Bulgarian costume, chemise (burchanka)


British Museum

British Museum
London, United Kingdom

A woman's shirt / chemise a 'burchanka'; ankle-length, long-sleeved, part of a festive attire. Made of white tabby woven cotton cloth. The full weaving width [circa 36 cms] has been used centre front and back, together with four additional panels, creates an A-line shape. Red stripes (and some narrower blue stripes) towards the selvedges have been used as a design element. The neckline and sleeves are gathered, giving the name 'burchanka' to this style of shirt. Counted thread embroidery, using hand spun coloured wools, has been worked at the chest, collar, sleeves and hemline. The chest and sleeves are embroidered in predominantly dark brown wool, with some green, blue and red yarns. Five square motifs have been embroidered either side of the neck opening, with three square motifs below it. The small collar, secured at the neck with two small, unequal sized brown buttons, is worked in predominantly red wool, in cross stitch. At the hem is a repeating motif of a woman with a billowing skirt worked in cross stitch, using black and red wools alternately. There are two rows of smocking near the nape of the neck, in black (upper) and brown wool (lower). Below these is a band of linked flower motifs worked in black wool, save for a group of three worked in blue and another three in green. There is some staining both front and back.

Text from Eth Doc 1836 (entry 1): The shirt is made of a white cotton cloth with red and blue selvages along the edges. Linear ornaments woven into the edges mark the length. According to local interpretations the latter stand for the initials of the weaver.
In so far as the cut of the shirt is concerned it is a variant of the so-called 'burchanki' because of the rich puckers around the neck. It consists of two pieces of cloth joined at the shoulders and coming down to the ankles. Their top edges are gathered together and joined by a triangular piece of cloth called 'altitsa'. The sleeves which are made of two straight pieces of cloth are gathered at the wrists and are attached to the main pieces of cloth and the 'altitsa'.
Most of the connecting seams along the upper part of the shirt have been turned into decorative elements of coloured threads.
Needlework decorates the shirt. The collar which consists of a straight piece of cloth folded in two is covered with needlework. On both sides of the front slit there is a row of five separately worked ornaments which, however, represent a one-piece ornament. The ornaments feature flower and plant motifs and are filled with hand-spun woollen threads. The bottom ornament has not been finished but only outlined so as to make it easier for imitation by other women. The skirt of the shirt is bordered with a wreath of unvarying patterns embroidered with cotton and woollen threads. The embroidery is worked by counting the threads of the cloth on which it is worked and the patterns are therefore geometrical.
The embroidered patterns are typical of the dress worn by young women at marrying age and by young married women. The shirt bears the name of the needlework on the sleeves called 'pisove'.
Part of a woman's two-apron festive attire from the village of Komarevo, Pleven district, central north Bulgaria. End of the C19th.
Supplementary information to Eth Doc 1836: For the style of shirt known as a 'burchanka' see Vasileva, Vesela (1992), 'Embroidery in Traditional Bulgarian Folk Costume', in: Elizabeth I Kwasnik (ed.) British and Bulgarian Ethnography: Papers from a Symposium in Liverpool, October 1989, National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside, 41-2. For other parts of this festive dress, see:
7: apron (back) ('bruchnik' or 'vulnenik')
8: apron
9: belt
10: coat (sleeveless) ['klashnik']
11: head-dressInformation supplementary to Eth Doc:
The elaborate embroidery, portecting the hems and openings is especially fine on this chemise. The row of dancing women on the hems is probably a symbol of fertility.

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  • Title: Bulgarian costume, chemise (burchanka)
  • Date Created: 1875/1899
  • Location Created: Bulgaria
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 143 centimetres Width: 119 centimetres (across arms)
  • Provenance: Given by the Bulgarian Government
  • Copyright: © The Trustees of The British Museum
  • British Museum link: Eu1971,01.6