The traditional, a treasure

The girls Sabin Baer, Katarina Vikström and Pia Maria Labba find it pretty obvious to spend a year or two at Samernas (a Sami school). That’s what we do. It’s here in Jokkmokk we learn the traditional Sami handicraft. Just like our parents, aunts, and perhaps previous generations did.

  • This is where my Mum went to school, the cousins and grandmothers sisters. I’ve always known about the school and always known that I too want to attend it one day. It’s natural to learn how to sew, Sabina says, who has just left her job in nursing at home in Tärnaby to spend a year studying textil and leather at Samernas Utbildningscentrums.

For Pia Maria and Katarina it was also an obvious choice to head over to Jokkmokk.

  • I’ve had an interest in Sami handicraft since I was 13–14 years of age and I’ve only heard good things about the school, says Pia Maria.
  • It is now we are young have have the time. My grandmother knew how to sew, but my mother didn’t. It is important for me to be able to do this. When I have my own children I would like to be able to make things for them, Katarina says.

Family traditions are shining through

The girls are from different parts of Sápmi. Sabina’s home is in Dikanäs in Västerbotten. Her Mum is south-sami and her Dad north-sami. Pia Maria is north-sami from Upper Soppero whilst Katarina, brought up in Skelleftehamn, is of lule-sami descent.

Their different types of Sami belongings reflect in their handicraft. There is a huge difference, not only in the traditional clothing (kolt) of the various areas. Whilst the lule-sami kolts are more austere with their tin embroidered neck broadcloths, the kolts are literally getting more and more colourful and ornate the farther north you get.

Of course there are also different traditions in different families. A trained eye can not only make out which area a person is from, if the person is single, married or a widow, it is also possible to see from which family the person belongs.

– We use a lot of green bands in my family, Pia Maria tell us.

Whilst the lule-sami cap Katarina has sewn during the autumn semester is, according to tradition, quite plain, the north-sami caps that Sabina and Pia Maria are sewing are decorated with lace and floral bands. Sabina, with her north and south-sami background has the advantage of being able to get inspiration from both. She feels it’s an advantage to be able to wear either type of kolt, be it the north-sami or the south-sami.

  • Other kolts can be nicer, yet I dont’ feel it’s ok to use a kolt from an area I’m not from, just because it look good, is her argument.

The light of diligence is shining

It has been full speed since the start of the education in autumn of 2016. They have learned to prepare leather, sewing gloves and shoes, kolts and caps. They have also had theme weeks with silversmithing and root-crafts. 20 hours per week are scheduled time, the rest is taken up with working on their projects on their own, plus all side-projects that tend to just come along. The lamp, as well as the diligence, is radiating from the classroom way into the evening. Start at eight in the morning and go home at ten o’clock in the evening is more the rule than the exception.

  • We don’t do anything but sew. Our focus is purely on School. At the moment we have no job, no homework and hardly even a family to take into consideration, according to Pia Maria.
  • You want to have time for so much and of course it’s social and nice as well. It’s great to see what the others are doing and being able to share a coffee break, Katarina says.
  • What I am pleased about the most is that I have learnt how to weave. Before I came here I thought: weaving, no, I can’t. I hate yarn. After this past year weaving is so much fun, says Sabina who’s woven north-sami shoe bands.

There are no woven bands in the south and lule-sami tradition, in stead they lay bands, a type of finger technic called, låhtåt, in lule-sami. The warp for the shoe bands are fastened on the back of a chair perhaps, or preferably in a type of fork that is easy to carry, should one want to lay half a metre or so on the way going home.

Important cultural heritage or waste of time?

The section in design construction prior to sewing the kolt was tough. The level of ambition was high enough to bring on a lot of performance anxiety.  Despite the fact that Pia Maria had sewn kolts before the element was still quite a test.

  • I’ve never been as fastidious as I am now. I want everything to be perfect. It’s easy to become self critical. Some have never sewn before whilst others are very good at it. It’s a matter of practicing and practicing, says Pia Maria. She’s got her grandmother as her role model.
  • Grandma has five children and has made sure that they, as well as the twelve grandchildren has had kolts, special shoes and caps. It is really important to be able to capture some of my Grandma’s knowledge, or it may disappear, she says.

Sabina agrees.

  • We are the future. If we don’t do it, then who will? To be able to sew your own kolt and shoes and speak the language is a treasure, a richness. It’s what we want to pass on to the next generation, säger Sabina.

There’s huge value in retaining the traditions, according to the girls, who say that their choice is questioned at time.

  • Swedish friends don’t get what it is we are doing, not even all our Sami friends do, although they ought to see what it’s worth. Many still reckon’s it’s a waste of time and money. To study here we all must buy material and take out loans. ’why choose that, won’t do you any good’, is what some of them say, according to Pia Maria.
  • I suppose it depends upon how much you value the culture. It becomes economy vs culture. Personally I think it’s important, says
  • One must keep and protect traditions. Otherwise it’ll be others, like Lulu Carter, who does something with a bit of band and call it S Our culture is not fashion or someone else’s costume, and that’s my opinion, emphasises Pia Maria.

Summer kolt – a true party garment

The studdy-buddy Anna Pittja Granlund, from Bredsel by Storforsen, is a few years older than the other pupils in the class. “Old lady of the class”, she refers to herself with a smile. She’s taken a year off work as a craft/sewing teacher. She seems to think it’s a true bonus year in her life.

  • I love sewing. My mother was no seamstress, but my grandmother was, yes all áhkkos, have been sewing-teachers. I have never prepared my own skins, I’ve only ever sewn bags made from material, but now I know how to, I’m taught, says a content Anna.

She has sewn a summer kolt in small-flowered, green cotton fabric. Traditionally, the garment is an undergarment worn under the wool kolt, but during the summers it has been used at home as a cooler alternative. In recent years, the summer kolt has become very popular, perhaps especially among the young ones.

  • Many use their blue kolt at a lot of events, from confirmation and major exams to weddings, christenings and funerals. There has probably been a need for a more everyday piece of clothing, Anna believes.

The summer kolt, the kolt dress or the kolt-inspired dress – whatever you choose to call it – has become a real party piece, often in colourful floral fabrics with matching bands in cotton or silk.

  • If you are invited to a Swedish wedding, or party, you may not want to wear your kolt. Then a kolt-inspired sleeveless dress can perhaps be an alternative, says Pia Maria, but it appears that she is not completely sold on that idea.
  • I’m in two minds. It may well depend on the opinion one was brought up with. What is a koldress and what is a summer kolt? What are the boundaries? Take a grandmother of 85, a kolt is it. It’s a bit annoying to some older people.

Modernise or not

Traditionally the summer kolt is of the same model as the wool kolt, but without all the decorations. On a kolt from Karesuando the band decorations will be red, yellow, red. That’s important. In a kolt dress someone may use white, pink, purple bands instead, which is not traditional. That’s ok on a kolt inspired dress, but definitely not on a traditional kolt.  Nevertheless, some have started to experiment a bit.

  • The Kautokeino kolt and the Karesuando kolt is just about to flow together. It is no longer which is part of what area, says Anna who despite everything can see the positive side in the changes that are taking place.
  • Maybe there’s something good in modernising. Perhaps that ’s the way to stop things from disappearing all together. I found a kolt belonging to an aunt once. ’No, she said, please don’t look’. ’I made that when I was young!’ It was a mini and it had a zip in the side to fit snuggly, says Anna who is of the opinion that a Sami girl can grab the opportunity and make a new creation for her exam ball, perhaps a dress that looks like a

Pia Maria and Katarina are still a bit sceptical. They find it important to have a steady traditional base.

  • Katarina is of the option that If you don’t know how it’s suppose to look in the traditional way, then you shouldn’t start to move the parameters and to change.
  • The things my grandmother taught me are the traditions I want to pass on to the next generation, to enable them to see how things have always been. The family handicraft is always more age-less. In my opinion we need to show respect for the traditional. Then, when we have more ‘meat on our bones’, we may be able to move those parameters, says Pia Maria.

Until then the tinkering with needle and thread continues using skin and wool. Sabina’s studies at Samernas end when the term is over, but Katarina and Pia Maria are looking forward to another school year. That’s when they’ll make their ideas come to life, all the ones that they haven’t had time to do during the past school year, despite all the late nights.

FACTS: Samernas Utbildningscentrum was founded in 1942, then as a residential college of education. Today the school is a Sami educational institution, organised as a foundation with Svenska Samernas Riksförbund, Same Ätnam and Jokkmokk’s Kommun as the founders. The school offers language studies, reindeer husbandry, handicraft and different courses. Right now there are 27 pupils in total divided on the two handicraft programs. Most of whom, 21 pupils, in the textile- and skin program, six pupils have chosen wood and antlers. They can chose to do a one, or two, year course.

Skolavslutning Samernas folkhögskola 2016 Foto Linnea Sigurdson

Last day of school at Samernas Utbildningscentrum 2016

Last day of school each year, the student dresses up in their kolt (Sámi ceremonial clothes) , many have sewn and designed their own.

Sameslöjdstiftelsen - Sámi Duodji

Sameslöjdstiftelsen Sámi Duodji

If you are interested in Sámi handicraft you should visit Sámi duodji. Duodji means handicraft in Sámi language. To call something Duodji it has to be made by a Sámi and often clothing, tools or jewelry. Duodji also need to have a strong connection to Sámi traditions, patterns, shapes and colors.

Ájtte Svenskt fjäll- och samemuseum

Ájtte, Svenskt fjäll- och samemuseum 

Lär dig mer om samisk kultur och traditioner på Ájtte museet i in Jokkmokk.


Shop Sámi design in Jokkmokk or online, anything from decorations to clothes.