The New Gold of Chiprovtsi

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24 March 2020
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3 April 2020

The New Gold of Chiprovtsi

The Chiprovtsi rug is lightweight, woven from wool yarn and very durable. There are three features that set Chiprovtsi carpet weaving apart. First, the carpet is woven on a vertical loom, which is a much slower and laborious process, but the result is more precise and beautiful than the horizontal one. The vertical loom can only be manual; replacing it with a machine is impossible. Secondly, each rug figure or ornament has its own symbolism, the origin of which lies deep back in the centuries. The oldest ones are the "kanatitsa" (from Turkish kanatlar - wings) and the "karachka" (symbolising the fertility goddess and also called "black-eyed bride"); the later ones include the "tsveke" (flower), "pileta" (birds), spring and autumn vine; the bombs", "the pots", "the suitcases", etc. are among the most recent ones. Another crucial feature of original carpets is the colour combinations, which should be harmonious, not too rich or bright. The oldest motives belong to the so-called "constructive period" when weavers were dependent on a still poorly developed hardware. The skill to weave in ornamental style only came later. Triangular motifs bear ancient symbolism, which, according to ethnographic studies, relate to male and female figures creating new life. This primordial symbolism has been somewhat lost in the new times and decorative aesthetics has taken the lead.

By the end of the 19th century, dyestuffs were only extracted from natural substances, hence the muted aspect of colours. Synthetic paints subsequently took the lead, but Chiprovtsi weavers continued to use natural ones as well. The bright red rugs we are so familiar with resulted from increased recent demand. Natural ingredients (e.g. onion peels and alum) provide pastel colours like tile-red. The brighter red hues had not penetrated the craft until the 19th century. Natural dyed carpets do not bleach and can be used for generations. The Chiprovtsi History Museum exhibits specimens from different periods, some more than a century old and perfectly preserved. A stunning one is the huge Chiprovtsi carpet, which adorned a rich family house in Svishtov before it wound up at the museum. The latter also has an original vertical loom. Live rug weaving can be seen in some of the ateliers in Chiprovtsi.

Nearly all of the artisans were women taught by their mothers and grandmothers and passing on the skills down the family. Until recently, a carpet class still existed in Chiprovtsi, but is no more today. This puts the craft's conservation in jeopardy, with the lack of any support or relief on behalf of the government making the situation of the few remaining artisans even more exacerbating. Unsuccessful (and often unethical) attempts have been made to borrow the Chiprovtsi rug weaving art elsewhere, including making imitations. Original carpets really exhibit the generations of experience and skills of these women artists. The demand for Chiprovtsi rugs does exist, with prices going much higher through middlemen than locally. If you prefer to buy a genuine Chiprovtsi rug and support the craft, go there or contact some of the local rug businesses.

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