Textile art, tradition & national identity
More than just a costume to be worn once a year, the bunad is an expression of belonging
Linn Chloe Hagstrøm
Norwegian American Weekly
The bunad is important in many ways and it is different for everyone. To me, my bunad encapsulates many struggles in coming to terms with my identity. I received a Bergensbunad for my confirmation at age 14 and I have worn it on multiple occasions; this year I am wearing it for 17th of May and during the commencement ceremony for my BA degrees. The Bergensbunad is a beautiful national costume, which comes in both navy blue and ivory white, and represents the city of Bergen. It has gorgeous hand-embroidered flowers on the vest and skirt. This April, I went to see Linda Caspersen, a local textiles expert in Gig Harbor, Wash., to get my Bergensbunad refitted for 17th of May and my graduation.
The bunad has roots in the Norwegian national romantic movement, which started in the 1800s and became one of the main national expressions of Norwegian independence. Norwegian national identity and often local identity is expressed through wearing a bunad. The design, shape, silver, and accessories of the various bunads are each distinct to particular areas in Norway, and the person can choose a bunad from the place or geographical area where one feels the strongest sense of belonging.
The Bergensbunad has been on the market since 1957 and was designed by Haldis Nygård. This costume is made of thick woolen material of high quality, and the intricate hand-embroidered patterns build on rose painting traditions and embroidery art. The costume in and of itself is an expression of the mood and temperament of people from Bergen.
I received my Bergensbunad in the context of my confirmation ceremony when I was 14 years old. Shortly before the confirmation ceremony, the individuals to be confirmed may receive a personally fitted and handcrafted bunad as a cultural symbol of reaching adulthood. The bunad is made in such a way that it can be worn for a lifetime. It is made of high-quality wool and often satin, and extra fabric is sown into the garb, so that the bunad can be refitted in length and width throughout a person’s life. Which is why I visited Linda Caspersen.
When asked about her daily life, Caspersen responded that she spends her days exercising in the morning, sewing, practicing the cello, traveling, studying Spanish, and working in the yard. “I do a lot of volunteering at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) and at South Kitsap high school in Port Orchard where I used to teach Family and Consumer Science and Spanish. I keep busy! Textiles is my baby. In the past, I ran a pillow business that I kept for 10 years.”
Caspersen was born in Wisconsin to immigrant parents but stays connected to Norway in several ways, such as Norwegian textile art, volunteering at the Scandinavian Cultural Center, and spending each summer at their property in Ylvingen, Norway.
More recently, Caspersen curated the exhibit Common Threads: An Overview of Scandinavian Textiles together with Laila Caspersen Hansen. This exhibit was on display in the University Gallery and at the Scandinavian Cultural Center at Pacific Lutheran University from February 3 through March 2. The pieces on display were outstanding examples of textile art drawn from the Scandinavian Cultural Center at PLU. Caspersen has been heavily involved in the Scandinavian Cultural Center through membership in the SCC council and currently serves as president of the council.
She agreed to help me refit my Bergensbunad, having an extensive background involving a Masters of Science in Clothing and Textiles and a Bachelors in Education, plus a vast amount of informal education from traveling in Scandinavia. “I studied at Bergen Husflid School for a year, where we were a small group and the classes were very tough, a lot of intensive weaving. I incorporated some of the Scandinavian design methods into my masters thesis and did a special section on textile design (weaving).” In addition to her substantial experience with textiles, Caspersen has altered and made many bunads from scratch.
In order to refit my bunad, she had to take apart the pieces: the vest had to be detached from the skirt and opened on the sides, then the skirt had to be undone from the waistband. Following this process, I tried on the vest and she pinned it on each side where it needed to be sewn back together, and we did the same process with the skirt and waistband. I then put the whole costume on and she pinned the vest and skirt pieces together. The following day I came back to try the whole bunad on and she finalized the sewing process and added a slit for my bunad purse.
The year I was confirmed in the Norwegian church, I was also confirmed in the Norwegian folk spirit. The first time I wore my Bergensbunad I was incredibly proud, and after waiting my whole life I finally felt a sense of belonging. At that moment, I took part in a Norwegian national identity. As a second-generation immigrant in Norway, feeling like I belonged within the frame-work of Norwegian culture came as a major relief. Judith Butler, a renowned gender theorist and American philosopher, argues that “the body is a historical situation […] and is a manner of doing, dramatizing, and reproducing a historical situation.” Acts create meaning, and the act of wearing a bunad, which is a national and historical garb, symbolizes both cultural and national affiliation.
This article originally appeared in the May 6, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.