Special Projects

National Costume Archive Project

Our national costume or folk costume is the traditional apparel for men and women that was made in the home until the middle of the 19th century, when homemade clothes began to be replaced with manufactured garments. By the beginning of the 20th century, wearing traditional dress became rare even in villages and hamlets. Now the costumes are worn only on major national holidays and by performing members of folk dance ensembles and choirs.

The artistry and technical mastery required to weave the cloth for both men’s and women’s costumes is remarkable, particularly women’s clothing, as the costume consists of multiple elements. Although the elements of each costume across Lithuania are the same, each region has its own unique variations in motif, colour, cut, and weaving technique. The complexity of the weaving makes each costume a treasure.

After extensive post-World War II  immigration to North America, this rich tradition was continued with weavers and their students producing cloth and sewing costumes for individuals and large singing and dancing groups. Having access to top quality materials and looms ensured that the traditional techniques could be preserved and that new and beautiful variations were possible. Many costumes illustrate the patterns characteristic of more than one region. For example, a young woman born in the diaspora would like to reflect her father’s heritage in Aukštaitija as well as her mother’s in Žemaitija.

Many  of the weavers who wove costumes in the Lithuanian diaspora over the past 73 years have passed away – and the art form is now in danger of being lost. The LFAI has undertaken the archiving and comprehensive photo documentation of the costumes that we have today, on this website.

The LFAI thanks the Lithuanian Canadian Foundation (Kanados lietuvių fondas) and the Lithuanian Foundation (USA) for its generous support for this important work.

The assembled archive will form the foundation of our National Costumes online collection as a fully searchable database of museum quality archival material with artifact classifications, attribution, descriptions and meta data, and high quality photography.

As of spring 2017, hundreds of costumes belonging to members of the diaspora communities in Toronto, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Boston, New York and Hartford have been photographed in detail. There is a database of over 17,000  images which are being catalogued for display on this website.

Multiple photo sessions were arranged in various communities by project leader Aldona Rygelis of New York. Each costume is meticulously photographed in high resolution, according to a specific order and format. Each costume piece is photographed separately and in close-up, so that the pattern, colours of each thread and thread count can be studied by weavers, and by scholars studying the direction of Lithuanian folk weaving in the diaspora. This invaluable archive is also a testimonial to the creativity and talent of all the weavers who kept this beautiful folk art alive throughout the past decades.

If you are interested in contributing to this project or have an authentic costume that has not been photographed, please write to gro.i1513190565aftl@1513190565tcatn1513190565oc1513190565.

You may view each costume as a whole, then choose one of the elements listed below it and click on each photo to magnify the fabric and its design.

View a sample costume while we continue working on the functional catalog …