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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:

 

 

 

Bansko – Loving Details

I’m playing favorites and my sequined apron from Bansko gets two posts.  In this post I will attempt to describe why this apron from Bansko is in a word, awesome. And I mean exactly that, I am in awe of the labor of love that produced this beautiful textile.  Enjoy the photo details if the description is too much for you!

Sequin apron from Bansko.

Sequin apron from Bansko.

I’ll do my best to describe the materials used but the description will be of necessity somewhat superficial.  Having read fascinating books about carpets that describe the process all the way back to raising the sheep, I suspect that some details would require on the ground interviews and research for a full explanation.  I’ll attempt to clarify when I am guessing.

The cloth for the apron is a basic plain weave.  The fabric selvedges form the sides of the apron and this was likely woven on a type of loom that could have been a personal loom in a private home.  I don’t have a guess for the age of the apron and I don’t know how specialized a trade weaving was in this region. I did not test the fiber but it is most likely to be wool.  The threads that form the apron are tightly twisted resulting in a somewhat shiny thread if you look closely.  I don’t know how the fabric was dyed.

The top edge of the apron is turned under twice and secured with a heavy black thread that looks just like modern “button and carpet” thread.

The belt is a piece of tablet weaving secured by hand to the top edge of the apron with the heavy thread.  The different colored threads in the belt are made of different materials.  The black is a fine string and might be cotton.  The yellow is something like a perle cotton embroidery floss. The red and green feel like wool and might be hand-spun – by someone very skilled! I have not had the opportunity to examine other aprons closely enough to know if a tablet-woven belt is typical for this style of apron. I know from my other aprons that multi-strand round braids can also be used as belts.

Tablet woven belt on Bansko apron.

Tablet woven belt on Bansko apron.

It’s possible the sequins could aid in dating the apron.  They are metal and very flat and regular.  By feel you can tell that on one side the edge of the sequin is the slightest bit rougher as if the very edge was deformed when the sequin was punched from a sheet of metal.  The holes are very evenly centered; again, the metal is very slightly deformed at the edge of the hole. The sequins that I have examined closely all have the rough side facing up, away from the cloth.

Detail of sequins on Bansko apron.

Detail of sequins on Bansko apron.

The sequins are sewn on with an off-white 2-ply Z-twist thread that could be linen or cotton. The off-white thread forms the diamond lattice that contains the little colored violets.  It looks like the lattice was sewn first, the violets were stitched, and then the sequins were applied using a clear glass bead to anchor each sequin.

The embroidery yarn looks like wool. It is quite fine and all the embroidery seems to be done with the same 2-ply S-twist yarn. The colors are an interesting mix of bright and subtle.  Some of the blues even have a bit of “abrash” – an uneven shading that can be seen in naturally dyed yarns as they wear and age.

Detail of soft colors of embroidery.

Detail of soft colors of embroidery.

I don’t have a clue as to what kinds of home dyes were available in the region to the makers of aprons like this one. Clearly some of the pinks and bright colors were achieved using modern chemical dyes. Bansko was the home of merchants, some of them quite well-to-do who traveled widely.  I suspect many of the answers depend on local knowledge that I don’t have. At one time in nearby Macedonia large family units formed fairly self-sufficient groups in terms of covering all production of household clothing, and young girls might spend years mastering textile arts including embroidery as taught to them by older family members.  This could have been the case in Bansko but I don’t know when a transition to a more cash-based economy occurred in this region.

What did she make?  What did she buy?

This textile represents an interesting intersection of the wealth to afford the time and materials that went into its creation and local fashion that created the opportunity for the wearer to demonstration her sense of style. I’m curious about how many of the elements might have been part of a local distribution of labor that was in place to support local needs.  No tailor was needed for the apron but Iwonder if the local dresses may have been made by a seamstress or tailor who handled the cutting and fitting because they are more form-fitting and less based on the rectangular shapes that are characteristic of garments that are designed to use every scrap of precious cloth . The technology of the spinning, weaving and dying was available on a home level, but it’s possible some of the work in this apron was done by experts rather than the owner-embroiderer. In addition to the fabric and embroidery yarns, the gaitano braid was a specialty item and I’m not certain how it was produced. On top of that – who made the sequins?

I’m certain that this apron dates from an era when it was the personal expression of the wearer.  I believe that she did all the embroidery and decoration herself, and that the colors she chose are a reflection of her personality and how she wanted to be viewed by her community as a creative and skilled individual.

I think all of the pieces, including the sequins, could have been made at home.  It’s partly just the sourcing of the raw materials, the availability of the tools for each step in the process, and the transmission of the specific skills needed. Did the apron’s owner spin the yarn?  Did she weave the cloth?  She could have. There was a time when women were practiced enough to source just the right type of wool and create very fine yarns – and I don’t just mean from the correct breed of sheep, I mean the softest bits of the fleece that were separated from the rest of the shearing and saved for use in fine work.

It would have been easy enough for her to make the tablet belt and I’m guessing she did because of the mix of threads and yarns that were incorporated. The belt, to me, is evidence of a “make it work” personality that found or purchased the items like the yellow floss that were needed to get just the right pattern and just the right colors.  After all, this would be a woman’s “dress up” apron for the rest of her life; she wanted to make something she could live with for a long time.  While she might wear out an everyday apron, this one would be saved for special events and be preserved carefully and every detail deserved her attention.

I’d love to know what the special events this apron has seen!

The diamond lattice containing the flowers is a common element that defines this style of apron.  Embroidery patterns traveled widely through Europe. I don’t know if violets in the squares or the birds across the bottom had a folkloric or personal meaning for the creator of the apron or if she just picked the patterns she thought were the prettiest.

Detail of bird on apron hem.

Detail of bird on apron hem.

One of the (many) things I love about this apron is the extravagant use of gaitano.  On the sides of the apron the squared braid is cut into lengths of about two inches.  The center of each segment is sewn to the selvedge edge and the cut ends are fluffed to create a tassel-like effect.

Detail of gaitano-braid trim on side of apron.

Detail of gaitano-braid trim on side of apron.

The fluffy fringe across that bottom consists of 3-ply yarn applied with a useful fringe stitch which I have not seen before, after which the fringe is also machined down.  The lower edge of the apron fabric is also twisted into a self fringe using the single ply threads of the base fabric.

Fringe on Bansko apron.

Fringe on Bansko apron.

Reverse of Bansko arpon showing fringed edge.

Reverse of Bansko arpon showing fringed edge.

Aprons are part of an infinitely expanding universe of detail – I hope that in the future there will be more studies of the textiles of the area and the lives of their makers.

~The Mistress of Chaos

PS I took another look at the photo from Koprivstitsa.  I now think the aprons worn onstage are more recent creations; they use red tapes for as ties, do not have  gaitano trimming,  and have no fringe. Because I was so far away I can’t be certain but I suspect the lattice is made with rick-rack instead of embroidery.  What has not changed is the pride their owners take  in representing the Bansko region.

Singers from Bansko region at Koprivshtitsa in 2010.

Singers from Bansko region at Koprivshtitsa in 2010.

 

 

Aprons abound – Bansko

While the Rhodope aprons have their admirers, I can’t resist a touch of embroidery, especially when combined with sequins. Happily I have friends who understand this.  For most of the trip to Bulgaria in 2010 I insisted that I wasn’t going to buy everything I saw – and I held out for quite a while.

Towards the end of the trip we spent a lovely few days winding down in Bansko. The mountain air, cooler elevation and very walkable town made the stop just right. In addition, there was a pleasant square just a few blocks from our guest house.  Set up in the square was a seller of folk items: socks, aprons, bags and other souvenirs. We passed through the square often as we explored the town.

Smiling seller of socks, aprons and trinkets near the church in Bansko.

Smiling seller of socks, aprons and trinkets near the church in Bansko.

We enjoyed talking with the apron lady and another nearby vendor in our nearly non-existent Bulgarian and their bits of English.  Aprons were purchased.  I was still in “I can’t carry everything home” mode. For this reason Susan was the one who bought this splendid Bansko region apron:

Sequin apron from Bansko.

Sequin apron from Bansko.

Earlier in the trip I had seen aprons like this on performers and in a museum so we knew these particular aprons were from the general region of Bansko (perhaps more detail in a future post) – and the seller supplied this information as well.  Here is the full costume as seen onstage at the Koprivshtitsa festival:

Singers from Bansko region at Koprivshtitsa in 2010.

Singers from Bansko region at Koprivshtitsa in 2010.

At the market in Bansko I was able to get photos of vintage red dresses in the style worn by the women.  Compared to the vintage dresses, you can see that the women in the photo are wearing modern reproductions meant for performers with simplified construction and trimmings.  As best as I can tell from the photo, the aprons are vintage with hand embroidery and old-fashioned hand-made sequins. I was some distance away when the photo was taken but even so I’m confident the dresses were made with machine-made cloth and modern purchased gimp braid.

Here is a close-up detail from a vintage bodice for sale in the market.

Vintage bodice detail from dress in Bansko market.

Vintage bodice detail from dress in Bansko market.

The lavish black and gold trimmings around the neck are a special type of cord called “gaitano” meaning braided.  I didn’t make notes at the time but I think that the black trim on the vintage dresses is wool.  Cording of this quality was made by specialists and is reflective of the relative wealth of the region since both the gaitano braid and the gold lace would have been purchased rather than made at home. This dress is modern enough to have been sewn (or at least altered) by machine even though there is quite a bit of handwork in the decoration. Each bodice would have been an individual work of art while closely following the regional style.

Here is a photograph from a museum showing both the detail of the embroidery on the chemise and a bit of the bodice edging.

Embroidery on chemise from Bansko region.

Embroidery on chemise from Bansko region.

Here is another detail from the museum showing the apron and the crochet lace on the edge of the sleeve of the chemise.

Bansko region details: apron close up and edge of sleeve.

Bansko region details:
apron close up and edge of sleeve.

The apron allows for a great deal of individual expression.  Despite the reflection on the glass case, you can clearly see that the maker of the apron included her initials on the bottom border.

Bansko region ensembl

Bansko region ensemble.

I have not seen any books that detail the costume of this particular area. Neither the decorations, the construction details, or the ethnographic details are included in any of my costume books.  (Unfortunately, I did not capture the details from the museum’s description of the costume I have included above – it was very hot and I was growing tired.) I have seen the same red dress and chemise with at least three different styles of apron both in person and on the internet.  I have seen this general ensemble identified as being from Bansko, Razlog and Dobarsko – which are all quite close together. For this reason I’ve arrived at my own speculative conclusion that this particular apron is associated with festive occasions and possibly young women or new brides and that a woman from this area might have a selection of aprons for both different occasions such as holidays and to mark different stages in her life.

I’ll let this serve as an introduction to the interesting costume of this region as there are more Bansko aprons to explore and I’ve detoured to show the whole ensemble rather that some of the special features of the apron itself.  The apron (courtesy of Susan) has come to join my collection and I can only say I’m glad that I didn’t miss out on this opportunity to bring home a special souvenir of my Bulgarian vacation.

~from the Mistress of Chaos

 

 

 

 

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.