Irina Sadovina

Irina Sadovina is a PhD student in Folkloristics at the University of Tartu. Her academic interests are diverse and seemingly random: from style blogs to the New Age to the political role of historical fiction.

Young Estonia’s spirit revived at Tartu Printing Museum

The beginning of the Tartu Printing Museum defined its whole subsequent existence. It all started as a poetic story with elements of suspense.

One day Lemmit Kaplinski, the museum’s founder and one of the main movers and shakers of Tartu’s creative scene, happened upon an old printing press, which stood, sad and decorative, in Eduard Vilde Café. Kaplinski was thereupon hit by a lightning-like realisation that the press must be rescued and re-established in a new space – a space that would honour Estonia’s tradition of printmaking – and engage people of all ages in creative projects and general awesomeness.

1235949_557813297605144_354351306_nHe and Madis Mikkor, a serial founder of cultural centres (chief among them the oldest independent centre Polymer in Tallinn) took the press apart, carefully documenting every step in the process. Just when they were ready to reassemble the press in its new home in a 1910 building on Kastani Street, Lemmit’s camera, which held the indispensable instructions, disappeared. Putting the machine together from scratch, Lemmit and Madis entered the world of printing the hard way.

This is the first story that every newcomer hears from the founders of the museum. Since its beginning in 2010, the museum has grown to include a number of functioning printing presses and a huge collection of typefaces. It hosts regular open workshops and classes for people of all ages, teaching them to love hand-printing technology and to use it in innovative ways. Volunteers and artists-in-residence come to the museum from all over the world, plunging into the world of printing, transforming it and being transformed.


The museum is a whirlpool of countless creative projects. If you walk in on any given day, you’ll see Kristiina Sirkel turn discarded book covers into a one-of-a-kind Tartuensis notebook, Kalju Kütt helping easily distracted youngsters to create a poster for a school theatre production, and Johannes Gutenberg, the museum cat, eye the visitor with an air of dignity: self-important yet impossibly cute.


Even as you read this article, chances are that spectacular oddball events are being planned at the museum. Short films are being shot. New endeavours are discussed. Spontaneous parties and soulful conversations are happening. No wonder that the pull of the museum on Tartu’s permanent and temporary residents is irresistible. Casual visitors get hooked immediately and transform into wide-eyed, enthusiastic volunteers.


The museum’s atmosphere, disorienting in the best of ways, harkens back to the spirit of the early-twentieth century Noor-Eesti (Young Estonia) movement. This inspiration is reflected in the name Noor-Eesti Loomekeskus (Creative Centre Young Estonia), an organisation that facilitates joint events among the various other tenants of the museum building. At the Tartu Printing Museum, the fearless experimentation and creative euphoria of Estonia’s modernist poets and writers blazes up with a new passion.


Cover image by Mariliis Nõmme. Photos courtesy of Tartu Printing Museum.

In conversation with fashion designer Piret Ilves

On minimalism, pink cashmere coats, and the Estonian fashion scene. In conversation with designer Piret Ilves.

Piret Ilves I

The work of Piret Ilves was a fortuitous discovery. Walking along Tallinn’s cobblestone paths with a friend, I stumbled upon the store of this young designer and walked in. Piret’s work struck me as contemporary and confident; her clothes, with their clean lines and luxurious fabrics, as distinctive yet wearable.

Ilves showed her first collection in 2008 at the Estonian fashion designers competition SuperNoova. She has since created nine collections and regularly shows at Tallinn Fashion Week. In February 2012, she was nominated for the Small Golden Needle award (Estonian fashion awards – Editor).

Piret was happy to chat with EstonianWorld about her work and inspirations, sketching out a vision of what it means to be an Estonian designer with a cosmopolitan aesthetic.


Have you always known you’ll be designing clothes? How did you get into fashion design?

When I was fourteen, I decided that I would be a fashion designer. I don´t know exactly why I made that decision, but I did. I have to mention that there are no artists in my family. My mother is an excellent tailor, and today we also work together. Maybe that affected me.

During my fashion design studies, I worked at the Tallinn Department Store (Kaubamaja) as a visual merchandiser. After that, I became a fashion editor in Estonia’s largest weekly women´s magazine Naisteleht. All that time I also made small collections and dealt with private clients.

At one point I realised that now I have seen the backstage of fashion world and I am ready to create my own label. I have run my own company successfully for three years now. That for me is an achievement!

What did you enjoy most about working as a fashion editor?

Working for a weekly magazine is very different from working for a monthly fashion magazine. Everything happens fast, and you are not expected to make art. All articles and stories are about giving overall fashion advice and tips on shopping.

Having to produce these kinds of news every week makes you very clever in the end. This skill now comes handy in my own marketing! In addition, you get many contacts and learn a lot about journalism. Both of these things have an impact on my current work.


Could you tell me a bit about your creative process? What’s your typical day like?

I enjoy working in the morning a lot more then late in the evening. So I arrive to my studio around 9 am and start with emails. Around 10 am, other employees arrive, and we discuss the plans for the day. As I am making all the patterns for my designs, this is my everyday task. I desperately need another pattern maker. I have two to four private client fittings per day. A big part of my day is also creating new collections – sketching, designing, making toiles, finding suitable fabrics and so on.

What inspires your designs?

I am a huge fashion history fan and I love the fifties and sixties elegance. I know the theme inside out, but still, I always find something new to draw inspiration from.

The key is to find a detail or shape or even an attitude, modernise it and then use it throughout the collections.

Could you describe what a Piret Ilves woman is like?

A Piret Ilves woman is feminine, chic and stylish. Most importantly, she understands the essence of minimalism. She is not particularly a trend hunter, but may be a trendsetter. She believes in good quality and great design.

My client is rational, but once in a while she understands that – let’s say – an absolutely impractical pink cashmere coat is a must!


What does the Tallinn atmosphere, the essence of Tallinn-ness, mean to you?

I like to think of myself as a Scandinavian designer. I have never thought about Tallinn-ness as such. I have spent my whole life in Tallinn, I was born and raised here. And I am glad that I have – I love Tallinn. To be a fashion designer in one of Estonia´s smaller towns – I can imagine that it would be a lot harder.

What is working in Tallinn like? What are the specific opportunities and constraints of the Estonian market?

Considering Estonia, Tallinn is by far the best place to work as a fashion designer, simply because it is the biggest city in Estonia. And still, it is way too small for a designer to be really successful. I don´t know whether I am mistaken, but somehow I remember that there are approximately 500 women in Estonia who really can afford and are willing to buy designers clothes. But it may also be a myth. Many women would like to buy Estonian design, but they simply can’t afford it. On a plus side, Estonia is so small and it is really easy to get noticed here compared to for example, London.

Your show at the Tallinn Fashion Week was really successful – congratulations!

That was my fourth time to participate and it went really well. I have gained a lot of good feedback, and by today most of the collection is already sold (the interview took place in late January 2013 – Editor).

What are your plans for the future, now that Fall/Winter 12/13 is done?

Spring/Summer 2013 is the first big thing of course. Future… I am most definitely interested in the international market. The research part is almost over, and I am making plans. I am dreaming of going international with the collection for Spring/Summer 2014, but Autumn/Winter 2014/15 is more realistic.


Photos: Piret Ilves Fashion House.

A day in student’s life in Tartu: What Irina saw out of the window

This day in Tartu, like many others, starts and ends at Ruunipizza. Apart from offering heavenly pancakes with honey and nuts, this is, strangely enough, the only place in the whole city where I can actually get studying done.

University of Tartu (Meelis Lokk)

Over time I have turned into the person who hovers outside the door ten minutes before the café opens, anxiously looking in. I don’t know what the baristas think about me. I never ventured beyond a few phrases in heavily accented Estonian, and even though every one of them obviously speaks English, it seems awkward switching to English now. Our lives are already too intimately intertwined, since we see each other every day; I am afraid of additional awkwardness, so I never talk. Oh, but awkwardness, as you may imagine, seeps in anyway, leaps up from around the corners often and unexpectedly, and gets me embarrassed, horrified and secretly overjoyed. Because I love awkwardness, actually, so most of the time it’s my own fault anyway. Anyway, back to Ruunipizza, more on awkwardness later.

The dark side of my love for the place is the crankiness and vicious possessiveness of the window seat. I’ve occasionally contemplated staring at people who occupied it to creep them out and make them leave, but never actually tried (Ruunipizza baristas, if you happen to read this: I promise I haven’t!). The window seat is absolutely important, because this is my observation point. And there is, as you know, much to observe on Rüütli street in Tartu.

Awesome character number one (in no particular order): the Balkan Man. He, I am told, is the owner of the Balkan Restaurant across the street (which, incidentally, I have never been to). When the weather is nice, he looks out the window for hours, examining passers-by and either smiling or frowning at them. I have not yet figured out the reasons or consequences of falling into his favour or displeasure. I am pretty sure I am in his favour, mostly because he smiles and waves at me when I sneakily try to take his picture so I can send it to Ana and Anna. I call him Nikita Mikhalkov, because of the uncanny resemblance he bears to the controversial Russian movie director.

Awesome character number two: the Poet. When my friends who study Estonian literature told me about him, I looked up his music online and duly developed an obsession. In addition to being an incredibly inventive artist, he looks a bit like my Dad. Now this is a bit weird, but heck, what’s not weird about this post? He has the kindest smile, so I think he is wonderful. Because of this I am super shy around him. I’ve never tried to strike up a conversation and am keeping up the fangirl behaviour from afar.

Students (Jaak Nilson)

Awesome character number three: the Golden Man. Now the guy who handed out fliers for Suudlevad Tudengid, donned in a spectacular golden suit, is not just a character but also a friend. He is possibly the most eccentric person I’ve ever come in contact with, which is saying a lot. Bored at work, he used to stop by my window and entertain himself (and me) with short pantomimes. I occasionally came outside to hear some jokes. I would probably go mad over my academic papers if it weren’t for Golden Man’s jokes.

This is it – a small, grievously incomplete sample of people who light up my day. And I’ve not even mentioned the Scarily Tattooed Person, the Nameless Student With Great Fashion Sense, and of course, the infamous Guy Who Asked For My Number And Then Told Me He Has a Girlfriend. “You are so weird”, my friends tell me. “We are so weird. Yes, we come from different countries and have a lot of fun together as Erasmus poster children should, but beyond this, things often don’t make any sense. How can you ever write about us?” But what else is there to write about?

Beneath and beyond the stock phrases about crazy student days, international exchanges, diversity and multiculturalism, there is the messy, exciting, boring, bizarre reality of our lives. There you go, then: this post turned into an incendiary, reluctantly hipster-like Manifesto for Marginality. Each day in Tartu, thousands of days are being lived. Every lecture, every cup of coffee, every dress-up party and every whatever you do on weekends – is yours, and yours only. You walk the streets of this city and make it your own. On the way home, emerging from the sea of academic articles and bibliographies, I run into Anna. We stop by the wine bar and sit on some porch on Rüütli street, staring unashamedly at people walking by, talking about our lives, loves, future road trips, about this city and why we love it and why we hate it, and how we fell for it and how it has taken us in, and how, for better and for worse, it is inseparable now from who we are. We are also Tartu, and Tartu is also us.

Main photo: Tiit Mõtus. Photos: VisitEstonia

Article published in collaboration with The University of Tartu Blog:

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