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Apron Stories – Shiroka Luka

Our first apron appeared on our fourth day in Bulgaria, after we arrived in Shiroka Luka.  Shortly after we stepped out of our taxi, we were captured by the most prominent location in town for finding folkloric items – it not only faced the main town plaza but also advertised by placing appealing textiles on the wide-open door.

A favorite spot in Shiroka Luka - the shop with the textiles!

A favorite spot in Shiroka Luka – the shop with the textiles!

As you know if you’ve read the earlier posts, there’s something about that orange and green plaid that calls to some of us and we made a beeline inside. Even though it was early in the trip, this beauty was too lovely to pass up. You can see the result as modeled by Diana in the photo below.

Three mountains: the Rhodopes (left) meet the Pirins (right) in the Catalina mountains of Arizona.

Three mountains: the Rhodopes (left) meet the Pirins (right) in the Catalina mountains of Arizona.

Here’s a classic of an entire Rhodope ensemble as illustrated from the Boston MFA collection:

A lovely example of a Plovdiv costume as collected at the Boston MFA.

A lovely example of a Plovdiv costume as collected at the Boston MFA.

The staff in the shop were very helpful as we made the purchase and we think they were attempting to explain to us that the apron was entirely handmade – spun and woven and most likely dyed in a local community somewhere in the Rhodope Mountains . It is a beautiful piece of cloth. Like several other aprons we saw, the apron ties are not attached to the cloth so that the wearer can adjust the apron to her own height. One style of wearing the apron is shown in the image below (scanned from a Bulgarian book on the costumes of the Rhodopes).

Young woman in festival dress from the village of Petkovo in the Rhodope Mountains.

Young woman in festival dress from the village of Petkovo in the Rhodope Mountains.

It was on another day in the same shop that we learned about “gaitano,” the special woolen braid that is used for trim on so many pieces of clothing – including the wool slippers called terlitisi (also romanized as terlici). We were puzzled by a bowl of what looked to us like some kind of fat black yarn. Once the shop assistants said the word “gaitano” we understood that we were looking at a braid. The two women conveyed to us how the gaitano was used as trim.  (We don’t have a big Bulgarian vocabulary since it’s mostly from the songs we sings and most of it centers around clothing and food – that’s why we know the word for braid which also refers to braided hair). The woman from the Petkovo in the photo above is wearing classic terlitsi embellished with white embroidery and black gaitano to finish the edges.

While I was still mostly avoiding buying anything bigger than a postcard, I would have cheerfully bought myself some slippers on the spot but I had to wait until I found a shop in Plovdiv that sold them in adult sizes! My guess is that they make very popular gifts for children as adult sizes were not common in the most of the shops. It’s really a pity as they are very comfortable slippers and I wear them often at home.

The gaitano (braid) finishes the raw edge of the slipper and forms a little tab at the heel.
The gaitano (braid) finishes the raw edge of the slipper and forms a little tab at the heel.
Modeling my Rhodope slippers.

Modeling my Rhodope slippers.

As you can see, the terlitsi are really house shoes and before stepping outside a woman would slip on either or leather or (more recently) plastic slip-on outdoor shoes. The same term also refers to the very popular knitted slippers (just like the kind you might find in the US) that have replaced the folkloric-style version for everyday wear. Just take a look at etsy and search for “Bulgarian slipper,” and you’ll see both the vintage and new styles.

Someday I hope to make a pattern for the slippers before mine wear out! If I do, I’ll post the pattern and the results. I suspect that once upon a time the slippers boasted gimp trim applied in fancy designs similar to those on the jackets – either that or hand-done tambour (chain stitch) embroidery in patterns that mimicked the jacket trim. All the slippers I have seen for sale and in museums were embellished with machine embroidery, often in very bright colors – perhaps I need a different color for every day of the week?

Bonus:

A beautiful photo of a nearly identical orange and green apron at Lost Bulgaria.

A favorite song from the Rhodopes, Vecerai Rado, complete with slideshow:

 

 

 

Weekend Soundtrack – Gela Gajda

This is a repost from the lost posting of 29 July 2011  (with an added link or two).

 

Gela Festival and Sveti Iliya's chapel.

Gela Festival and Sveti Iliya’s chapel.

Ah, to be in Gela at Ilinden ….  Now that we have known the pleasure, we want to go every year (but, shhh, don’t tell as we’d like it to stay just the way it is).  Ilinden is either July 20th or August 2nd depending on which calendar you favor.

Here’s a taste of the festival at Gela from a previous year  (Yes, you heard the announcer fire a pistol!)

Ilinden is the name of a holiday special in Bulgaria for two reasons, one religious and one political.  St. Elijah, otherwise known as Sveti Iliya, is associated with the earlier Slavic God Perun (see Crossroads post from June 1 for more mythology). Perun is the god of thunder, fire and lighting who rides a chariot pulled by a goat and you may recall that Elijah went up to heaven in a chariot of fire. Perun deserves his own post so for now suffice it to say that the small chapel in the beautiful meadow at Gela is dedicated to St. Elijah and that the fantastic festival is held on the weekend closest to Ilinden.

St Elijah as seen in the church in Shiroka Luka (just down the hill from Gela).

St Elijah as seen in the church in Shiroka Luka (just down the hill from Gela).

It’s tricky to talk about the political side without favoring one group or another.  I’ll just say that the Ilinden holiday is celebrated in Bulgaria & Macedonia because of an uprising in 1903 against the rulers at the time, the Ottomans, which very briefly established an independent republic centered around Krushevo in present-day Macedonia.  The Ottoman response to the uprising created much discussion in Western Europe about the treatment of Christian subjects of the Empire. We’re singers, not historians, so I’ll leave it there.

Ilinden is thus festival-time in Bulgaria and Gela is the festival where our hearts are.  On the face of it, the festival is a competition for up and coming gajdarche to show their stuff in front of their peers.  The festival is really for the local kaba gajda players, but competitors have been spotted playing bagpipes from Hungary and other non-Rhodope-mountain regions.  For my part, I think the festival is about enjoying hearing a bagpipe outdoors in the mountain air.  To paraphrase, all music is local, and Gela is about local music by local people.  Never mind that the scenery, the food (and even the portable toilets) are amazing!

I’ll give you a little taste of our 2010 visit in photos, with the hope of posting some videos in the future.

Campers near the Gela meadow, August 2010.

Campers near the Gela meadow, August 2010.

The line for lamb, Gela, 2010.

The line for lamb, Gela, 2010.

Tempting textiles for sale at the Gela festival, 2010.

Tempting textiles for sale at the Gela festival.

Performance offstage at Gela.

Performance offstage at Gela.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our wish is that the festival can remain a home for lovers of the kaba gajda. To hear a gajda in among the aspens surrounding the meadow is to hear it where it is most at home, making the music and the moment inseparable as they are special.

PS for more details about the festival & visit our friend Katia’s blog True Bulgaria.

 

 

 

 

 

Listen here

Apron Story – Kovachevitsa

Mzekala arm-in-arm.

Mzekala arm-in-arm.

In addition to singing, dancing, eating and general trouble-making, the women of Mzekala have a fondness for textiles.  From the photo above you can see that we’ve chosen to share portions of our costume collections with our audiences by wearing an assortment of aprons from Bulgaria and Macedonia.  All of the aprons, of course, have a story and it’s difficult to know where to start so I’ll begin with the apron on the left.

Susan, who is wearing the apron, bought it in Bulgaria.  The apron found her in the village of Kovachevitsa. I will only say here that despite anything you might read about the bad road to this remote village – it’s worth the trip!

Rugs on the balcony railing of a porch in Kovachevitsa, Bulgaria.

Rugs on the balcony railing of a porch in Kovachevitsa, Bulgaria.

Something about the bright orange and green plaid of the aprons from the Rhodope region  calls to us.  Rhodope aprons vary from yellow to orange to red grounds with various green to black stripes making up the plaid pattern.  I have no doubt that once upon a time the wool yarn for a woman’s apron was processed entirely at home from clipping the sheep to weaving the cloth.  I’ve noticed that often the apron will have a horizontal seam across the middle with no attempt to match the plaid – non-matching plaids in an apron is clearly not a problem for the Bulgarian seamstress. The seam is needed as the home looms produced a narrower strip of cloth.  To produce a wider apron two strips were sewn together – thus the apron from top to bottom is exactly twice the width of the finished cloth so that no fabric is wasted.   Because of the bold horizontal stripes in Susan’s apron, the seam is not really noticeable.

Vintage photo of women in the Rhodope region spinning and working with wool.

Vintage photo of women in the Rhodope region spinning and working with wool.

By the time Susan and the apron found each other, the three of us traveling in Bulgaria had been on the road over two weeks and seen a number of Rhodope aprons on performers and for sale in shops.  We had even acquired two other Rhodope aprons (stories saved for another post) already.

We had stopped in a local shop to pick up some postcards so that we could share the spectacular vistas with our friends.  There in the shop the apron was waiting. The loving details on this apron make it special.  Along the bottom edge is a blue crochet-lace border and just above the edge is a band of hand embroidery on black ribbon.  There really was no choice, it had to come home with someone!

Details of the apron border.

Details of the apron border.

While I don’t have an entire costume from the Rhodope region on hand I can confirm that every element of every costume calls you to look in more detail – from the embroidered wool house slippers, hand-braided apron-strings, lavish couched embroidery on jackets and cuffs, needle-lace trim on scarves and blouses, every piece of the ensemble rewards close inspection. The photograph below shows a young woman wearing a complete modern ensemble.  She is a competitor in a festival arranged for players of the local style of bagpipe (kaba gajda) – there’s nothing like hearing a folk melody in the open air!

Bagpipe (gajda) player at the festival in Gela, Bulgaria, 2010.

Bagpipe (gajda) player wearing the folk costume of the Rhodope Mountains at the festival in Gela, Bulgaria, 2010.

How could anyone resist such a memento?

PS – Enjoy this song from the Rhodopes, the Koutev arrangement of Vecerai Rado, which is accompanied by photos from the Rhodope Region, many of them of Kovachevitsa.