From Dirndl to Bunad: How a German sewing pattern became Norway’s traditional dress

Similar in shape and style, the German dirndl and the Norwegian bunad could be long lost cousins ! Vests with front closures, long skirts with embellishments and embroidery, and bright national colors teem with patriotic esprit de corps. With a new, modern production of Wagner’s Die Fliegende Holländer scheduled for the 2019-2020 Live in HD season, I cast off the thought of trying to guess the heretofore unseen (and most likely abstruse) costumes for François Girard’s reimagining and veered toward the more traditional: a Norwegian bunad for the opera’s Scandinavian setting.

However, when Die Fliegende Holländer was cancelled the day before its cinematic broadcast in March, the nearly finished bunad was left thrown over the back of a chair where it sat in silence for months. That is, until the concert for Lise Davidsen popped up and suddenly the bunad became relevant again. Here’s how I made it…

The Pattern

I started by using a German dirndl pattern, which was given to me by a friend several months prior. When Gisele offered me any of the patterns in her garage sale stash, I looked over the Burda pattern thinking it was fashionable, but not something I could use for the foreseeable future. How clueless I was…

Burda 8396

Noticing how similar the bunad and dirndl were, I began plotting how I was going to alter the original pattern; namely, removing the front zipper and transforming the front into a corset of sorts. A mock-up was made.

After determining the new design of the front, the muslin markings were transferred onto the tissue paper pattern piece.

According to the mock-up, the rest of the pattern appeared to be in good shape and now it was time to cut the real fabric.

The Fabric

I knew I wanted a bright red vest with a deep blue skirt and white blouse like many of the photos I found online…

Finding the perfect fabric was simple: a sample ordered online proved to be a brilliant scarlet with a subtle tonal floral pattern. Even better, the cotton fabric was Scandinavian in its origin. I do love to match my materials with their geographical creative counterparts !

The pieces were pinned onto the twice folded fabric (for the face AND lining) and cut out.

Sewing

Because adding decoration and details were important, I decided to pipe the seams of the bodice to set off the shaping of the vest. A regular zipper foot works just as well as any fancy piping foot…

Sewing the piping

Two rows of Rigilene boning were sewn onto the front vertical edges of the lining to support the lacing area. On the face side, the seams and piping allowances were pressed opened. All the corners were snipped to prevent bulk.

Now that both the face and the lining were complete, it was time to sew them together along the neckline edge. Bias binding was used to finish the armholes and the bottom of the vest.

Sewing the bias binding

Voilà ! The vest was almost finished. Holes were punched, grommets were installed, and then the garment was set aside.

The Skirt

The master Burda pattern came with a skirt design, but this, too, had to be adapted. There was a front zipper to be joined in connection with the bodice and this I removed by placing the pattern on the fold of the fabric. Speaking of, I bought the skirt fabric, a navy canvas-type material, from Walmart ! The pattern was laid out on the canvas…

…and a waistband was cut.

Waistband marked on folded fabric

I sewed the skirt based on the instructions, which included front pleats and a gathered back. The single side pocket (why only one ?) was omitted. A regular zipper was installed. Folding the waistband in half, it was attached to the top edge of the skirt over the pleats and gathers. A buttonhole was made at the back and a bright blue button was sewn onto the other side of the back band.

Back zipper closure and button

Something that I found skewed about the pattern was the overall hem length. It was looooooooong ! Too long. Fortunately, the folded hem provided an excellent starting place for the decorative stitching I wanted to implement along the bottom edge. Did I ever think I was going to use more than 3 of the 100 stitches on my BabyLock sewing machine ? Heavens, no ! But I have ─ look how pretty the motifs look when sewn in bright scarlet !

That’s it ! The vest and skirt were finished and now it was time to put it all together. There was one thing missing and that was the classic white blouse that is worn beneath the vest.

Hmmm…

Searching through my mother’s closet, I found a suitable blouse in sleeve length… but it had an expansive scalloped collar satin stitched in crimson. No need to worry─ I just turned the collar right side in and the blouse was just perfect !

Together with a gold brooch and lapis jewelry, the outfit was a close resemblance to the traditional Norwegian bunad.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

To read about my virtual escape to Norway wearing my bunad, check out my post on the concert for Lise Davidsen !

http://costumeclosetcouture.com/2020/09/07/met-stars-live-in-concert-lise-davidsen/

Otello

It was an easy decision. After my spellbinding first opera experience with Il Trovatore, I couldn’t wait to shell out another $24 at the ticket booth for a following Verdi tragedy 2 weeks later, Otello. Intriguingly, it was Otello that jumped out at me the most when viewing the Live in HD schedule in the summer of 2015: the drama based on Shakespeare’s play could have easily been my first opera. Thankfully, it wasn’t.

Aleksandrs Antonenko in a promotional photo for Verdi’s Otello / Metropolitan Opera

Bartlett Sher’s production, with frosted Lucite walls that were supposed to be a spoof from a quote by Verdi’s librettist about enclosing Otello in a glass house, mimicked frozen blocks of ice rather than the intended domicile of transparency. They were cold, lifeless, and ineffective from my point of view.

Željko Lučić as Iago in Otello / Metropolitan Opera

The cast was decent with a liquid Željko Lučić and a piercingly chill Sonya Yoncheva (fitting for the icy production), but I felt Otello suffered from an identity crisis: with his clothing and styling (not to mention his lack of blackface) just as drab as all the secondary characters and chorus, there was nothing to distinguish him among the throngs of people on stage. Shouldn’t he have looked more… Moorish ?

Dmitri Pittas (far right) as Cassio and Aleksandrs Antonenko (center) as Otello / Metropolitan Opera

While Desdemona’s final “Muoio innocente” was moving, I was left underwhelmed by the overall performance. Still, my exuberant, newfound interest in opera was undeterred by this small nick in the grand scheme of things.

Sonya Yoncheva as Desdemona in Otello / Metropolitan Opera

Dressing up for my first opera was almost as much fun as seeing the performance itself. There’s something vicarious and invigorating about feeling fancy as if you, yourself, are a part of the opera by the clothes you choose to wear. To my second opera, however, I wanted to “theme” my outfit for the sunny Venetian locale of Otello and Desdemona’s spotless disposition. “Something golden, something demure…” I mused.

Othello Relating His Adventures to Desdemona

The scarves and skirts of my closet were paraded in breezy seaside style as I toyed with layering and softly blending color schemes. I used my standby gold tank top, which I wore to Il Trovatore, and slipped on a long white linen skirt. Then the fun began. A metallic gold thread woven through the pinky-peach and cream striped scarf gave glints of gentility and coastal charm. When I tied its fringed ends together into a loose side knot, the effect was just right… at least for an outfit made from scarves and skirts !

A pair of lace gloves (thank you, Aunt Countess !), antique gold rings (such a faux pas when worn with gloves ─ fie, me !), and just the right assortment of necklaces and earrings helped me feel right at home as Desdemona. Do I look as if I’m about to be strangled ?

I styled my hair in a “twisted sections pinned up and back” sort of style. Nothing fancy, but very elegant when clipped together with a gold flower hair accessory.

An outfit for free, a better-than-front-row-seat ticket for $24… Enjoying the thrills of opera and the emulation of one of Shakespeare’s most virtuous heroines doesn’t have to be a ship-sinking occasion. If only the production of Otello had fared better…

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Otello ─ Giuseppe Verdi (1887)
Live in HD air date: October 17, 2015

Cast:
Otello ─ Aleksandrs Antonenko
Desdemona ─ Sonya Yoncheva
Iago ─ Željko Lučić
Emilia ─ Jennifer Johnson Cano
Cassio ─ Dmitri Pittas
Roderigo ─ Chad Shelton
Lodovico ─ Günther Groissböck
Montano ─ Jeff Mattsey
A herald ─ Tyler Duncan

Credits:
Conductor ─ Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Production ─ Bartlett Sher
Set Designer ─ Es Devlin
Costume Designer ─ Catherine Zuber
Lighting Designer ─ Donald Holder
Projection Designer ─ Luke Halls
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Eric Owens

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen

Relatively unknown to the world, dramatic soprano Lise Davidsen has been forging a meteoric rise to stardom with her powerful voice that has some critics calling her “the great Wagnerian promise of her generation.” With as much hype (and height ─ Lise is nearly 6’2″ !) surrounding the shy, Norwegian native, my interest in seeing this uncut gem perform was keener than usual.

Lise Davidsen performing at Oscarshall Palace with James Baillieu accompanying / Metropolitan Opera

Although lacking the total confidence that accompanies decades of professional stage experience, Lise’s humble, offhanded spirit brought a refreshing genuineness to her performance, which included a weighted set list of Wagnerian arias, Grieg, Verdi, and Strauss. There was a little bit of everything, so much so that the program felt like a potluck dinner party. Britten’s “Johnny” was playful with sultry low notes, Strauss’s Op. 27 was sublime, and “I Could Have Danced All Night” was a sugary charmer with James Baillieu’s scrumptious piano tip-tapping away. Adding to the ambiance was the stately Oscarshall Palace dining room, which easily recalled images of “Beauty and the Beast” to my fairy tale mind.

Lise Davidsen and James Baillieu performing at Oscarshall Palace in Oslo, Norway / Metropolitan Opera

The Cuisine

Known for its simplicity and seafood, catering our escape to Norway brought out new ideas and enticing recipes to attempt. Chris couldn’t resist trying her hand at gravlax and it was a smashing success ! Cured with salt, sugar, peppercorns, and dill, the sliced salmon was flavorful yet subtle.

Pairing marvelously with traditional mustard dill sauce, minced red onion, and a dribbling of capers, the feast was in running order. Please examine the filigreed handle on the spoon: coincidentally, it says ‘Oslo’ ─ how fitting !

Caraway crackers and rye bread were used as the foundation for the salmon and just look at how gorgeous Anne’s cheese tray was next to my platter of homemade cookies !

From left to right: Danish blue, Jarlsberg, and Havarti with dill

We do eat well at our little opera watch parties, that’s for certain ! The table was spread with delicacies from “The Land of the Midnight Sun” with a fanfare of ligonberry napkins serving as a makeshift flower arrangement.

You wish you were here with me !

Originally planning to bring a rye flour cardamon yeast bread with raisins, I scrapped that endeavour after the initial test run was a complete flop. I then switched my focus to traditional Norwegian Christmas cookies, like sirupsnippers and coconut macaroons…

Because of my dietary restrictions, I made the cookies with rye flour, coconut sugar, and maple syrup ─ no white flour, no white sugar ! The macaroons were especially artistic with their torched tips of flaked coconut.

The Clothes

When the concert location was announced, there was no hesitation as to what I would wear. Earlier in the year, I had sewn a Norwegian bunad costume for The Flying Dutchman that never was and so I’ve had a skirt and vest laying around the nether regions of my bedroom for months. Now with the perfect opportunity, I wore one of my mother’s blouses (swooping collar turned right side in for greater authenticity) under my sewn additions, which were based off a German dirndl pattern.

The palm trees in the background certainly don’t match the sub-arctic Norwegian landscape, but at least my outfit resembled the North Country. Mission accomplished !

Told by the cut caricatures of the sirupsnipper cookies, the fourth Met Stars Live In Concert event could be summed up as such:

From the forests of Norway…

…rising star Lise Davidsen brought her talents to a concert…

…broadcast around the world…

…where she won our hearts !

Hopefully, Lise Davidsen’s return to the Met will be soon; her voice (in addition to her country’s culinary specialties) were delectable !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen
Oscarshall Palace
Oslo, Norway
Live broadcast date: August 29, 2020
(Date seen: September 2, 2020)

Lise Davidsen ─ soprano
James Baillieu ─ piano

Carmen

“Love is a rebellious bird that no one can tame… And if I love you, watch out !”

Act I ─ Carmen

Opera’s most notorious femme fatale finally sashayed her way into the theater after keeping me waiting for years. Truthfully, I have longed to see Carmen for two reasons. First, the bouncing music, which is both tuneful as well as recognizable, is an alluring draw to Bizet’s landmark opera. And then there’s Carmen herself, a meaty role for any mezzo-soprano. Clémentine Margaine, French by birth, slipped into the black dress for this Live in HD performance.

Clémentine Margaine as Carmen / Metropolitan Opera

Gritty, but perfumed, Clémentine Margaine balance crude manners with beguiling charm. Watching her sent my mind into vacillations of resolve as to who she really was: a woman who looked attractive at first glance, but on further inspection was nothing more than a broad wearing lipstick and eyeliner. There was a hardness about her ─ an earthiness ─ that befit the role of the tempestuous gypsy well. This baseness was especially noticeable when compared to the sweet and singular Micaëla, played by Polish soprano, Aleksandra Kurzak, who also happens to be the real life wife of Roberto Alagna, the opera’s Don José !

Aleksandra Kurzak as Micaëla and Roberto Alagna as Don José in Carmen / Metropolitan Opera

While the songs were as exciting as I hoped they would be, I wouldn’t say that Carmen ranks as one of my favorite operas. It’s too long for a story that feels humdrum and predictable. From a personal standpoint, Bizet’s earlier work, Les Pêcheurs de Perles, was much more intriguing in terms of plot and outcome. Nevertheless, I was happy to be able to check Carmen off my list of must-see operas.

A scene from Carmen / Metropolitan Opera

Just as the singer who plays Carmen often relishes the chance to live vicariously through the role, so I also wanted to step into the clicking heels of a Spanish gypsy through my portrayal. Although Richard Eyre’s production is set in Seville during the 1930’s, I felt many of the costumes seemed pertinent to the present day and so I decided to model my look after the dancing ensemble worn by Carmen in Act II.

A scene from Act II of Carmen / Metropolitan Opera

A voluminous bell sleeve blouse and lace skirt swings in time to the rousing Gypsy Song while a black corset exemplifies Carmen’s signature seduction. Planning my version of the outfit was easy, especially when I thought of the coral colored crinkle skirt in my mother’s closet that would be perfect for the part. Marking the tiers with rows of beads, it was destined for bohemian couture. Two yards of Raschel lace, which I bought for a bargain during a Black Friday sale, were draped and pinned on the outside of the skirt like a sarong.

The lower half of the outfit complete, I moved onto the fun parts ─ the corset and the blouse !

Yes, I made a corset. It was easy with the patterns and instructions from the Corset Academy, which I use often when making structured garments. Shaping my figure, the corset was mostly hidden beneath the flouncy tie bottom blouse I sewed using the free wrap blouse pattern from Anke Herrmann’s website for Flamenco Dressmaking. Her advice and support were valuable as I altered the style slightly to suit my needs. Once I found a festive dot crepe fabric on closeout online, I was ready to sew my blouse.

Making the bell sleeves was not as difficult as I anticipated, especially using a circle skirt cutting layout. And I loved using the rolled hem setting on my BabyLock serger ! It made the edges of my bell sleeves frilly and polished.

“But what about your hair ? Is it real ?” Yes and no. Looking over past Met performance pictures, I knew I needed tightly curled locks to match that of the character’s and so I related my plight to my mother (also known as my hairstylist) whereupon she gauged that trying to curl my naturally soft and wavy hair was a futile effort. Ultimately, she suggested I find some hairpieces. Well, I did, but the entirety of that story is not fit for publication. It involved a shady shop on the wrong side of town and a man who tried to convince me that he bore an uncanny resemblance to Che Guevara. Fearful for my life ? Just a smidge.
Doing her best, my mother mingled my hair with the newly bought hairpieces to capture the Spanish vibe I was seeking.

Steeped in Sevillian style, I thoroughly delighted in playing opera’s most infamous gypsy, especially when twirling around in the theater on the way back to my seat. Olé !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Casts and Credits:

Carmen ─ Georges Bizet (1875)
Live in HD air date: February 2, 2019

Cast:
Carmen ─ Clémentine Margaine
Don José ─ Roberto Alagna
Micaëla ─ Aleksandra Kurzak
Escamillo ─ Alexander Vinogradov

Credits:
Conductor ─ Louis Langrée
Production ─ Sir Richard Eyre
Set and Costume Designer ─ Rob Howell
Lighting Designer ─ Peter Mumford
Choreographer ─ Christopher Wheeldon
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Ailyn Pérez

Acoustic Eidolon

I was touched ─ I really was ─ when I was invited with a handful of others to a private concert being given at the clubhouse of a quaint little neighborhood community nearby. While different from my usual opera outings, I figured it would be a welcome change to expand my musical horizons. And for $15, it was a fair deal.
Consisting of a husband and wife duo, Acoustic Eidolon blends classicism with the folkloric adding a healthy smattering of rousing blues and lyric verses. Hannah, with her “chocolate” cello, played with both tenderness and gusto while at times accompanying the pieces with her angelic voice ─ sometimes in French. Hypnotic and melodic, she could justly be described as a siren without the impending danger.
Joe, simultaneously picking and strumming his inventive “guitjo” (a double-necked guitar with banjo capabilities), was the pragmatist ─ the frank one ─ of the two. Often times he would provide the punch line at the culmination of one of Hannah’s soulful stories such as the time when her cello was severely damaged during airport baggage handling. “United [Airlines],” Joe sneered with mock surprise. “But you probably knew that before I said it.” Snickers bubbled from the audience.
Their set list was unique. Joining covers of Simon and Garfunkel’s eerie “The Sound of Silence” and Queen’s stupendous “Bohemian Rhapsody” (their “opera piece”, Joe claimed) were original compositions from the couple’s various albums over the years including some with global flavors. In particular, my favorite of these was “One Ol’ Wreck”, a bustling bluesy tribute to Joe’s love of cars complete with Hannah’s uncannily realistic “honks” manufactured by the skill of her bow. It had my skinny stiletto tapping in time on the floor. Vroom, vroom !

Any event, no matter how small or informal, is an excuse to dress up for me. And that’s just what I did. During my opera off-season the previous year, I had made a handkerchief hem skirt using Vogue 7766.

Vogue 7766

Initially, I intended to use this pattern for my Valkyrie skirt, but aborted the idea in favor of an alternative approach. While the plan was jettisoned, the pattern was not and I was elated to have a chance to put it to good use, proudly outfitted in a bold striped sateen from Fabric Mart Fabrics. It mingled well as a dressier look: sheer gloves, glitter stilettos, and my mother’s classic Robert Scott sweater from the 70’s/80’s all coordinated in a chic statement.

Meeting Hannah and Joe after the concert was a treat ! They were personable and Hannah especially remarked on how much she appreciated my effort and style in fashion: “When I saw you walk into the room, I said to myself, ‘Now there’s a woman after my own heart ─ the shoes, the skirt, the gloves, the matching purse… !'” How could I not blush ? I was flattered.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

For more information about Acoustic Eidolon, please visit their website !

Event: Acoustic Eidolon concert
Date: February 16, 2020