Bulgarian Folk Arts and Crafts



Edge of woman's chemise, Doupnitza region,19th century


Edge of woman's chemise, Ihtiman region, 19th century


Sleeve of woman's chemise, detail. Doupnitza region, 19 century


Sleeve of woman's chemise, Sofia region, 19th century





Embroidered belts

The Bulgarian women's embroidering art was noted by many a foreign traveller in the Bulgarian lands during the 16th-19th centuries. The tradition of embroidery was mostly spread among the peasant population and predominantly connected with the decoration of garments. Ornamental needlework involved counting the cloth fibres and, in the case of thin cotton and silk textiles, using an embroidery frame for stretching the material with the pattern being previously drawn on it using a pencil or a stick of charcoal.

Traditional Bulgarian embroidery is characterized by great regional and local diversity. There is a wide variety of flat, raised and open-work stitches. Among those most often applied are several types of stitches: straight stitch (horizontal and slanted); cross stitch (or Koumanian); loop stitch, and two-faced stitch. The high artistic value of the designs is largely due to the skilful selection and treatment of materials. Commonly used are woollen and silk threads. Metallic (golden) threads would give a touch of brilliance and magnificence to the embroidery. The designs are primarily geometrical, combined with stylized floral motifs and animal and human figures. The hem embroidered with anthropomorphic figures is typical of the patterns from the town of Samokov. Embroidery from the Sofia region is a symmetrical, elaborate combination of geometrical motifs of ancient origin and meaning. The dense embroidery from South-west Bulgaria, with its typical interplay of red and wine-red hues, is entirely different from  the sokai embroidery of the Gabrovo area - open-worked and decorated with gold threads.

Embroidery ornamentation accounts for much of the specificity and uniqueness of Bulgarian costumes. It is typical of all areas, but mostly spread in North and North-West Bulgaria, and in the region of Macedonia. It is a regular element of men's shirts, women's chemises, aprons, and belts, the soukman and saya dresses; it is found on the curtains of the two-apron costume. Adornment with embroidery motifs is also characteristic of textiles used for the headdress of married women. Embroidery worked on costumes is varied in technique, structure, pattern, substance, colour and place of application.

Both textile decoration and embroidery are remarkable with their ornamental designs and motifs some of which are rather ancient such as the "tree of life", rosette, swastika, circle, cross. The rhomb is particularly rich in graphic patterns.

Three elements of traditional Bulgarian embroidery: rhythm, symmetry, and contrast, are common throughout the Bulgarian ethnic territory. Compared to the textile ornamentation, embroidery compositions are characterised by even greater variety owing to the specific technique of ornamentation.

Colour is of key importance for the ethnic specificity of Bulgarian folk costumes. The typical colours used in ornamental embroidery  designs intended for clothing are red, black, and white. This seemingly narrow range of colours, however, does not represent  the actual situation. Each colour is displayed in a number of shades and combinations, sometimes clear and brilliant, sometimes dark and harmonious, and sometimes deep and contrasting.



Sleeve of woman's chemise, Samokov, 19th century


Sleeve of woman's chemise, Doupnitza region, 19th century

Sleeve of woman's chemise, Trun region, 18the century

Shirt sleeve, detail. Sofia region, 19th century

Sokai embroidery



1. Traditional Bulgarian Costumes and Folk Arts. National Ethnographic Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Compiled by Viara Kovacheva-Kostadinova, Maria Sarafova, Marina Cherkezova, Nadezhda Teneva. Sofia, 1994.

2. Ethnographic Museum Plovdiv. Compiled by Anka Radeva, Lora Hristozova, Raina Kableshkova, Sonya Semerdjieva, Angel Yankov, Stoyan Antonov, Valentin Manev. Vion Publishing House, 2004.