May 12, 2006
I am heading up to Chiprovci, a small mountain town in NW Bulgaria, to get a look at the famous Chiprovci carpets and take in some small-town Bulgarian atmosphere.
First, some historical background: The town of Chiprovci, Bulgaria is known throughout the country for its carpet-weaving industry. The industry developed in the 18th century after the town's residents returned home after the 1688 Chiprovci Uprising, which was fiercely repressed by the Turks. Weaving of the carpets was an important part of the town's restoration. Today the rugs are still produced, and I am going to Chiprovci to talk to some weavers and order a carpet!
The carpets are called "kilimi" in Bulgarian, which means a double-sided rug woven on a vertical loom. Walking around town, one can see the stands through the windows of houses, and threads being dyed in vats in people's yards...next to the sheep the wool likely came from!
The town's museum has a great display of rugs, some of which are over 200 years old. The symbolism of the rugs is derived from ancient geometric figures. One of the most-seen figures is called the "black-eyed" bride, and is depicted in red and black. Most designs are from nature, such as the grapevines, flowerpots, chickens, and the "tree of life" which is usually made for a family. The designs are seen everywhere in the town, and the guest house I stayed at is full of the carpets. I've even noticed them being used as seat covers in cars!
An old house here has been converted to an ethnographic museum and visitor info centre, and in the backyard there is a garden where they grow plants that are used to make natural dyes. There are a lot of books on the carpets, unfortunately only in Bulgarian. Luckily one of the staff at the museum speaks English, and she gives me a tutorial on how to make the rugs. I tried for a while but it's slow going. I find a family that sells rugs and look through a catalogue of designs...with a combination of drawn pictures and halting Bulgarian/Russian, I end up choosing a variation of the "chickens" made with natural plant dyes. There are some for sale ready-made, but I'll be here a while so I decide to pre-order one. The colours aren't as vivid but I like the idea of an all-natural carpet made in Chiprovci...it costs about $65 a square meter which is very cheap for a hand-made article, and a great souvenir. Details: already made carpets and bags of all sizes are available in Chiprovci, pre-ordered rugs take from 2 weeks to 3 months to make depending on the order. They can be delivered to Sofia, or shipped elsewhere in BG or abroad. For more information call the Chiprovci Historical Museum at +359 9554 21 94 or the Info Centre at 9554 29 10, but be prepared to speak some Bulgarian. Or try email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From journal Landescapes - Exploring Northwest Bulgaria