Slava Baldjieva’s atelier is tucked away on the cobbled roads of the Old Town in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Displayed on the walls in an orderly chaos are works of art, reminiscent of antiquity and the Revival Period. All around the atelier, located on the Street of Crafts, are scattered various telltale signs of Slava’s intricate work. She took up the craft of weaving in 1989.
“My woven works include traditional Bulgarian ornaments, some are smaller, used as souvenirs, others are bigger, and they illustrate people, houses or flowers. Personally, I want to do more abstract pieces, but unfortunately there is not really an audience for that in Bulgaria, at least for now,” Slava says.
She shares that nowadays her routine differs a lot. Apart from weaving, she also has to deal with distracting activities such as administrative work, as she describes it. The way a regular day unfolds for her depends on whether she has a new order to complete. In the morning she goes to her atelier, sits down, and decides what she needs to do. Sometimes she simply continues the previous day’s project, or she starts a brand new one, choosing which type of weaving loom she will use.
“My work happens on two different types of looms – a horizontal and a vertical one. I use both because they produce a different result. One of them is for more complex and intricate patterns, while the other is for simpler, linear shapes,” Slava says.
She shares that her days are long and sometimes extend until midnight.
“I can afford to work when others are sleeping, because a big part of the process happens in complete silence. I don’t bother anyone while I weave, even if I do it during resting hours,” Slava says.
Still, the digital age has brought a new dimension to the weaving process for Slava. “I like to nourish my mind while I work – I love to listen to the Bible, different sermons and discussions. I can do this when the process doesn’t necessarily require deep focus,” Slava says.
Another feature of Slava’s work is giving weaving lessons and demonstrations to people of all ages. Throughout the week, she teaches her craft to kids and women, who sometimes end up working at her atelier. She says that what she values the most is when a person has their individual sense of the craft and tries to implement their own unique vision.
“I love to teach those who have their own artistic character. Most people come here and expect to learn in two hours everything that I have been practicing for 20 years. It does not work like that. As with any other craft, weaving can take up to 10 years of practice. I myself have not mastered every aspect of it,” Slava says.
However, she constantly strives to further develop herself in the field by attending many craft fairs around Bulgaria and exhibiting her works in other parts of the country. As it turns out, the practice of weaving gave Slava the chance to meet various people throughout the years.
“My atelier has been visited by ambassadors, emissaries, and other European guests of the city. This craft really does give a lot of opportunities for communicating with different people and that is what has enriched me the most,” Slava shares.
She found her passion for weaving textile in the early days of the transition to democracy in Bulgaria. According to her, in those turbulent years it was hard to establish a stable career in the field of arts since many of the associations of craftsmen were no longer functional.
“I have struggled through a lot for everything I have achieved. But my life has become interesting, beautiful, and exciting. There isn’t boredom around me and there never was any,” Slava says, laughing.
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