Estonian child's National Costume

Contributed by: The Oaks Historical Society

Vest worn by Mall Juske Traditional belt Traditional skirt  hand made material showing the intricate stitching method of the skirt showing the damage on shoulder of shirt damage on shoulder  and back of shirt embroidery on shoulder National Dress of Estonia worn by Mall Mall's blouse showing the alteratons Mid length Vest worn by Mall Landing Permit for Helmut Juske and his family Mall Juskes report card in Tallin Estonian Citizenship certificate
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    The Oaks Historical Society
  • Date range:

    1939 - 1945
  • Place of origin:

    Tallinn, Estonia
  • Gender:

    Female, Child
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Object information

Significance statement

This costume is representative of a traditional Estonian folk dress from Tallinn. It is particularly significant though as it was re-created under extraordinary circumstances: during the second world war by an Estonian inmate of a displaced persons camp in Geislingen, Germany.

The intricate method of reconstructing the skirt by sewing repurposed threads onto a backing made out of linen flour bags, as well as using leftover flour bags to alter the shirt, demonstrates how the mentality of 'making do' pervaded every aspect of these refugees lives and their ingenious responses to the challenges posed by such hardship.

Alteration to this costume also provide insight into the lives of those living in displaced persons camp; with Linda allowing her daughter Mal to continue her folk dancing by refitting and altering her costume, she preserved some sense of normality in her daughter's life.

The costume is also historically signficant in how it reflects the experience of post-war Estonian migrants in Australia. The Karps, like many Estonian immigrants upheld their traditions in their adopted homeland by retaining ownership of traditional folk costumes such as this garment. The costume is still owned by Mal Juske  who resides in Wollondilly; reflecting the role of the Estonian refugees in the development of the region in and around Thirlmere.

Finally, significance to the history of the poultry relates to the fact that Mall's husband Helmut Juske was Director of the Thirlmere Farmers' Cooperative 'Kungla' and ran for election to the Egg Marketing Board and was involved with Australian United Farms poultry section.

Author: Robyn Gill all information supplied by Mall Juske (Edited by Amy Butterfield 17/1/2014), 11/12/2012.


Vest: blue wool with box pleats starting at high waist. to lengthen darts at front and back, inserts on both sides under the arm to add size.

Skirt: wool striped, red blue and green. Burgundy ribbon around inside of hem, waist has fawn ribbon and fastened with hook and eye also press studs.

Shirt: Plain weave white long sleeves with cuffs, red embroidered on shoulder and around top of sleeves, red and white cord at neck opening with tassels on each end ,neck opened and open cut work, 2 pieces inserted middle of shoulder at front through to back shoulder on both sides. 2 pieces added to bottom of shirt to add length. Inserts on both sleeves to add size.

Tag sewn into internal seam, reads "ANMM* J0242" (*Australian National Maritime Museum)

Belt: woven wool coloured red green and yellow with a V shaped pattern,

Link to further information about this object

History and Provenance

During the second world war the Russian army invaded Estonia causing many people to leave rather than being arrested and sent to Siberia, or killed. Linda and Albert Karp were one family who decided to leave. Linda Karp and her daughter Mal escaped Estonia on one of the last boats to leave in 1945 when the Russians invaded and bombed their home in Tallinn. During the war they were separated from Albert, her husband, who escaped by a different boat to Sarema. Albert was conscripted into the Estonian army and left with them and joined the German army fighting the Russians.

Linda worked in a Frankfurt laundry leaving Mall and Marg (Kongas) in the house on their own. After gaining her School Certificate and leaving school, Linda had started working in her uncle's textile factory as a cashier and then a weaver, which is where she learnt the art of invisible mending. After the war in Europe ended, Linda and Mall fled from Frankfurt and were sent to Murnau (Alps).

They were reunited with Albert in Murnau after he escaped the German Army by walking from Gottbus to Murnau. The Americans then sent the family to Geislingen displaced persons camp in the American zone in Germany where they were only able to take the personal items they could carry. Their family shared a house with several other Estonian families, and were supplied with rations by the Americans. [There was a problem with shoes-getting pair that would fit. ] In the camp the adults soon organised themselves, producing their own daily newspaper and setting up Junior and Senior schools. Primary school was held in the morning and Senior in the afternoon.

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Linda Karp born (Kraav) 12.11.1909 in Tallinn Estonia was the daughter of Liisa (Schonberg) born 1882 & Johannes Kraav born 1883. She was the only daughter and had two brothers - Konrad and one who died with pneumonia. Linda's father, Johannes Kraav, was killed in First World War. Her mother Liisa was a dressmaker and struggled to bring up her 3 small children. Linda died in Queen Victoria hospital, Thirlmere 20.09.2010.

Albert Karp born 08.11.1910 in Estonia was the son of Ida Karp nee (Pillberg) born 1887 and Johannes Karp born 1887. They had 2 boys - Albert and Edmund.

Linda met Albert Karp through her sporting activities and they were married on 16.12.1933 in Tallinn. Their only child Mal was born on 6.8.1935 in Tallinn.

The acceptance of the Karp family for migration to Australia was hindered because of Mal's poor eyesight, however she passed her medical test after the International Refugee

Organisation issued her with glasses, enabling her family to migrate to Australia on SS CYRENIA in 1949.

Helmut Juske, Mal's husband, came to Australia with his parents Heinrich & Anastasia Juske on the General Black in 1948. He lived in the Bonegilla camp before being sent to Cairns on a Government contract. He married Mal Karp in 1955 in the Sydney Lutheran Church. In 1956 he applied for a Crown land grant in Thirlmere on Michel Road and they were successful in receiving 12-1/2 acres. They farmed poultry there until 1987.

Do you have any stories or community information associated with this?

While in Geislingen, Mall wanted to continue her national dancing but the traditional costume she wore in Estonia no longer fitted her. Linda could not weave the skirt but devised a way to make the skirt almost the same. She collected woollen garments from the clothes donated and unpicked those with the correct colours. She saved the American cotton flour bags and hired a sewing machine using Albert's cigarette allocation as currency. Linda then sewed the woollen threads to the cotton, thread by thread using the skills she learnt at her uncle's factory in Tallinn. When the skirt was completed she used the cotton to extend the shirt until her daughter had a costume very similar to the one she wore in Tallinn when she was 8 and could wear it for dancing.

In 1949 the family was sponsored by the International Refugee Organisation into Australia and lived in Double Bay. Albert found work in Dunlop Rubber. Mall went to Dover Heights High School, then Macquarie Secretarial School, later working for Lysacht Bros and then in the office of Hardy Rubber.

Mall first saw her future husband Helmet Juskes on the boat when she left Estonia, meeting him again at the Estonian House in Sydney when they were young adults. They married in 1955 and applied for a Crown Lease at Thirlmere, south of Sydney, which was realised on 12 acres on Michel Road for an annual rent of five pounds fifteen shillings. They attended a short course together in Poultry at Ultimo Technical College and built up their poultry farm from scratch. They cleared the land and built poultry sheds with the help of their parents. They used disused material from Hardy's Rubber and Michael Nairn's, where her father worked, and anything they could scrounge from the local tip. Gradually they became more and more successful, with Helmut becoming a Director of Thirlmere Farmer's Co-op and running for election to the Egg Marketing Board.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

The costume relates to the diverse stories of the Estonian community in Thirlmere and their significance to the growth of the poultry industry in NSW.

Where did this information come from?

The information came about by interviews with the Estonian community in 2005-2006 to trace the history of the poultry industry in Wollondilly.

This garment has been exhibited

Outfit has been displayed on the following occasions -

2012 'Threads of History & Culture' exhibition at Wollondilly Heritage Centre Museum

2006 'From Estonia to Thirlmere' exhibition at Wollondilly Heritage Centre Museum

1988 Australian National Maritime Museum

  1. Place of origin:

    Tallinn, Estonia

  2. Owned by:

    In Estonia, it was owned by Linda Karp for her daughter Mall. Later in Geislingen Germany it was owned by Mall Karp.

  3. Worn by:

    Mall Karp in Estonia 1945 Mall Karp in Geislingen. Valli Juske Turner the 1960 for a concert in Thirlmere.  

  4. Occasion(s):

    This is a National Costume worn on special occasions

  5. Place:

    1. Tallinn 2: Geislingen 3. Thirlmere

  6. Designed by:

    Traditional costume originating from South Eastern Estonia.

  7. Made by:

    Linda Karp for her daughter Mal.

    Mall joined the national dancing class and soon grew out of her national costume but they had no means of weaving the material for the skirt. Linda Karp was trained in Estonia in her uncle's Tallinn textile factory where she learned the art of invisible mending, which helped her to re-construct the traditional weave of the original costume. Linda hired a sewing machine using cigarettes as currency and re-created the skirt by unpicking woollen jumpers donated by UNHCR in appropriate colours and sewing the threads individually onto flour bags as backing.

    1Handmade in Estonia by craft workers 2. Linda Karp

  8. Made for:

    Mal Karp in Estonia before Russian occupation in 1944. Altered by Linda Karp in Geislingen DP camp 1945-46

Trimmings / Decoration

Vest has decorative pleats from waist down to hem

Shirt embroidered around top of sleeves and top of shoulders in red thread. Shirt neck decorated with cord of twisted red and white thread with tassles at end.

** include info re neck stitching


Shirt has red decorative embroidery on upper arms and shoulders

Fibre / Weave

Vest made from royal blue twill weave wool with handmade cotton bias-binding around inside of arm holes and neck. Binding made from used fabric with silk figuring and re-perposed from another garment.

Skirt made from possibly calico or cotton flour bags from USA with strands of blue, red, green and white wool machine sewn onto fabric surface, thread by thread.

Shirt made from white woven linen.

Belt is probably machine woven wool in a red, green and yellow shaped pattern

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


Vest is machined sewn around darts and seams with all hems hand stitched. Vest has blue ribbon facing inside neck and armholes.

Skirt constructed from possibly calico or cotton flour bags from USA with strands of wool machine sewn onto fabric surface, thread by thread. The wool was sourced from woollen garments donated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and then unpicked to obtain the right colours. Ribbon binding inside waist and hem.

Shirt constructed from woven linen and machine sewn around all seams. Possibly hand embroidered.


Alterations made in 1946 include -

Vest - possible insertions made to enlarge and adapt

Shirt - insertion of extra fabric on the undersides of the sleeves, around the shoulders and along the hem, to increase size for growing girl.

Alterations were made by Linda Karp for her daughter Mall while in Geislingen DP Camp in Germany after WWII

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other


  1. Bias
  2. Straight


Vest - Metal hook and eye fastenings on front

Skirt - Metal hook and eye fastenings and press studs at the back

Shirt - Red and white ties on cuffs and on neck

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring


shirt skirt vest
Neck 310 mm 890 mm
Chest 1000 mm 800 mm
Waist 1040 mm 710 mm
Cuff 115 mm
Hem circumference 550 mm 1600 mm 1210 mm
Front neck to hem 560 mm 200 mm
Front waist to hem 620 mm 80 mm
Back neck to hem 585 mm 370 mm
Back waist to hem 620 mm 80 mm
Sleeve length 430 mm
Neck to sleeve head 150 mm 60 mm
Cross back 440 mm 240 mm
Underarm to underarm 530 mm 365 mm
Convert to inches

Belt 1470 x 30mm (full length)

Dress Themes

National Dress worn on special occasions, particularly for folk dancing.

Additional material

Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions

Immigration documents, photos and passports of Mall, Linda & Albert Karp and Helmut Juske. Photographs of the family in Australia and on the farms. Documents relating Helmut Juske's career in the poultry industry.

Other related objects

Black skirt with stripe border hand knitted by Linda

Equipment relating to the poultry industry including the Juske photos and documents plus personal items from Estonian families.

This outfit is privately owned, however related items in other collections include -

FHA/ Juske/ (1-23) Biographical information and documents for Karp and Juske family including copies of migration papers etc.

WHC175/G 31-42 Egg marketing board papers re Juske.

WHC027 (29) Wollondilly Advertiser 18/11/2009 War time refugee celebrates her 100th birthday (photo) Linda Karp and Juske

Mosaic No:5/62 photographic equipment owned by Albert Karp

Link to collection online


Some threads coming undone on inside of skirt. Suggested damage (stitches coming loose?) on the inside of the shirt, around the left shoulder.


  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor


  1. Discolouration
  2. Frayed
  3. Stained
  4. Water damage
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