Kilts of Helsingland
By Kajsa Norman, Swedish Press. A magazine for Swedish Descendants. March 2023.
Swedish kilts? Yes, it’s a thing! Mikael Öst, a carpenter from Delsbo, has reinvented the folkdräkt of his region in the form of a kilt, challenging the norms of what constitutes a traditional Swedish outfit.
“Think of it as the result of a relationship that our ancestors started a thousand years ago,” he says.
It all began in 2011 with a trip to Scotland. An avid genealogist, Mikael’s father-in-law had found a connection between his family and the MacDonald clan in Scotland. He decided to go visit and brought the whole family along. As a souvenir from the trip, Mikael bought a kilt. Later that summer, he wore it to Delsbo’s annual folk music festival, Delsbostämman, where he was peppered with questions about it. After a whole weekend of telling the story of the MacDonald clan, Mikael realized he wanted to tell his own story – and the idea was born; why not create a Dellen tartan based on the colors of the traditional outfits of the region?
Hälsingland is famous for its old-school, traditional clothing and many claim Delsbodräkten is the most beautiful folkdräkt in the country. That said, it is sometimes frowned upon when outsiders wear it. Mikael wanted his tartan to be inclusive, so instead of naming it after Delsbo, Bjuråker, or any of the other small towns with famous outfits, he named it Dellen after the lake system consisting of two lakes – Northern and Southern Dellen in Hälsingland.
“Since nobody was born in Dellen, nobody can tell you that you cannot wear this kilt,” he says.
While Mikael’s parents are both from Hälsingland and he has family roots in Delsbo, dating as far back as the 1700s, Mikael and his wife were both born and raised in Märsta, outside Stockholm. After the birth of their son in 1993, they moved to Delsbo.
“The culture of the region is very strong, and it is considered one of few places where the use of the folkdräkt is still alive, meaning that people wear traditional clothing regularly, and not always entirely by the book. They mix and match, wearing the pieces they can get a hold of and combining them with more modern clothing,” says Mikael.
Thus, the folkdräkt continues to evolve in Hälsingland and Mikael wanted to contribute to its evolution.
A carpenter by trade, for four months, Mikael devoted his free time to designing a tartan that he felt told the story of Dellen. He then ordered himself a kilt. It arrived in the summer of 2015, and he wore it proudly to Delsbostämman.
“After that something happened. People started to contact me. I hadn’t intended to sell kilts. I didn’t realize that others would want them too,” he says.
The production of his own kilt had cost a small fortune, so this time Mikael decided to wait until he had enough demand to place a larger order. He travelled to Scotland and found a top-quality weaving mill he could work with at his volumes. They also happened to be the supplier of fabric for French fashion houses.
“If I was going to do it, I wanted the quality to be top-notch,” he says.
Before long, Mikael had sold 150 kilts and at Delsobstämman they are now a common sight, despite the hefty price tag of between 500 and 800 US dollars depending on length.
“The men’s version of the Delsbodräkt is very hard to get a hold of, so the Dellenkilt provides an alternative. Also, many men feel more comfortable in the kilt than wearing the traditional outift,” he says. “A kilt is the ultimate piece of clothing. You can wear it hiking, to the pub, to a fancy wedding, anywhere really depending on what you pair it with up top.”
While a few people were irritated by his creation, suggesting that kilts had no place among traditional Swedish outfits, his orders told a different story – men from all walks of life began ordering the Dellenkilt. Bank employees, car repair men, student graduates, some had a connection to Dellenbygden or Hälsingland, others did not, but the design captured the essence of something quintessentially Swedish.
From Östersund in the north to Gothenburg in the south, people were sporting the kilt and suddenly, Mikael became a minor media celebrity. Regional newspapers, interior design magazines, tourism magazines, all came calling. Even the Nordic Museum reached out to ask permission to include his kilt in the exhibition Brittish så in i Norden (on display 2019-2025). As such, Mikael became known as the carpenter who weaved his own history.
In 2019, he created a second design, registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans as “Grim of Helsingland”. This tartan has more of a Viking touch as Grim is another name for the Norse god Odin and Helsingland is the old spelling of the province. In 2022, he added the tartan Northman.
Local success has led to international growth. Mikael recently shipped his first international orders to Ireland and the US, and now ships worldwide.
“The love of Hälsingland and its culture is what propels me to continue. It gives me purpose and creates a sense of belonging,” Mikael concludes.