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Gold, silver and silk - a Bulgarian woman revives the old techniques in making the Kyustendil national costume

Photo: BNR Blagoevgrad

Madlen Bozhilova Amin is the winner of the 2021 UNESCO's Living Human Treasure prize for a project related to the making of the old-time folk costume from the region of Kyustendil called "saya". Some time ago, the Bulgarian woman returned from abroad to her hometown Svoge and started looking for someone to sew her a traditional national costume using the old techniques of 100 years ago. But she couldn't find one, so she decided to make a costume herself. She chose the folk costume of the Kyustendil region because she fell in love with it at first sight when visiting the local museum. Thus, after long studies and a lot of work, Madlen managed to restore technologies forgotten in the last 100 years, and "destroy" the ancient symbolism encoded in the exquisite Kyustendil clothing.

It turns out that translated from Sanskrit, "saya" means shadow, an image of our subtle body. The primitive cut gives reason to believe that the saya is a very old type of garment created in ancient times. The apron is in two colours - red or orange. But these colours are not randomly chosen because they served as a kind of shield for certain energy centres that correspond to these colours. And more:

"The belt buckles also protect energy fields, as well as the "ogarlech" (the upper necklace-like part of the frock) in the shape of two hands close together. This is a symbol of creation because it surrounds the heart where the seat of the spirit is. A gold coin was placed on the forehead, which also carries symbolism. On their forehead the brides wore roses, which meant that they were ready to enter into wedlock. All this was passed down from generation to generation, and people did not even ask why it was so, including what they symbols mean. Because they believed a lot in what their ancestors handed down to them," says Madlen Bozhilova Amin in an interview with BNR-Blagoevgrad.

It took her 4 years and a lot of effort until she mastered all the techniques in creating the authentic Kyustendil folk costume. In it, our ancestors wove threads of real gold, silver and silk. The most difficult part was the making of the golden "Chorbadjiysko bikme" (type of filigree). She had to take a small piece of old gold-and-silver thread to a laboratory to be told exactly what it contained:

"And it turns out that in the core there is a thread of cotton and silk, around which a silver thread is spirally wound, and this is the silver tinsel. This silver tinsel was dipped in a bath of 24 karat gold. Some of the braids are made of goat's hair. "Goat fur socks were also made for the brides. They were given to them on the day of the wedding and when they entered the new house for the first time, they had to put them on - this kept them safe from the evil eye," says Madeleine Bozhilova Amin.

The winner of the Living Human Treasure prize says she is using only traditional materials from the past. She remembers how she was accidentally brought silkworm eggs and started growing silk cocoons. "Here, in the mountains, I know people who raise sheep, they give me skins, then these are washed, stretched, these are spun and made into cords and an apron is woven on a horizontal loom," explains Madlen.

"Customers started bringing me other costumes to make - I'm currently making a Macedonian national costume. And now I want to pass on all this heritage to other people as well. For this purpose, I have an idea to organize training several times a year by renting an old house and there to teach people how to grow silkworms, how to spin and card wool, how to make hand-made braids, including silk braids, which have not been produced for a long time," says Madlen Bozhilova Amin revealing her dream.

This year, Madlen also participated in an international crafts festival in Uzbekistan, where she proudly displayed the Bulgarian national flag and presented the Kyustendil national costume.

Read also:

Text: Veneta Nikolova (based on an interview of Vanya Bahchivanova from BNR's Radio Blagoevgrad)

Photos: BNR Blagoevgrad, Organza - Blagoevgrad, Svoge Municipality

Translated and published by Rositsa Petkova
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