Study of Chiprovtsi Kilims (Carpets)



A. Introduction

             The study started in Sofia with visits to the National Museum of History and the Ethnographic Museum.  Information gathering visits were made also to retail shops to view and inspect some of the arts and crafts, including rose oil products, handcrafted containers, pottery and Chiprovtsi kilims. Subsequently, two days were used to observe the processes and products of seven weavers, two dyers and a wool thread maker as well as evaluate the kilims in the Kanatitsa Museum in Chiprovtsi. The results of these visits, the information gathered and its analyses follow along with a business needs assessment and business planning outline.

B. Characteristics of Kilims

             Kilims are hand woven, feature carpets or rugs of traditional Bulgarian design and construction. Each kilim is original and unique. Historically, traditional designs have been used almost exclusively in weaving the kilims.  The catalog of the Kanatitsa Museum in Chiprovtsi illustrates 27 traditional designs.  In recent times, more carpets are being custom woven with designs requested by individual buyers, some even containing the works of painters and other visual artists. As one weaver said, "Buyers can request any pattern and we will make it so long as the weaver can see a sample or a drawing."



About 50 days, eight to nine hours a day, are required to weave a kilim that is 3 metres (9.75 feet) wide by four metres (13 feet) long.


Kilims are woven by highly skilled and creative women. They can weave between two and three square metres per month (approximately 43.5 to 98 square feet).




Whether the design is simple or complex, there is little difference in kilim production. Weaving is by hand and weavers can only handle so many strands at any time or produce only so many metres each day.  Some minor savings can be achieved through economies of scale in producing large volumes of dye and wool thread.





Kilims are woven so that they can be used on both sides, i.e., reversible. A typical kilim can be used for 30 or more years on each side. A square metre of carpet contains about one kilogram of wool; the fabric is tightly woven and is quite dense. The standard thickness of a kilim is 3.5 to 5 millimetres. Typically, kilims range in size from roughly one half metre to three metres in width and from half a metre to 30 metres in length.






 A popular size is two metres (6.5 feet) by three metres (9.75 feet).

In the past, the traditional color was a dark red; today, the popular colors tend to be biege, toupe and rust.





Kilims have been made of all natural materials, i.e., wool and natural mineral or plant dyes. They are ecologically compatible and economically sustainable from natural sources, i.e., wool from sheep and dyes from herbs, flowers, bark, leaves and water.



      Kilims are commonly used as decorative, feature floor coverings, runners, bath mats and doorway or entrance carpets.  ....  In addition to carpets, the weavers make pillows and pillow covers, placemats for tables, hand bags with straps and vests.

  C. The Situation - Past and Present


1. Historical perspective

      The carpet industry in Chiprovtsi was established in the 17th Century.  Over time, the designs, materials, techniques and processes were developed and refined, making Chiprovtsi kilims among the finest in the world.  International awards have been won in competitive exhibitions held in London, Paris, Liege and Brussels.


      During the 1950-1970 period, the production and sales of Chiprovtsi carpets reached their peak.

2. Socio-cultural factors

       Not only has kilim-making provided valuable employment and related economic benefits for Bulgarian artisans, but it has been a vital part of Bulgaria's culture and social life. The craft of weaving carpets in Chiprovtsi and other locations in Bulgaria has been part of its traditions for 400 years. Kilims have been passed on from generation to generation. The V.A. saw one kilim that was 90 years old and still being used in a weaver's home.  That tradition continues today as weavers make kilims for their children and grandchildren.  Deep emotional sentiments are often linked to such kilims.


 All of the weavers interviewed were not interested in selling kilims that they had woven and were storing for family members.  This emotional attachment to the kilims by the weavers seems to symbolize the basic problem, that is, a lack of rational business thinking and approaches to producing and selling kilims.


More specifically, a preliminary evaluation of between 70 and 100 Chiprovtsi kilims reveals the high quality of their construction, both in terms of their weaving and materials used.  Further, the evaluation shows distinctive and attractive designs in a wide range of colors and patterns.  From limited intelligence and information, the pricing of Chiprovtsi kilims apparently is quite competitive with comparable carpets from Turkey, Egypt, India, China, Australia and New Zealand. In faact, indications are that Chiprovtsi kilims have competitive advantages in quality of weaving, eg, reversible, and in pricing. 

*The original text has been substantially abbreviated to meet the needs of this presentation.

Copyright 1997-2012 OMDA Ltd.  All rights reserved.