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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.