Women’s closed tunic – Sukman

The sukman or closed tunic was made from a single piece of woven and felted woollen cloth in black or dark blue for winter wear, or a single piece of white or light coloured woven linen, hemp or cotton for summer wear. This piece of fabric was wound round the body (like a sarafan), a round or ‘V’ shaped hole is cut out for the head, and then the fabric was joined at the shoulders. Sukman can be sleeveless, short sleeved, or long sleeved. The sukman style costume was worn in western Bulgaria around Sofia, Pernik and Kyustendil, across the central Thracian plain to the Black Sea, along the northern foothills of the Stara Planina, and in the central Rhodopes around Smolyan. The sukman style of dress emerged later than the saya or double apron costumes. It is considered to have evolved from a style of wearing two chemises, one on top of the other, with the outer one being shorter so the sleeves and hem of the under-chemise were visible. This older style of dress was known to have existed round Sofia until towards the end of the 18th century.

The sukman was also called manoful, preskolnik, or litak in central Bulgaria, kusoklinest in the west, soukno in the Rila mountains visokoklinest on the Thracian plain or vulenik in mid Rhodopes. Sukman were decorated round the neck, hem and sleeve edges with white, coloured or gold braid, sequins or tinsel. They were worn with a brightly coloured woven woollen front apron except in some areas of western Bulgaria.

Sukman costume can be divided into 3 main variants:

Short gusseted sukman – central and northern Rhodopes

In the west of Bulgaria, and in parts of the central and northern Rhodopes, sukman were knee length and either short sleeved or sleeveless, with extra triangular gussets inserted at waist level to give extra width. This style is referred to as a short gusseted sukman. The neck is usually round and is decorated with rows of coloured braid, gold thread or rows of sequins around the neck edge and sleeve ends. Sukman in Sofia, Trun and Pernik can be worn without the front apron. Sleeveless sukman are richly decorated around the neck with many rows of sequins, and short sleeved sukman have heavy embroidery in red or occasionally white on the sleeves (which can be made in red, yellow or green velvet or silk instead of the woollen material used for the main part of the tunic). In Sofia black or dark blue sukman can be decorated with appliquéd white braid in similar motifs as those used for men’s jackets.

In Trun a black sukman with red decoration was worn in winter, with a white sukman called a manofil, being worn in summer. Around the beginning of the 20th century black sukman with many rows of gold thread and sequins around the neck, sleeve edges and hem were introduced.

After Bulgarian independence sukman from Kyustendil were commonly made from green woollen or linen fabric. These were decorated with gold and coloured braid around the neck and top of the short sleeves.

In the west, when aprons were worn these were made of cloth woven with horizontal stripes in red, gold or silver thread.

Long gusseted style – central Bulgaria

Sukman from central Bulgaria were either knee or ankle length, and sleeveless or sometimes short sleeved, and were made of black or dark blue or green woollen cloth. This long gusseted style of sukman has long rectangular or triangular gussets which are sewn onto the main part under the arms. The neckline formed a deep ‘V’ shape reaching to the waist.

This style of sukman was decorated around the neck with a row of brightly coloured embroidery worked in woollen or silk thread in floral motifs, and around the hem with either similar rows of floral embroidery or vertical stripes of multi-coloured appliquéd in brightly coloured (yellow, red, pink, green, or orange) cloth, satin or felt, interleaved with woollen, gold or silver braid. Sukman with embroidered decoration predated those with coloured appliqué (the latter being found around Kazanluk, Yambol, and Haskovo). The row of appliqué around the hem was very wide in eastern Thrace and narrow along the foothills on both sides of the Stara Planina and was called a chelo (forehead), prag (threshold) or prechka (obstacle).

Sukman from eastern Thrace often have two long strips of materials (tails) attached to the back. These were decorated with lace and floral woollen embroidery, and are thought to be a modified form of sleeves that have lost their function.

In central Bulgaria the front apron worn over the sukman was usually plain, and can be made of woven wool, linen or even silk. It was decorated on the lower third with woven stripes or brightly coloured embroidered floral motifs worked in wool or silk, and was often edged with a row of fine white or cream needle lace.

Two piece sukman

A two piece sukman is found on the eastern slopes of the Stara Planina Mountains, and along the Black Sea coats in Dobrudzha. This style is made of black, red or brightly coloured fabric and had a short sleeveless bodice (chapak), with a separate skirt attached (similar to a dirndl) which was made of several widths of fabric, gathered at the back and flat at the front where it was covered by the apron.

Published on 7th June 2018