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Estonian “airing of the folk dress” to take place in northern Illinois

As an historic first in North America, the Estonian Cultural Society of Chicago and the NGO Estonian Folk Art and Craft Union will be holding a traditional Estonian folk dress event in northern Illinois from 16-18 June 2023.

One of the strongest links among Estonians, no matter where they are in the world, is the distinctive Estonian folk dress. With variations among 108 parishes, folk dress is vibrant, joyful, beautiful and uplifting.

In Estonia, wearing the folk dress is appropriate everywhere, whether at the president-hosted Independence Day reception, at weddings, at graduations, at festivals – or all day long because a company’s dance troupe rehearsal is at the end of the business day.

A two-year course about the Estonian folk dress was conducted by the Estonian Cultural Society of Chicago and the NGO Estonian Folk Art and Craft Union. Photo by the Estonian Cultural Society of Chicago.

The traditional airing of the folk dress (“rahvarõivaste tuulutamine”) in the fresh spring air has turned into a festival unto itself. Imagine a whole park full of women, men and children in their colourful folk dress enjoying a warm day in anticipation of a summer spent outdoors.

A course conducted via Zoom

This year, people have the unique opportunity to attend a folk dress airing in June in McHenry, Illinois, some 90-minute drive northwest of Chicago.

It is unique because, for the first time ever abroad, there will be a graduation of an official folk dress completion course. It is the same gruelling, two-year course that NGO Estonian Folk Art and Craft Union conducted in Estonia, but entirely via Zoom.

A two-year course to teach about the Estonian folk dress was conducted via Zoom. Photo by the the Estonian Cultural Society of Chicago.

The course was a collaboration of the Estonian Cultural Society of Chicago and the NGO. The students were coast-to-coast in the US and the teachers instructed from Estonia. Yes, across ten time zones!

Some students dyed their yarn, wove their wool fabric, knit their elaborate stockings, and embroidered their blouses and headcovers; some ordered a few elements from master crafters. In either case, the work was entirely by hand.

A two-year course about the Estonian folk dress was conducted by the Estonian Cultural Society of Chicago and the NGO Estonian Folk Art and Craft Union. Photo by the Estonian Cultural Society of Chicago.
A two-year course about the Estonian folk dress was conducted by the Estonian Cultural Society of Chicago and the NGO Estonian Folk Art and Craft Union. Photo by the Estonian Cultural Society of Chicago.

The teachers will travel from Estonia to officiate at the graduation. In addition to talking about folk dress and the creation of the course specifically, they will conduct workshops and offer advice.

The students will model their completed outfits and talk about their motivations to have started the course; how they chose their parishes, and their trials and triumphs over the last two years.

A two-year course about the Estonian folk dress was conducted by the Estonian Cultural Society of Chicago and the NGO Estonian Folk Art and Craft Union. Photo by the Estonian Cultural Society of Chicago.
A two-year course about the Estonian folk dress was conducted by the Estonian Cultural Society of Chicago and the NGO Estonian Folk Art and Craft Union. Photo by the Estonian Cultural Society of Chicago.

Weekend to include other festivities

The weekend is so unique that it deserves its own poetic name, “Kaaruspaelast Labajalavalsini”. In addition to the graduation, the weekend will include a traditional midsummer celebration with bonfire, dancing, games and food.

Estonian ensemble Sirli from Tõstamaa borough in Pärnu County will entertain with a wide variety of music, from country to rock’n’roll. Musician and composer Kaidi Soosaare will perform her compositions on acoustic guitar and the Chicago Folk Dance troupe “Põhjanael” will dance.

The weekend will end with photoshoots and visits to Chicago landmarks to show the flag and folk dress.

A two-year course about the Estonian folk dress was conducted by the Estonian Cultural Society of Chicago and the NGO Estonian Folk Art and Craft Union. Photo by the Estonian Cultural Society of Chicago.
A two-year course about the Estonian folk dress was conducted by the Estonian Cultural Society of Chicago and the NGO Estonian Folk Art and Craft Union. Photo by the Estonian Cultural Society of Chicago.

The event will take place from 16-18 June on the riverside park in 2415 Colby Dr, McHenry, IL 60050; registration is required.

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