In the shadows of the Balkan Mountains in Central Bulgaria, residents in the village of Kalofer have been making lace for more than one hundred years. The artisans initially drew inspiration from traditional Belgian patterns, but over time they developed their own designs, evoking images of ephemeral snowflakes, and silk-like spiderwebs. In Bulgarian, the lace is known as Калоферска Дантела (Kaloferska Dantela).
Today, artisans of all ages painstakingly craft the delicate masterpieces, transforming thread into pieces that depict swans, flowers, peacocks, and even amoeba-shaped flourishes destined for women’s dresses.
I photographed these pieces at Kalofer’s Lace Festival, which takes place every August 15th. More on that, and off-the-beaten-path Kalofer soon!
Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene.
A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia.
Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.
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13 thoughts on “The Snowflake-Like Lace of Kalofer, Bulgaria”
Agreed, Leah. As a child, I tried to learn how to cross-stitch, but I was an impatient student. :) Knowing all the work that goes into these pieces makes me appreciate them even more.
It’s fascinating to watch people making lace with their lace cushions and bobbins and hands which spirit the bobbins around so quickly it’s impossible to follow them. And before you realise what is happening a little pattern of lace has formed.
Dorothy, you’re absolutely right about the flurry of movement an experienced lacemaker can exhibit! While we enjoyed watching the pros perform at dizzying speeds, it was fun seeing the young beginners, some trying their hand at traditional patterns, others doing samplers of sorts. It’s lovely to know that this traditional art-form is being cherished in this Bulgarian village.
Lace is so beautiful and delicate and the hours that go into creating a piece make my head spin. I love watching it but I won’t be tempted to try myself. My mother has a dear friend who is a dedicated lace maker and I am fortunate to own a small piece of her work.
Carol, I must confess that after my failed attempts at cross-stitching and knitting, that I also likely won’t be giving lacemaking a whirl any time soon. :) Aside from watching the lace-making process, I love hearing the stories of the artisans themselves – especially how they came to learn lacemaking.
What is the motif of the lace made by your mother’s friend? You must treasure it even more knowing who made it!
It is a small piece with a flower in the middle, oval in shape. It is very special, as is the lady who made it.
I loved looking at all the lace when I visited Belgium, and this stuff is gorgeous too! It’s hard not to admire something that requires so much time and talent.
Laura, you’re right. In an age where so much is mass produced, it’s refreshing to see individuals preserving an art that does require much skill and patience. I smiled when I saw the young lacemakers working right alongside the more mature ones, and thought it was neat that some were innovating a bit (using fluorescent-green thread for example, or making lace jewelry).
These lace samples remind me of the ones made on the island of Burano, Italy. Lace-making skills were imported to Burano from Cyprus. It is fascinating to discover these connective threads in hand-crafting.
Interesting to learn about Burano’s lace having its roots in Cyprus, Bespoke Traveler. While I’ve been to Murano, I have yet to experience Burano, which I hear is quite picturesque thanks to its vibrantly-painted homes. Thanks for sharing that tidbit.
I hope the young people are learning to make this lace so that the creation of this spectacular artwork does not stop!
Hi Marilyn, so nice to hear from you!
Regarding the handing down of this skill from generation to generation, you’ll be happy to hear that there have been workshops for young people to learn too. I hope to soon compile my notes from this village’s lace festival, where even children were trying their hand at lacemaking. Some were already quite accomplished, and others were just beginning. Either way, I was impressed with the degree of patience they had for the craft.