Sami Style

In our brand new Luna issue we shine the spotlight on Britta Marakatt-Labba, a textile artist whose work celebrates Sami culture through tapestry. To whet our appetites, we look back on Bryan Alexander's article in issue 61, that explores the evolution of Sami dress through the ages... 

Cold is synonymous with the Arctic. In some areas, winter temperatures can plummet to minus 60°C and winds roar across the frozen land and sea at more than 300 kph. It’s almost unbelievable that people have adapted well enough to these extreme conditions to call the Arctic home.

This became possible with a simple invention some 100,000 years ago – the needle. After that, instead of throwing animal skins over their body to keep warm, people could make fitted, wind-proof, and well-insulated clothing. Arctic animals like seals, polar bear, caribou and fox are equipped to withstand intense cold; so Arctic hunters used their fur to make the garments they needed to survive.

The Sami have been living in the extreme north of Europe for at least 2,000 years. The origins of their culture remains a mystery. The first mention of the Sami was made by the Roman historian Tacitus in AD 98. He called them ‘Fenni’ and described them as hunters who were extremely poor, with no houses. He went on to say that their clothes were made of skins and they slept on the bare ground.

The region they live in today is popularly known as ‘Lapland’ but officially given the Sami name Sápmi. It encompasses northern areas of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, with much of it lying above the Arctic Circle. Of the estimated 69,500 Sami living today, around 40,000 Sami live in Norway, 20,000 in Sweden, 7,500 in Finland, and 2,000 in Russia...

The decorative aspect of Sami traditional dress has changed over time. In earlier times the colours were more subdued and natural. The arrival of traders in the early 20th century resulted in the Sami having access to new materials. They brought homespun cloth, ribbons and woollen yarn from which they wove and plaited bands. They also developed a taste for vivid colours, particularly red, blue, yellow and green and incorporated these into their dress. These same colours also feature in their national flag...

To read this article in full, order your copy of Selvedge issue 61 here.

You can also order your copy of the brand new issue of Selvedge here, and browse our subscription offers here.

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