-mixture yarn. As per P. Upenieks, initially govkuņģis was imported just like other types of shawls from foreign countries, but, when it was not possible anymore, the Suiti began weaving govkuņģis themselves. It is known that in 1930’s govkuņģis shawls were made by Anna Kulberga in Alsunga, whereas in late 20th century/early 21st century they were woven by Elza Blūma, a weaver living in Kuldīga.

Zīdstrīpa

The great shawl – zīdstrīpa (meaning silk line) – is considered a great luxury the Suiti ladies take pride in. The term refers to the silk lines woven in, forming the checked pattern of the shawl.

The Suiti heritage has two types of zīdstrīpa – the old and the new ones. They differ in the fact the old ones were bought from travelling merchants and had silk lines woven in, while the new ones are made by the Suiti themselves. Besides, instead of the silk thread coloured (yellow, green or blue) worsted is used.

Although the Suiti tried to weave zīdstrīpas on their own, only few have remained.

“On a Sunday morning, at early dawn, four women left “Graudiņi” house and set off for a long walk all the way to Kuldīga. They had their beautiful Suiti skirts on. They all were wearing new pale yellow pastalas from cowhide and flower-patterned socks. They had the great shawls tied around under their armpits. The two Sili girls had the great black shawls, while Rūce of Baloži was wearing great zīdstrīpis. It may be not as warm as the black one, but surely young maidens do not freeze, especially, when on a walk. Or they can jog, if they feel like it. Unlike others, Grieta of Graudiņi had chosen to tie around a govkuņģis, even warmer than the black shawl – too much warmth can harm no one. Everyone on them had dižā drāna, a great woollen shawl in hand. Better safe than sorry. How will the weather be, who knows?” (“Balandnieki”, pages 226-227).

Lielā drāna

The lielā drāna (meaning the big cloth) is also called pelēkā drāna (the grey cloth) or lielā villdrāna (the big woollen cloth) (also pātardeķis, meaning a blanket of prayers). It was a casual piece of clothing – the big shawl, which the Suiti ladies used to wear as an overcoat.

They joined the Suiti heritage in the late 19th century. The shawls are so enormous, they are worn folded in half. Thus, they keep the lady warm and protect her from soaking in rainy weather.