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?


Leading Ladies of Bulgaria

reposted from 12 April 2015

Most everyone in Bulgaria will recognize singer Valya Balkanska – and many won’t be embarrassed to sing a bit of her most famous song, Izlel e Deljo Hajdutin (ask us, we should have taken videos!) Here’s the contemporary: Izlel E Delyo Haydutin from Bulgarian Idol. But you really need to check out the original as well: Valya Balkanska, the recording that traveled on Voyager. Don’t miss the beautiful Rhodope costume & scenery.

Readers of the blog will recognize the name of Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares. Three of the singers are famous both in their own right and as Trio Bulgarka. Trio Bulgarka is Yanka Rupkina from Strandzha, Stoyanka Boneva from Pirin, and Eva Georgieva from Dobrudzha. In this recording of Lalitsa sung by Yanka Rupkina, there is a really amazing kaval accompaniment by Theodosii Spassov. (The kaval deserves a post of its own … perhaps another day). To see how these ladies looked in 1989, watch this performance of Zaplakala E Gorata with the Biserovi sisters (they are all identified in the comments).

The late Nadka Karadjova from the region of Thrace was another singer well known outside of Bulgaria. She was famous as part of Quartet Slavei (nightingale) as well as a soloist. Here she is singing Neno le. The ornaments – wow, they have to be heard and savored is all I can say. We should all rock the house like this 2009 performance of Moma Kalina by the quartet. Hey, I want to sing like that when I’m 70!

I’ll close the post with a lovely lady and mentor, Donka Koleva. Donka performs with her family and with Kabile Wedding Band. This song, Turci ot Kalofer Slyazoha, showcases her beautiful voice and again features many ornaments.

It’s been an eclectic tour – with many opportunities to re-visit in order to hear more leading ladies!

The Mistress of Chaos bids you enjoy your weekend!

Weekend Sountrack

Never Drone Alone

WEEKEND SOUNDTRACK – Never Drone Alone  – reposted from June 9, 2014

Well the weekend is pretty much over, but here’s the soundtrack just the same!
Our friends will understand our love of the steady drone which underpins so many Balkan harmonies. The rest of you will shortly understand how much there is to enjoy as I share with you just a few of the songs that form our repertoire where the drone makes all the difference. We often tease each other by saying “Never drone alone.”

The Brothers Teofilovic really caught our attention with this version of Navali Se Šar Planina. We can only hope that when we perform this song we keep the level of tension that high!  The song tells the story of three shepherds caught on Šar Mountain by a storm, who plead with the mountain that they the must go home to their families.  The mountain refuses to release them saying “your wife will mourn you for a short time, your sister will mourn a bit longer but your mother will mourn you until she dies.” (A version of the lyrics slightly different than ours can be found at in Cyrillic)

Here’s the Macedonian legend Vaska Ilieva singing a fabulous version of Ajde Red.  I can just picture clever Iljo the bandit hiding out in a tavern in Thessaloniki (which back in the day was known as Soluna Grada, the town of Soluna) drinking and flirting with the pretty serving women.  (See the lyrics courtesy of

There’s more flirting going on, this time onstage with the Pirin Ensemble in this version of of Dobra Nevesta – Dobra the Bride.  This video is as much about the dancing as the singing but that’s ok. In case you were wondering, Dobra the bride is preparing for her wedding and the song provides a long list of everyone who will receive one of her hand-made presents – she stayed up all night spinning thread!

Thanks to the serendipity of the internet I came across this song, Ogreyala Mesechinka, which we don’t have in our repertoire.  I’m so happy to discover these ladies and their songs.  Mnogo blagodarya to sfenbb of who posted this one! I can see an entire posting coming about this region of Bulgaria.

Obviously we aren’t the only non-Bulgarians entranced by these “magical” arrangements.  The fabulous ladies of Čipkice, sing one of our recent favorites,  Izgryala E Mesechinka. We’ve been captivated by this song  for years but only recently did we settle on a arrangement and start singing it ourselves. The song is from Thrace and while the words don’t exactly translate, the song describes moonlight in a garden.

I’ve barely scratched the surface, but I’ll adjourn until another day.