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Irene Velichkova-Yamami lives in Japan, but does not stop ‎embroidering... Bulgaria

The embroidered map of Bulgaria arrived from Japan, Irene donated it ‎to the National History Museum

Photo: Gergana Mancheva

The name of the Bulgarian Irenе Velichkova-Yamami is mostly associated with ‎her long-term research on embroidery, which has been perfected over the ‎centuries and has turned from a widespread craft in the past into a valuable art ‎form in the present day. And since fewer and fewer people today have the time ‎and patience for embroidery, Irene Velichkova-Yamami sets out to find and ‎describe the types of stitches and the figures achieved with them. She has ‎collected valuable information around Bulgaria and during her travels around ‎the world. She has preserved everything in her books "Archaic symbols in ‎embroidery", "Bulgaria in needlework" and as an author in an almanac of ‎world embroidery.‎

In 2014, Irenе Velichkova set out to realize one of her most ambitious and ‎colorful ideas - to sew a Bulgarian flag in embroidery. The unique thing here is ‎that the map of Bulgaria is presented on a canvas with a width of 1.40 m, but ‎instead of the names of the cities, the embroideries characteristic of the ‎traditional costume of the respective area are embroidered there. ‎

The idea was provoked by a map of Bulgaria from 1929, made by the ‎renowned folklorist Hristo Vakarelski, on which the traditional costumes of the ‎individual geographical areas are presented. Then Irene told herself that she was ‎the person who could and should put together a map with real embroiderers ‎from different ethnographic areas of Bulgaria. The fact that the master of the ‎‎"exquisite stitch" has been living in Japan for 35 years now actually ‎turned out to be a real advantage for her homeland-loving work. In addition to ‎attracting the interest of her followers in Japan, she was able to show the map ‎with embroidery from her homeland at various international exhibitions. With ‎it she has traveled to Tokyo, San Francisco, Hamburg, Sofia, Veliko Tarnovo. ‎

Seven years after the completion of this ethnographic work, the Map of Bulgaria ‎in embroidery has arrived permanently in Sofia. It was donated to the National ‎History Museum and recently took its place behind the showcase in the ‎Ethnography Hall. ‎

‎"I am very happy about the fact that the "Map of Bulgaria in Embroidery" is ‎now at home, in the true sense of the word. Museums are the guardians of the ‎memory of a nation, of its historical past, it is the basis for a constructive ‎future," says Irene Velichkova-Yamami. ‎
"It took me a year to make the whole panel. It contains 144 embroidery ‎patterns characteristic of the respective region of the country. About ten types ‎of stitches are used. To be just like a real flag, this map was consecrated in the ‎Orthodox Church of Saint Alexander Nevsky in Tokyo in 2016. I carry the ‎Bulgarian embroidery in my genes, one of my grandmothers is a Kapanka ‎‎/a colourful ethnographic group from Northern Bulgaria - note ed./. My other ‎grandmother is from Dupnitsa and I have always seen embroideries and ‎knitwork around me, and as a child I also used to help her in weaving on a ‎loom. Every type of needlework that was traditional for the Bulgarian women ‎has passed through my hands.” ‎

I rarely return to Bulgaria, once every 4-5 years, but I explain the turning of ‎Bulgarians back to their roots with the difficult situation in which the country ‎is”, Irene Velichkova - Yamami tells Radio Bulgaria. “One must have ‎something to lean on in order to survive a difficult time of deprivation. Of ‎course, traditions still have a place nowadays, but in Bulgaria we see a massive ‎return to traditional dances, embroidery and everything related to folklore. The ‎case with us is a little more difficult, because we have yet to realize where our ‎troubles come from. Bulgarians must wake up and understand what wealth this ‎country has, but they do not know how to use it." ‎

Irene Velichkova-Yamami makes a comparison between her homeland and the ‎country she has lived in for decades: "In Japan, when you say your’ a ‎foreigner, people understand America. But when they touch the colorful ‎culture of Bulgaria, everyone remains fascinated, intoxicated and even in love ‎with our country. Their attitude towards Bulgaria is very good, cordial and ‎understanding, because they value tradition. It's like that with them - tradition ‎is valued very highly also in terms of dignity," adds Mrs. Yamami.‎

"Having lived for 35 years in a country where tradition is held in the highest ‎esteem and preserved without any modern interference, I also began to search ‎for a deeper meaning in tradition. I would like to wish the Bulgarian women ‎dealing with embroidery to respect the real old and authentic embroidery ‎patterns which have withstood the test of time and, along with the Thracian ‎gold treasures, are part of Bulgaria’s overall cultural heritage, which forms us as ‎a nation."‎

Read more about Bulgarian embroidery:

Photos: Gergana Mancheva, Serdica Gallery, National History Museum

Translated and published by Rositsa Petkova
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