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BULGARIAN EMBROIDERY

Bulgarian embroidery is one of the highest achievements of traditional culture. Like other Bulgarian crafts, it harbours symbols and meanings, established far back in time.

Three elements of traditional Bulgarian embroidery: rhythm, symmetry, and contrast, are common throughout the Bulgarian ethnic territory. Compared to the textile ornamentation, embroidery compositions are characterised by even greater variety owing to the specific technique of ornamentation.

Colour is of key importance for the ethnic specificity of Bulgarian folk costumes. The typical colours used in ornamental embroidery designs intended for clothing are red, black, and white, blue, green. Each colour is displayed in a number of shades and combinations, sometimes clear and brilliant, sometimes dark and harmonious, and sometimes deep and contrasting.

Most Bulgarian homes have kept to the present day one or two hand-embroidered tablecloths, small mementos from the near past. If we have a good look at them, we will discover stylized figures reminiscent of animate and inanimate nature. The embroidered pictures were a kind of lucky charm, believed to bring good health and inviolability. They revealed the Bulgarian folk beliefs about the world's origin and state of affairs. One of the most common ornaments represented the Tree of Life.The Young Sun or what Bulgarians called The Young Deity was believed to climb down the Tree's branches at a certain time every year to illuminate human life and mark a new beginning. This motif appeared on cardigans and shirts in the entire country.

Interestingly, the Sun motifs, representing an ancient cult of the Sun, have become part and parcel of contemporary Bulgarian life. Present-day Bulgarians encounter unknowingly countless depictions of the Sun, left as an invisible legacy in our lands. So for example, one of the symbols of the Sun is a cross or what Proto-Bulgarians called elbetitsa, a double cross reminiscent of the circle of life. The double cross is perhaps the most popular Bulgarian motif on embroideries and ritual bread decorations. It could be seen on carpets, wraps, tablecloths, pillow covers, women's shirts and low-cut sleeveless dresses as well as men's sleeves and saddlebags. According to experts, the double cross of Bulgarians can be associated with the Dharmachakra, a symbol in Buddhism representing the wheel of life and the path to Enlightenment. Bulgarian folk wisdom has it that the double cross represents the four cardinal points and the ordinal directions united in a single centre. The wheel of life is believed to rotate around the centre, that is around what is invariable and intransient on earth and in heaven.

Once upon a time Bulgarian embroideries revealed the social status and ethnic origin of a person. Festive clothes, especially those of young children and maids, were always hand-embroidered. It comes as an interesting fact that embroideries would be woven on certain areas of the clothes considered to cover vulnerable body parts.

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Detail of an embroidered sleeve of a woman's shirt. Bulgaria.

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Sleeve of woman's chemise, Samokov, 19th century & Sleeve of woman's chemise, Doupnitza region, 19th century

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