September 5, 2013


Embroidery is traditional cultural heritage presented through the visual expression using textiles. This rich spiritual work, expressed through human understanding at the time in which it was created, had a fundamental role in the establishment of the Macedonian folk costumes. The main carrier of the collective knowledge and skills in making clothes and embroidery is the woman, who respected the adopted aesthetic ideals and canons specific to each community.

In this exhibition the presented embroidery of sleeves, individual pieces of clothes - shirts, shajaci(type of fabric), sagii(type of female sleeveless shirt), darkmi(type of head-covering cloths), small sleeves, ubrusi(type of scarfs), sokaj(type of female head cover) belong to the Brsyak ethnographic unit, which includes the ethnic areas of: the upper Bitola villages, the Capari field, the Bitola field, the Prilep field, lower Mariovo villages, Mariovo, Demir Hisar, Kicevo, Smilevo, the Moshten villages, Ohrid and Struga. A deviation from the embroideries of this ethnographic whole will represent several Miyak embroideries of sleeves from the village Galichnik.

The preserved and presented examples of embroidery are a small part of the rich folklore and originate from the late 19th and early 20th century, when the embroidery tradition together with the folk costumes was gradually transformed and abandoned. The lack of preserved specimens from the mid-19th century and earlier, prevents us to make a detailed chronological survey which would serve to follow the developmental stages and characteristics of Macedonian traditional embroidery. In the absence of older preserved specimens the testimony comes from the archival, historical and other materials (written documents, frescos, etc..), from which we can indirectly conclude its existence. By inspecting these materials we may conclude that traditional embroidery continuously and for centuries has survived in these areas as part of the rich traditional textile art of the Macedonian people.

The highest aesthetic characteristics of the traditional Macedonian embroidery are best expressed through the ornamentation of the most important clothing element of the folk costume - the tunic type shirt. With their decoration, aesthetics and ritual function the female bridal and festive costumes stand out the most. Its ritual function and traditional ornaments represent an expression of the centuries long cultural heritage of the Macedonian people.

Leaving the white non-embroidered parts on the bridal shirts in Bitola and the Capari field, to protect from evil eyes; the ornamenting of the "written shirts" with circular motifs in the belief that it will bring fertility; or wearing shirts decorated with the motif of "v`ckata dira"(wolfs' trail) in the belief that the young woman will give birth to a male child, are all only a small part of numerous beliefs related to the apostrophic - magical powers of the shirts and their ornaments. The exceptional importance which it had in the traditional culture of the Macedonians is witnessed through the beliefs of its medicinal properties, as well as those associated with the afterlife. There was a belief that a husband and wife can identify each other in "the other world" by the shirt, that is why there was a custom to bury the dead in their wedding shirt.

The shirt with its ornamentation and colors is an important clothing element in determining the social and economic position of women - an indicator that determines the girl's age and social status; the "girl who is ready for marriage"; a fiancee, a bride etc. It had a significant role in the initiation changes from one to another stage in life.

The oldest preserved type of shirts are the so-called "alski(red) shirts", where the motifs are first "oraat"(plowed) - patterned with black, and afterwards are filled up with "alsko" red. The dominance of the red color in the ornamentation of embroidery is correlated to its semantic value as the color of life, fertility and health. Characteristic of shirts from this region is the placement of the embroidery placed on those parts where it is visible i.e. not covered by other elements of the folk costume, as follows: the front of the chest "poly", on the collar, the sleeves, the back "bojovi", the side where the unifying edge "bochnici" is, and at the bottom of the shirt "okolesh". It is common for the shirt to get its name from the name of the embroidery. For example in the upper Bitola villages the shirt "golemoto kopito"(big hoof) is named after the eponymous motif present on the embroidery of the sleeve; in the Bitola field the shirt called "sun" is named after the eight-point star called "vrteshka" - which according to local interpretation is linked to the symbolism of the sun. The shirts also got their names from the place that originated the embroidery (eg. "Kaninska" - from the village Kanino in the upper Bitola villages); some were named by the notable embroider that stood out with her skill (eg. "Stevanojte" for embroidery from the village Capari that was brought to the village Ramna - in the Capari field); or according to the technique of embroidery or the used colors (eg. "lozena"(vine-like), "crneta - lozena"(black vine-like), "alova"(red), etc..).

Embroideries from the Brsyak ethnographic whole that are represented in the exhibition are distinguished by their geometric ornaments. The geometric and the stylized floral motifs are most prominent, although rarely there are stylized zoomorphic and anthropomorphic motifs as well. The embroideries are made in different techniques; "lozeno"(vine-like), "pishuvani"(written), "travci"(grass-like), "orano-polneto"(plowed-filled), "grabeni"(pulled-away) "krstchinja"(small crosses), "azhurno"(neat), "sokaechko"(for the cap) and others, which remain as a collective memory of heritage.

A major identifiable component of these embroideries are their colors, which are specific to each area. Most common is the red color that dominates the embroideries of the Bitola field, the so-called "alovi"(red) embroidery, then in the Prilep field, Mariovo, Smilevo and Galichnik. In the Demir Hisar and Kichevo regions the yellow color dominates, combined with dark red and black. In the upper Bitola villages apart from red and black, embroidery is accented with yellow, green and black color. In the Moshten villages that are part of the costume tradition from the Lerin(Florina) field the embroidery has red, green, yellow and "pembe"(pinkish) color. A special group of embroidery that is affected by the ones from Mariovo and the Bitola field is the region of the lower Mariovo villages, where the red color in a gradation of more tones dominates, together with black, green and blue.

For the artistic value of the embroideries of great importance are the techniques that are being used, which in these areas are different. In the upper Bitola villages, Bitola field, Capari field, Demir Hisar and Mariovo the most widespread techniques are "polnezh"(filling), "orano-polneto"(plowed-filled), "grabeni"(pulled-away). In the Moshten

villages "krvchinja"(little crosses); in Smilevo and Galichnik the embroidery technique "azhurni"(neat) that use counting of wires. In the Bitola-Prilep embroidery that were made using a tapestry technique, rich forms and colors were being used, which indicate the highly developed embroidery art in Byzantium. For some shirts a white embroidery at the bottom is typical, usually in the "azhurna"(neat) technique, known as "chikme" spread among the Miyaks, then in the Ohrid field, the Lerin(Florina) river, and in upper and lower Prespa.

In the ornaments of the embroideries from the Bitola-Prilep field and Demir Hisar, which have similar compositional structure, the most common motif is the eight-pointed star, named "sun" or "vrteshka", which is an integral element of ornamentation of embroidery of the sleeves on female shirts. A widespread motif is that of the cross, usually used in embroidery of female shirts (front and rear "poly") "alskite shajaci"(red fabrics) on the chest in the front "poly", and the small sleeves "saja"(type of female sleeveless shirt). In the ornamentation of the embroidery on female shirts from the Bitola-Prilep field and Mariovo area, on the side parts - "bochnicite"(hip-sides) an often represented motif is the form of a stylized branch. This embroidery has numerous modifications and names known as "branch", "twig" or "hat".

At the exhibition some older samples of items will be presented, such as "rakavchinja"(small sleeves) from a female "saja"(type of sleeveless shirt) from Mariovo embroidered and ornamented with a rich "kist"(bouquet) of red lacing. An important spot for following the continuity of embroidery from the upper Bitola villages will be given to female, bridal towels for the head called "darkmi"(type of head-covering cloths), which by the end of the 19th century were decorated with motifs of "vetki"(twigs). Later their embroidery transformed. The embroidery is set only in the bottom corner, the angle so-called "gugan" formed with colorful laces, sub-ornament of coins and a bouquet with lacing. Since the early 20th century the "gugan" embroidery was completely replaced with black embroidery. The use of white "gugan" on the "darkmi" was only in the case of grief, when a close family member passed away, or black "gugan" with embroidered white parts for a sign of lesser mourning. The use of white color as a grieving mark in this ethnic area is a rare example of preservation as an old Slavic tradition that is present among other Indo-European peoples. The last phase of abandoning the embroidery in this part is the application of a "gugan" made from velvet and sub-ornamenting with black lacing.

Also of great importance in this collection are the items from the embroidered part of a scarfbridal cloth worn on the head from the Ohrid field, and "sokaj" (type of cap) from the Struga field, which are integral parts of the female costume, that were abandoned in  the early 20th century, and are important in monitoring the chronological development of the embroidering tradition in this ethnic whole.

The "sokai" - bridal head coverings, and "ubrusi"(type of scarfs) in the Bitola-Prilep field by the end of the 19th century were an important element in the bridal costume - a mark of a married woman. These items, although not preserved in the museum's collection, are extremely important in the ritual of the wedding and the period after the wedding. The "sokaj"(type of female head cover) was worn for the first time on the wedding day, and forty days, and six months after the wedding. In some regions it was worn on feast days during the first year after the wedding, or latest until to the birth of the first child. The protective function of the "sokaj" and also the "ubrus" is represented in their embroidery ornamentation and technique. Significant samples of the "ubrus" and "sokaj" from the Bitola field are located in the Ethnographic Museum in St. Petersburg in Russia, the Ethnographic Museum in Sofia in Bulgaria, but also in other museums around the world.

An exceptional value in the collection, and also in this exhibition, is the presentation of a very rare "sokaj" originating from Smilevo from the late 19th century. It is made of red felt, in an elongated rectangular shape in the upper part sewn in kind of "glavinka" or hood, in the middle part it is embroidered in the "azhurna"(neat) technique, while in the lower trapezoid section it is decorated with beads, a string of old coins and rich red lacing. This preserved item judging by its style features belongs to the embroidery tradition of the Miyaks who have migrated in the oasis of Smilevo.

The important nature of this item is to protect the bride from evil eyes, a belief that the covering of the head, where all of human power is accumulated, this item will protect the bride in the initial transition from one to another chapter in life, moving from one to another social position, i.e. a ritual with the function of transition from being a girl to a married woman. The "sokaj" which were abandoned earliest, by their aesthetic and exceptionally rich embroidery ornamental presentation, are among the perfect works, masterpieces of Macedonian folk art creation.

The biggest changes that led to the reduction of a number of folk costumes, and with them the embroideries as well, were carried out in the period before and after the Ilinden Uprising. Prohibitions and restrictions of the costumes concern the reduction of costly embroidery of shirts in order to reduce the cost to the families. The wearers of the folk costumes themselves wanted to simplify them for practical reasons, such as: not to interfere with their work, by reducing the length of the sleeves, instead of them reaching the hand to be only up to the elbow, the need to introduce new parts in the costume that were present in the cities, migrant workers demanded their wives to dress in a city fashion.

These changes began in the earliest in the Lower Prespa area, which is an extension of the costumes from the upper Bitola villages, where the rich colorful embroidery was abandoned. In the upper Bitola villages the "alski"(red) embroidery was replaced with black embroidery, firstly in the village of Bukovo, which is why it was named "The Bukovo fashion", and it spread in the Bitola field. In the village Metimer in the Capari field instead of embroidery velvet applications were being sewn. All these reasons from the early 20th century to the mid 20th century contributed to the abandonment of the rich folk embroidery tradition.

The preserved samples of embroidery in the collection of costumes in the museum become an important symbol of the cultural identity of a narrower or wider cultural community.

Nade Gelevska Brachic

TRANSLATED BY  Goce Pangovski

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