Costume materials

The material originally used to make Bulgarian traditional clothing were these that were available locally. Chemises and shirts were made from hemp and flax which was woven into fabric on horizontal looms in villages. From the second half of the 19th century hempen and linen fabric were gradually replaced by homespun cotton fabric made from imported cotton that first appeared in local markets in the east of the country. Later cotton was produced locally, especially in the south of Bulgaria. In northwest Bulgaria hempen fabric was still used for entire chemises, or just the parts that the outer garments covered, and also for men’s summer and winter trousers as late as the early 20th century, with linen only being used for festive chemises.

Sheep breeding took place in the mountain areas from the earliest times. The wool produced was white, grey, beige, brown, even black, and was woven into woollen cloth locally on either horizontal or vertical looms, using 2 or 4 heddles. The latter were widely used for traditional carpet making especially in centres of this trade such as Chiprovitsi, in the northwest. Natural white cloth produced was of medium thickness and dense and compact. Goats’ hair was added to give a higher degree of impermeability to the fabric, and the combination of woollen weft with a warp of vegetable origin increased the cloth’s durability and compactness, and made it easier to work woven motifs into the cloth. Woollen cloth was used for outer garments, aprons, tunics and blankets. Home weaving was practiced until the mid-20th century.

Silk thread was found in Bulgaria from the earliest times but was only used for embroidered decoration until the end of the 19th century.

Dressed cattle hide or pigskin was used for tsarvuli and belts, and sheepskin for over garments for shepherds and in the north along the Danube.

From the end of the 18th century onwards the production of dark woollen cloth took place in workshops in urban areas, with the first textile factory being founded in Sliven in 1834, and imported materials began to be available in the newly expanding urban areas. Silk fabric and brocades were imported from the east and were made into garments by urban tailors for rich men and women, especially merchants and craftsmen and their wives. Silk was also later produced in areas around Haskovo, Svilengrad, Plovdiv, Zlatograd, and Ksanti. In the 1920-1930s multi-coloured fabrics began to be used for top garments with a dress cut which replaced the saya in some areas.

Published on 7th June 2018