Bulgarian decorative embroidery stitches

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Embroidered decoration on Bulgarian folk costumes was worked using homespun woollen, silk or later cotton thread,  in predominantly red, with black, blue, green or yellow, and occasionally gold thread. The richest embroidery was found in the north, north west and south west, with the patterns, extent , and colour thread used being linked to the wearers marital status and age. In the north the embroidery became darker from the west, where red predominated, towards the east where the central colour was dark brown or black. In the south west dense red and dark red thread was used.

Stitches were worked along the edges of the fabric, for joining seams, and for decoration, making linear, plant or geometric motifs.

Techniques used

Motifs made by using counted thread

Counted thread designs were known to have existed from earliest times. This form of embrodirey was mainly worked on course weave hemp or linen fabric making geometric designs representing stylised animal, birds, people, or plants. The colours used were considered to have magical properties, for example red gave protective qualities . Counted thread embroidery worked on woollen fabric was done by shaving off the nap of the woollen cloth first using a knife or piece of glass.

Embroidery Stitches

Bulgarian name
(English name)
Description (area found)
(Running Stitch) The simplest and most important stitch. It forms the basis of many other functional and decorative stitches.
(Back Stitch) Used for joining 2 piece of cloth, and as an ornamental stitch to outline motifs,. It is worked in a horizontal line form left to right.
(Hem stitch) This stitch can be used either as a functional or a  decorative stitch or as the basis for making other stitches. It also can be used with drawn thread work along the edge of the 'gap' after the threads have been removed. It is only worked in white thread.
(Straight stitch) Basic stitch used for outlining or edging certain embroidered motifs. Straight stitch is a double running stitch which can be used to make straight lines, zigzags or wavy lines.  It is worked by making a row of running stitch from left to right, then returning from right to left filling in the gaps.
  Tsepen bod (Split stitch)


This stitch is considered to be characteristic of Slav people. It imitates the decorative weaves of kussane and brane. Each stitch is worked straight across the fabric with the thread moving in two directions across the entire width of the surface, with the stitches usually set parallel to the weft threads. It is mainly used to decorate chemise sleeves around Koula, Vidin, Belogradchik, Pleven and Lovech and shirt and chemise sleeves and neck edges around Trun, Tetven, and Troyan.  
Purteno krusche
Oblique stitch
 This is worked on wrong side of fabric, so it gives straight stitches on wrong side, and slanting stitches on right side. it is used on the hem and side slits of  white manofili (festive or summer  soukman)  in the west around Sofia, Trun, and Pernik. and on the sleeves of old alavitsi (womens chemises from Trun,
krustche (Cross stitch) Cross stitch is made with 2 straight stitches crossing obliquely. It is usually worked over 2,3,or 4 threads. Cross stitch is the basis of geometrical motifs and the most widespread embroidery stitch found in Bulgaria.
  Polovin krustche

(half cross stitch)

Stitch made using a row of single  oblique straight stitches.
  Polegat bod  (slanting stitch)  


  Koumanian (horizontal and inclined cross),  
Chain stitch Chain stitch is made by forming a loop of thread and passing the needle through the top of the loop. It is used mainly as filling between other stitches as it can follow a curved design.


Specific motifs

Motifs made of a number of stitches arranged in a specific  way were given names, some showing how long they took to work:
Godlinak – the year long
Messetsite – the months

Around Sofia, the embroidery patterns on the sleeves of women's chemises were called  chorapechka, chorapana, or kouka chorapechka (the name deriving from ciorap meaning stocking)

Around Samokov the embroidery was often worked from the wrong side of fabric, using up to 24 different stitches, whereas white strips of embroidery was worked on the collars and sleeves of women chemises from Sofia, Belene, Ihtiman, and Svistov.

In the north east, dark embroidery on costumes worn by the kapanci was considered to have originated from the Proto- Bulgar people.

Non-geometric embroidery

Non geometric motifs were based on a fixed pattern drawn onto a piece of paper which was used as a transfer. These patterns were worked using a variety of stitches, including satin stitch, knot stitch, stem stitch and hem stitch to both outline and fill the motifs.  Non geometric embroidery was found on women's chemises in Samokov, Stanke Dimtrovo, on soukman in Ihtiman and Pazardjik regions and from 1920s-30s on the hems and around the necklines of litatsi (a form of soukman) from around Gabrovo and Turnovo.

Open work

Openwork, where the weft threads were either cut or drawn out and the stitches were made on the “drawn threads “ of the warp was widely used. This form of decoration was found on sokai headscarves (worn with metal headband) in Gabrovao and Turnovo regions. Sokai motifs made of were drawn thread with free form openwork rounded outlines decorated in gold thread. This style of embroidery was thought to have a Slav origin.

Open work made by firmly tightening an equal number of threads, held in a small square, was also used on the ruchenitsi (headscarves worn in the Smolyan district) and on  messali (scarves) worn around Provadia, Varna, Pomorie.

A variant of the openwork stitch called izkidach was used on chemises from Sofia region, and openwork strips worked in white and black thread which formed tiny squares were found on white summer soukman and the hems of women's chemises in Strandja region.


Smocking was used on the font and back yokes of burchanka style chemises found in northern Bulgaria. The fine homespun linen or cotton cloth was pleated into narrow pleats using 2-4 threads for each pleats, which were held in place using straight stitches perpendicular to the pleats to form geometrical motifs.


© Eliznik2007, Last updated Jan-08