Prince Charles, Tony Blair, Mick Jagger, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands step on Bulgarian carpets
The British royal family, the visitors at 10 Downing Street, Churchill’s granddaughter, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, legendary Mick Jagger, Harry Potter, dukes and counts from major families – all they step on unique Bulgarian carpets. Thirty Bulgarian female weavers from the town of Kostandovo, 10 km from Velingrad, Southern Bulgaria, demonstrate amazing skills that have opened to them the doors of the fussy European markets. The result is that many prestigious homes and offices display Bulgarian carpets. Mind you, this is no mass production. The sophisticated hand-woven carpets made of fine wool with pictures and family coats-of-arms woven into them in vivid colors are not unlike expensive Gobelin tapestry.
“This technique was confined to the restoration and conservation of antique textiles, and what we did was to implement it in carpet making”, explains Nino Parpoulov, one of the owners of the weaving factory in Kostandovo. “This is no industrial production as we have orders for 10 large carpets annually, with a total area of up to one thousand sq. m.”
A few years ago rock star Mick Jagger ordered 16 small carpets with Kotel designs dominated by white and blue. Two large and unique carpets adorn the home of Winston Churchill’s granddaughter, Jane. The list of customers of the Kostandovo weaving factory is long and includes the names of British filmmaker John Eliot, the Perrin Castle in Wales, Albert Museum in Vienna, the Alnwick Castle with the carpet in the sitting room seen in Harry Potter films. The rich British family of the Goodwoods waited for two years for a uniquely designed carpet with an area of 78 sq. m. The skilled female weavers in Kostandovo have restored an antique carpet woven in 1775 that left for USA. The chambers of Spain’s queen are also lined with Bulgarian carpets. The carpet makers from the small Rhodope town arranged an exhibition in London where they displayed carpets woven as copes of works by modern artists. The exhibition sold out completely.
The largest and most original carpet woven by the skillful weavers is 120 sq. m and is octangular. It was ordered by the owner of a castle in the Netherlands. It took weavers three months to create it using an original Dutch technology of some 400 years ago. “They brought to us a small piece, we made a sample that was approved, and then we began work proper, Nino Parapoulov goes on to say. “The embroidery alone was 1.60 m in width. We had to weave into it the family coat-of-arms. The most obliging order was for the celebrated library in the former summer residence of Queen Victoria. Part of the residence is opened for visitors but in the reception there was no trace from the famed Aubuson carpet from 1937. We were commissioned to weave a copy of the original based on a drawing. In the course of eight months 26 women on two shifts wove the carpet in three parts. Its total area is 105 sq. m. It was risky to make the carpet in separate parts”, Nino Parpoulov admits. “We used 48 colors. In fact the copy turned out better that the original because it is two-leaved. As it was displayed no one could believe it was made in Bulgaria. So far, 3.5 million visitors have stepped on it, and there hasn’t been any complaint.”
Stepping on a Bulgarian carpet can take you to Prince Charles.
“For his estate in Wales he ordered two carpets in two colors – a traditional Welsh blanket in green and red, a very nice design, Parpoulov goes on to say. For Camilla we made two carpets but in Ivory and brown, and in blue and beige. Prince Charles was very satisfied with our work and has offered assistance to the business so as to prevent the disappearance of the last factory for handmade carpets in Europe.”
The Prince of Wales is willing to invest into founding a school for weavers and into the infrastructure of Kostandovo.
The former British PM Tony Blair had a Bulgarian carpet in his reception hall.
“He had a carpet from India that wore out for only one year. While he was PM some 50,000 people a month visited Tony Blair’s office. So the Bulgarian carpet has been subject to intensive wear. We made calculations that by increasing the wool quantity, our carpet would survive much longer.”
How do carpet-weavers resist the competition of Persia, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where weaving actually carpet-originated?
“We do not have direct competitors. We make things that cannot be made in Afghanistan, Pakistan and China”, Nino Parapoulov contends. “They charge 100 percent in advance and what the customer gets in the end is a different matter. Some of our customers say, ‘We ordered in India – they sent us a sample that we approved. And then we got a carpet that had nothing to do with the sample. Anyway, what could we do – we had paid 100 percent in advance.’”
The quality of Bulgarian carpets
The quality of Bulgarian carpets has become almost legendary. Can you imagine? A couple of months ago, Afghanistan’s environmental minister invited the Bulgarian carpet weavers to Kabul to present the technology they use. This is a technology that avoids the use of chemicals in making carpets. “Well, traditional carpet making in those countries use 15 colors only and if further diversity is required, chemicals are added”, Nino Parpoulov says. “We do not put any limits – there is hardly a color shade that we cannot achieve. We do restoration and conservation of antique textiles. The production is nature-friendly – we use no chemicals because they spoil the structure of the fiber and carpets wear out too fast, Nino Parapoulov says with pride. And he has a good reason to take pride in the last surviving factory in Europe for hand-woven carpets following the closedown of factories in Romania, Hungary, France and Spain.