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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.

 

 

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