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Women weave their hearts and souls into the famous Chiprovtsi carpets

Photo: personal archive
The small town of Chiprovtsi, which is rich in historical events, lies huddled in the folds of the western parts of the Balkan range amidst lush greenery. The local women continue the centuries’ old tradition of master carpet weaving to this day. The secrets and the knack are being handed down from one generation to the next. Skilled craftswomen weave into the patterns and hues of the famous local carpets their songs, dreams and hopes, traditions and beliefs. The roots date back to the 17th century, when the local women used natural dyes for their yellow, ochre, brown, blue and green hues, but the principal geometrical figure used as a symbol was the triangle.
“The most typical pattern of the local carpets is the so-called ‘makaz”, which is two triangles joined at the top and shaped to look like a sand-glass,” Svetlana Ilieva, who descends from a generation of carpet weavers, and runs her own carpet weaving workshop in Sofia, told Radio Bulgaria. “It is bound to represent the male and female principle. In latter years designers and artists have joined us in our work, and that is why the symbolical meaning of the carpets is no longer a priority. Today the strife is somewhat more toward achieving harmony between hues and shapes. Another figure typical of the early period of the Chiprovtsi carpets is the ‘kanatitza’, which is also a combination of several triangles. It is believed to be endowed with magical powers, and to bring welfare and luck, and protect the family hearth. It is often present in the typical Chiprovtsi carpets. In later years the popular tree motif appeared, known as ‘karachka’, which in the local dialect means ‘a black-eyed bride”. It, too, is a combination of several triangles, but the general belief is that its symbols go back to the times of the Proto Bulgarians.”

© Photo: radiovidin.bnr.bg


Nowadays mostly elderly women continue the carpet weaving tradition. The reason for that is that the majority of the young people have left their hometown in search of employment in bigger cities. “On the other hand, it takes a great deal of effort and time to weave carpets manually, and the profit from their sales hardly becomes the needs of the contemporary youth,” Svetlana argues. That is why there are still young women who engage in weaving, but they are more likely to work on tapestries, icons and other kinds of artistic textile work.

“The carpets in Chiprovtsi are still woven to this day on the old-fashioned vertical wooden loom, much in the way the local women did that three centuries ago. The entire childhood of their offspring was centered around this loom given that it was mounted in the house. I remember how as four- or five-year-old I used to sit next my Granny by the loom and watch her breathe life into the carpet. Thus, the learning process happened all too naturally. So in the past the women learnt how to weave from an early age. It was very important that a woman became a master in her craft. Only the masters knew how to make the composition and how to build its colour and pattern scheme. My Granny had retired but women came coming to her, even older women, and kept asking her about this and that and which figure of how many threads was made. The role of the husband was also very important. He had to secure the loom, to make the yarn-beams parallel, etc. True indeed only the women weave the carpets in Chiprovtsi, but it is the men who stood by and helped them wind up the yarn. And today it is pretty much the same.”
The very technique of the weaving is also rich in rituals and beliefs, to which the women in Chiprovtsi stick religiously to this day.

“The local women give everything to those carpets. Every single day of their life is dedicated to the carpets they are weaving. They live with the carpets in mind. I guess that is why they have a magical power,” Svetlana admits. “The people in Chiprovtsi are deeply religious. So, every morning before they start weaving the women make the sign of the cross and whisper “Please, Lord, You lead and I follow.” I believe they somehow manage to interweave that kind of sensitivity into their carpets. Weaving is related to a great many rituals and superstitions that are strictly observed to this day. For example, when you warp the carpet, you need to warp the basis first, and then put it on the loom. As soon as the basis is made, it is placed high above the door, so that the carpet be sold in no time. After they start weaving their carpets, the women follow closely who will be the first to enter the room, because that is a sign how their work will progress. I remember some of the tricks my granny made, when I was little. She used to find grandpa all kinds of chores to do, so that he can get out of the house and be the first one to cross the threshold of her room when she started weaving. She used to say that his “visitation” ran smooth, which meant that the weaving will go smoothly. And grandpa was never aware that she was doing that on purpose, but it was essential to her to keep it that way. We have preserved the ritual in the family. My mother and my aunt both weave carpets, and use the same old tricks, in order to feel calm and have success with their work.”

Svetlana grew up with the ‘thumping’ of the wooden loom and the smell of freshly dyed wool. “I graduated the Technical University and have a degree in electronics, but I have not worked a single day as an engineer. When something drags you from within, there is no way that you can resist. I believe it is not a matter of coincidence that I was born in Chiprovtsi, and lived in the household of generations of master carpet weavers,” she saysл. “My workshop in Sofia is pretty much like that – full of yarn and the smell of dyed wool. I may well be the only one that finds the beauty in it, but I know for sure that when I go there, I feel isolated from the outside world, and I submerge myself into a totally different realm. The hues and the patterns start ‘dashing’ before my eyes, and the design of the future carpets rises before my eyes all by itself. Unfortunately, even in Chiprovtsi, the old time cooperatives are gone, and I only work with a few women who weave the carpets that I design.”

© Photo: personal archive


With their beauty and harmony the famous Chiprovtsi carpets continue to be part of the interior decoration of many Bulgarian homes, and not only, because there are foreigners who take a particular interest in them, too. “I don’t know how this works, but people from all over the world find out about us on the Internet and place orders for carpets that we have woven. We have customers from Russia, the United States, France and the United Kingdom,” Svetlana Ilieva says in conclusion.

English version by Radostin Zhelev
По публикацията работи: Rumyana Tzvetkova
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