Apron stories

Apron Stories: Široka Luka

Rhodope (left) and Bansko (right) aprons at home on Mt Lemmon, Arizona.

Our first apron appeared on our fourth day in Bulgaria, after we arrived in Široka Luka  Shortly after we stepped out of our taxi, we were captured by the best location in town for finding folkloric items – it not only faced the main town plaza but also advertised by placing appealing textiles on the wide-open door. There’s something about that orange and green plaid that calls to some of us and we made a beeline inside.


Here’s a classic Rhodope costume as illustrated from the Boston MFA collection (2004.2058.1-8):



The staff in the shop were very helpful as we made the purchase and we think they were attempting to explain to us that the apron was entirely handmade – spun and woven and most likely dyed in a local community somewhere in the Rhodope Mountains. It is a beautiful piece of cloth. Like several other aprons we saw, the apron ties are not attached to the cloth so that the wearer can adjust the apron to her own height. One style of wearing the apron is shown in the image below (scanned from a Bulgarian book on the costumes of the Rhodopes).


It was on another day in the same shop that we learned about “gaitano,” the special woolen braid that is used for trim on so many pieces of clothing – including the wool slippers called terlitisi (also romanized as terlici). The woman from the Petkovo in the photo above is wearing classic terlitsi embellished with embroidery and gaitano.
I would have cheerfully bought myself some slippers on the spot but I had to wait until I found a shop in Plovdiv that sold them in adult sizes! My guess is that they make very popular gifts for children as adult sizes were not common in the most of the shops. It’s really a pity as they are very comfortable slippers and I wear them often at home.

As you can see, the terlitsi are really house shoes and before stepping outside a woman would slip on either or leather or (more recently) plastic slip-on outdoor shoes. The same term also refers to the very popular knitted slippers (just like the kind you might find in the US) that have replaced the folkloric-style version for everyday wear. Just take a look at etsy and search for “Bulgarian slipper,” and you’ll see both the vintage and new styles.

Back of house slipper showing black braid trim.

Someday I hope to make a pattern for the slippers before mine wear out! If I do, I’ll post the pattern and the results. I suspect that once upon a time the slippers boasted gimp trim applied in fancy designs similar to those on the jackets – either that or hand-done tambour (chain stitch) embroidery in patterns that mimicked the jacket trim. All the slippers I have seen for sale and in museums were embellished with machine embroidery, often in very bright colors – perhaps I need a different color for every day of the week?