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Ivan Tonev, authentic Bulgarian costume tailor



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Describe your profession, with details on products, services, expertise and know how.

“Abadzhiistvo” is the production of thick woolen fabric – aba, hand-woven on a loom. During the Renaissance, in addition to the production of coarse woolen cloth, the ‘abajis’ also sewed outerwear – ‘poturi’, ‘yamurluki’, ‘saltamarks’, ‘kaltuns’. Over time, factory-woven woolen fabrics – ‘shayaks’ – appeared on the market, and the ‘abajis’ began to sew from them. Some from the more skilled masters and those who learned the trade from city masters, along with men’s clothing, also began to sew women’s clothing – ‘sukmani’, ‘kalasniki’, ‘anteria’, as well as the traditional ‘aba’ and ‘shayak’, they also began to use finer factory fabric .Thus, by changing the type of fabric, the material from which the costumes are sewn and the assortment of clothing, they also received a new name – ‘terzii’. They also started sewing certain goods for sale, which they placed at auctions and fairs. Due to the specifics of the activity, the tailors practiced their craft sitting in a so-called “Dukyanjii” shop or traveling from village to village and from home to home . “Homemakers” or “Pramatari”.

The ‘Abadji’ guild, a professional organization from the Renaissance, has a great importance in the affirmation of our ethnicity, and in the direct participation of its members in the struggles for church and state independence. When it comes to the struggle against the Ottoman enslaver, the image of the people’s protector – the Haidouk. This is the intersection where the master and the haidouk met for me. It was their importance that provoked my interest in sewing folk costumes and rediscovering this craft forgotten in time and threatened with extinction. The last terzia Georgi Koshnicharski from Saedinenie, a town near Plovdiv, died 30 years ago.

What materials do you use? Where and how you purchase them?

To make a national costume, you need fabric, woolen and cotton thread. The fabrics that I use when sewing costumes are authentic and natural – old, hand-woven fabrics on a loom – abi and shayaki. I buy these fabrics from the owners in the markets and profiled pages in the internet, People usually have the fabrics from their grandmothers, who have woven them back in the days. Before, machine-woven fabric was also available at the markets, but there is no longer a factory in Bulgaria that produces it. The thread is a woolen cord that is used to combine the parts of the garment and is also used for decoration, which I buy from the Ethnographic Museum of Etar. The cord is made with the help of a special tool used to wove exactly this type of thread. Keeping the technology from the past, this machine, driven by water power, as it was produced by master pipers from 1805, is used to prepare this thread. Unfortunately, the quality of the product is not that of that time, but this is determined by the material – the wool – with which it is knitted. The cotton thread, type “Bear Spool” is still produced for tailors and shoemakers, and I use it.

Describe the techniques, the tools and the materials you use in your work.

The work process can be divided into several stages: taking the customer’s measurements, cutting the fabrics, assembling and sewing the costume. Each costume is tailored to the customer’s individual measurements and in this sense is unique in itself. The production of one costume takes between 30 and 45 days, and this depends on the amount of cord that is used for the ornaments. The tools I use are also the same as those used by the Bulgarian masters back in time – large needles – ‘guberki’, cotton thread – ‘sarashki’ type, large scissors, a measuring instrument – ‘arshin’ and a hook, which is the third hand of the craftsman. I even make the metal buttons for the costumes myself. For ironing, they used large metal irons, the older ones were heated on the fire. Regarding the sewing technique, I remain very conservative, I do not make compromises – I sew only and exclusively by hand, without using a sewing machine /as the old masters did more than 200 years ago/.

What is your “ideal” client’s profile?

In recent years, there has been an increased interest in Bulgarian folklore, which is inevitably connected with an interest in folk costumes. In my opinion, the important point is that the society itself supports and identifies itself as a community with folk costumes, which leads to the preservation of its identity. I sew costumes mainly for musicians and singers of folk music, for participants in reenactments, for film productions and for private individuals who appreciate what I create. It is this support that gives me the confidence to continue sewing in this way – by hand, so yes run away from the so called “Folklorization” – I call it “fakelorization”, i.e. to make compromises for the sake of easier profit, damaging the authenticity.

At what age and under what circumstances did you start this job?

I discovered the craft ten years ago – I was 43 years old at the time. With a handful of friends, we decided to create the “Haiduti” Association. We were united by our common interest in history and love for the Motherland. The main goal of the Association is laid down in our Statute, namely: Collection, preservation and spread of Bulgarian traditions, way of life and culture and related clothing and weaponry of the outlaws from the end of the 18th to the middle of the 19th century. This is exactly the period in which the Abadji-Terzi craft is in its heyday in our lands. The goal of our Association is to truthfully and historically recreate exactly that time, and for that we had to dress and arm ourselves appropriately. In terms of armament, we did not encounter any great difficulties, but in terms of clothing, the problems were there. There were no costumes available in sizes and models that corresponded to the historical reality of the time. In the process of searching, I found an anteria – an upper outer garment with long sleeves , which was quite stripped, poor in terms of ornamentation with cords. I decided to give the anteria to an atelier where folk costumes are sewn, to decorate it with a cord, as my condition was that they would do it by hand. The result was not satisfactory, due to the fact that the cord was sewn by machine, and not by hand – as I explicitly wanted wished So, unsatisfied with the result, but determined to have a beautiful and richly ornamented costume, I began to look for a master who would show me, teach me how to sew. Despite my efforts, I could not find a person who could practice it in its entirety .The craft itself – was the first craft in alphabetical order in the list of practiced and studied crafts at least until 1944.

Where and how long have you been trained before you were ready to start your own business? In a training institute, with a craftsman or both? What do you think is the best way to learn your job today? Schools, training with craftsmen …?

It took a total of 6 years to master this craft – three years of training as an apprentice and three years as a journeyman to then become a master. The craft is no longer listed as such in the Craft Act, last updated in 2011. Now it has been replaced by the general “Making of national costumes”, which gives a wide field for the brutal expression of “craftsmen and craftsmen”, where the author’s interpretation of a national costume dominates over the authentic one – be it in terms of material – fabric, cut, colors or ornaments! In this way, the craft was separated from the cultural context in which it originated and was practiced, and the link for its direct transmission between generations was lost. Another factor that played a role in its demise was the appearance of the sewing machine in the middle of the 19th century. and the use in our lands as well. The craft I am practicing is experiencing a decline, because the new urban clothing – “alafranga” is imposed and traditional costumes are gradually replaced by it. In addition, the production of home shayak stops, which forces the terzis and abadjis to work in the conditions of competition, with new raw materials and customer requirements for cut and material.

My aim was to learn a craft – as it was practiced from the 18th to the mid 19th century, before the sewing machine appeared. My desire was to acquire knowledge and above all skills with which to approach as close as possible to the manufactured costumes then. I wanted to learn a craft the way apprentices and journeymen were taught by their masters. So, forced by circumstances, I became interested in the history of the craft and people who practiced it. It is not possible for a person to become a master of folk costumes without going back in time, without knowing the basis of the craft.

The path of knowledge turned out to be quite difficult, but I had the good fortune to meet Mrs. Stoina Krastanova – one of the founders of the Association of Masters, a jeweler of embroidery and folk costumes/she participated in the making of folk costumes for many films – “Time Separated” ”Captain Petko voivoda” etc./, which turned out to be the living connection, continuing the craft over time. Thus, I was fortunate that she gave me invaluable practical lessons about the types of stitching and ornamentation in costume sewing. At the same time, I also made contact with people, who had direct access to masters, from whom they remembered some basic techniques of sewing the cord and ornaments. I bought old costumes, sewed them, “explored” the old sewing techniques, took down original cuts and studied old samples of anterias, poturis, waistcoats etc. and so I took the first steps to bring this craft back from oblivion. Crafts such as Abajian-Terzian were once an integral part of people’s lives and needs, which is why specific skills were needed to practice them.

What role do “talent” and “creativity” play in your profession?

Basically, talent is a measure of achievement in a certain field, in this case – a craft. This means having some innate inclination towards some special kind of activity. It is definitely very important for the craftsman, because without this inside the heart, nothing happens. To become a master craftsman, you need to have talent, but even more will, hard work and desire to become one.

And what about innovation, what are the changes since you started? Do you use new materials, tools, or processes in manufacturing and marketing? What is the impact of innovation on your performance? How could your profession be even more innovative?

What is the best way to learn your profession?

I realize that it is very important to pass on this set of knowledge and skills to the younger generation, because otherwise we will lose this value bequeathed to us by our ancestors – the craft, which is impossible to learn from textbooks or the Internet. For this purpose, the living connection is important , the living communication between the master and the apprentice.

Unfortunately, for the fifth year now, a sign has been hanging in my shop: “I’m looking for an apprentice!”, but so far no one has responded. Several guys came, but after the first day they gave up, because it was too monotonous, monotonous and the result was slow to be seen. In my opinion, at the moment there is no developed and working approach for popularizing the crafts, and education could play a huge role in this process. In Plovdiv there are several schools where I suppose the history of the costume and the costumes themselves are studied – the Academy of Music and dance art, Gymnasium for stage and screen arts, Gymnasium for leather goods and textiles, but at the moment there is no declared interest in the tertiary craft from their side. I have the desire and opportunity to pass on my knowledge and skills to those who show interest, who are ambitious, consistent and above all patient.

A joint initiative of the Plovdiv Municipality and the Plovdiv Regional Chamber of Crafts was the “Crafts School”, which was held on the “Street of Crafts” for eight months, every Saturday. twelve children from 7 to 12 years old were introduced to the basics of sewing.

In my opinion, the old principle of direct learning of the craft-apprenticeship can be combined here with the activity of our Association for its popularization, thus motivating young people to learn a craft and continue the tradition. My personal cause is to provoke interest in the Terzian craft in adolescents through the heroic image of the outlaw.

What is your message to younger generations who might choose your profession?

A nation that does not know its history is like a tree without roots. We love our nation and are proud of our ancestors, our roots, and strive to preserve, preserve and pass on a part of our history to the generations coming after us. Crafts, traditions ,customs and holidays help with this. The lessons we conduct with young people are our mission, through which they can literally touch parts of our history and heroic past, authentic costumes and weapons of that time.

A nation that does not know the past and traditions has no future. Traditions are alive when they are preserved, transmitted and developed.




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