Tales from “Tales from the Estonian Loom”
Take the tale behind Helve Ranniste’s Tõstamaa folk costume. Helve’s skirt was made by her paternal greatgrandmother in Tõstamaa, Estonia more than 100 years ago. And it is still in excellent wearable condition! Helve’s skirt reflects her family’s history, relects the history of Estonians compelled to flee their homeland in 1944.
Helve’s mother, Aino Raun, was 17 years old when she fled Estonia together with her mother, maternal grandmother and brother. In preparation for the sea voyage ahead, Aino remembers being told to pack lightly, to take along only the bare necessities. But Aino and her mother, practical farm people that they were, were concerned about weathering the cold, stormy Baltic sea, and therefore, took along for warmth not one but two woolen skirts. And they were glad that they did. Even Aino’s grandmother’s disapproval, when she discovered the skirts amongst the family’s belongings dissipated as the escape by sea progressed.
The family escaped on a fishing vessel. Approximately one hundred people were packed
into the vessel, the luckier ones protected from the stormy autumn weather in the fishy holdingtank below deck. The less fortunate ones like Aino’s family huddled together on deck, with both the Tõstamaa and Kihnu skirts tucked tightly around their legs for warmth.
Practically within a month of the family’s arrival at Söderköping refugee camp in Sweden, the Estonian contingent at the camp organized a ceremonial meeting, where both the Tõstamaa and Kihnu skirts made their debut outside the homeland. The Estonian refugees believed fervently that the American “white ship” was on its way and that they would be home by Christmas. Aino’s father, who had remained behind in Tõstamaa to keep the home fires burning, shared this belief.
But it was not to be.And when the family migrated to Canada in 1951, so did the skirts.
Like many women of her generation, Aino developed an interest in needlework and over
time became a skilled craftswoman. By and by, the Tõstamaa skirt accrued all the required appurtenances – blouse, vest, apron, headwear and wowen belt and became a complete ensemble – a testament to Aino’s craftswomanship!
The tale of Helve’s Tõstamaa skirt has now been told and the complete ensemble worn by Helve on the catwalk on November 2nd has become a cherished family heirloom –
its real worth incalculable, its sentimental value immeasurable, its historical meaning invaluable!
And there are many more tales from the loom to be told, tales that are part of the colourful, textured fabric of the Estonian community in Canada.
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