The oldest and simplest form of costume is the single apron (prestilka) worn tied round the waist. By the mid-20th century this style of costume was worn only for working in the fields and villages especially in summer, often alongside the saya and sukman costumes, and in a few remote villages in the eastern Rhodopes, where it was worn until the first quarter of the 20th century mostly by Bulgarian Moslems.
Single aprons are made from one or two widths of cloth which are usually woven in stripes using the technique ‘in the form of the weft’, where weft threads are passed in and out of the threads held in the loom forming alternate dark and brightly coloured vertical stripes which are interleaved with geometric woven motifs. These aprons can have a narrow fringe on either side. The double width apron covers almost the entire lower part of the body.
Aprons made from a single long narrow piece of fabric are worn around Zlatograd, Nedelino, Arda, and Gotse Delchev, and aprons made from a double width in Chepintsi, along the Mesta river, and in Smolyan, and Kardzhali.
This style of costume consists of two aprons worn over the chemise. The front apron is made of one or two straight lengths of fabric while the back apron is either the same as the front apron or made of several pieces of fabric joined either vertically or horizontally and pleated or gathered. During the harvest a second straight apron is often worn instead of the pleated back apron. This form of costume is found on the Danube Plain and North slopes of the Stara Planina, and with two straight aprons in the south west of Bulgaria around Tserovo near Blagoevgrad. It is also the main form of costume worn in Southern Romania on the opposite side of the Danube River.
Two straight aprons
In Vidin region in the northwest, and around Kula, and Belogradchik two straight aprons (mesal) are worn, one at the font and one at the back. These are made from a single width of red or black woollen fabric, and are decorated with stripes, either vertical or horizontal, interleaved with small woven motifs. North of Pleven several villages also wear two straight aprons. These aprons are similar to those worn across the Danube river in the Romanați region of Romania, being made of a single width of red woollen material, with a band of woven patterns on the lower third in blue, green and white, and can be decorated with sequins or small beads.
Gathered back aprons
East of Vidin the double apron costume is usually comprised of a straight front apron and a gathered or pleated (kilted) back apron. The front aprons are called kurligatka, prestilka, or houta, and the back aprons bruchenik, kotselya, vulenik, peshtemal, tukmenik, kurlyanka, zaveshka. The gathered back apron was often replaced by a straight apron when working in the fields.
These gathered back aprons are considered to have evolved from a straight back apron, that became wider, made of two widths of material (but still not gathered) then evolved into a garment made of one or two widths of cloth, joined with either a vertical or horizontal seam. There are many styles of these. Those that are worn in northern Bulgaria can be divided into three main groups, according to size, means of gathering and style of decoration.
The gathered back apron type of costume has three main variants:
1. Gathered or pleated back apron Vulenik, Bruchnik – northwest Bulgaria
A gathered or pleated back apron, called vulenik, bruchnik, or tukmenik made of two widths of woollen fabric woven with red and black stripes, that often can have woven motifs on the weft within the stripes is worn in northwest Bulgaria around Vratsa, Montana, Pleven and Lovech. This can be edged with a row of black velvet around the hem with a row of gold braid above this. These aprons often have broad pleats, which are gathered in such a way to make the skirt ‘stick out’ like a fan due to the stiffness of the cloth.
This style of back apron is worn with a front apron made of one or two widths of red fabric, joined horizontally, with horizontal woven black stripes, usually with woven patterns in diamond shapes, or rows of fine geometrical plant or animal designs. This is also often edged with an appliquéd row of black velvet on three sides, and decorated with diagonal lines of gold braid, and small gold coins.
In the area around Izvor, Vidin in the second half of 19th century back aprons were made using loosely woven woollen fabric with interwoven small polygonal figures in multi-coloured threads. These were pleated into very narrow pleats so these patterns run along the crests of pleats and were arranged according to colour so making diamond patterns. Similar aprons are found across the Danube in Mehedinți, Romania. A front apron is not usually worn with this style.
2. Back apron Peshtemal – central north Bulgaria
A back apron (peshtemal) made of dark blue or black fabric with a narrow woven coloured border at the lower edge, or edged with a strip of appliquéd black velvet is worn in central north Bulgaria, around Lovech. It is often decorated with a row of floral motifs worked in brightly coloured wool above the hem, or it can have vertical rows of woven motifs or floral motifs worked in brightly coloured wool. This back apron is worn with a front apron made of two widths of dark coloured fabric with a vertical seam, and vertical woven stripes in pink, greens, white or blue, and edged with an appliquéd row of black velvet.
Around Nikopol the back apron is made from fabric with a hempen warp and woollen weft, hand woven in izryavané technique. These aprons have multi-coloured stripes with ‘X’ shaped motifs woven in kusané (flat) technique. Around the town of Slavyanovo, Pleven the apron fabric has a hempen warp, with a weft of homespun woollen and partly cotton yarn and is woven in izryavané technique, and decorated in brané (raised) technique in diamond and ‘X’ shaped patterns.
3. With a narrow row of decoration at the hem – northeast Bulgaria
Towards the northeast, around Ruse, the back apron is made of black fabric, gathered or pleated, with a narrow row of decoration at the hem, and predominantly red embroidery, decorated with gold thread and sequins. The front apron is wider being made of two widths of red cotton worsted fabric with a vertical seam, with slight gathers at the upper end. This has a stripe along the hem which contains diamond shaped patterns with hooked ends in brainé (raised) technique and is edged with fine white or cream needle lace, or rows of gold braid. This style of dress is similar to that worn across the Danube in Romania in the Vlașca region, around the town of Giurgiu.
Around Silistra, the back apron is dark blue with two vertical lines of embroidery on the front vertical edges, again similar to the costume found in Vlașca across the Danube (note in Bulgaria the front apron is worn over the back apron and in Romania it is worn under it).
In Kurlyanka, in the northeast the lower edge is embroidered using buttonhole stitch with red factory spun wool above this lines of dense embroidery giving the appearance of gaitan (braid) in diamond patterns, which is decorated with appliquéd sequins.
Front aprons worn with gathered back aprons
The front apron was also made of one or two widths of fabric, joined by a horizontal or vertical seam, most often made in weave called izravyana, where the warp is a finer thread than the weft, giving a smooth surface almost like velvet. The size of the front apron increased from west to east of Bulgaria, with decoration covering the entire apron in the west but was concentrated on the hem or in a specific area in the east.