Handwoven Bulgarian rugs making their mark

Updated 16 May 2014

Handwoven Bulgarian rugs making their mark

In a tiny Bulgarian factory, nimble fingers tie and cut, assembling knots of dyed wool into lavish floral patterns: In a few months, the carpet will be fit for royalty.
Hand-knotted and flat-weave rugs made in Kostandovo, a small village in Bulgaria’s southern Rhodope mountains, have graced the floors of 10 Downing Street and Chequers, the British prime minister’s country retreat, as well as the Bank of England, royal palaces and Vienna’s Albertina museum.
Other top clients have included Prince Charles and the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger, manager Nino Parpulov said.
“No one can match us at the moment. We are the only ones who offer such large sizes, complicated patterns and multiple colors,” he told AFP on a recent visit to the factory.
“Carpets of 60, 70, 80 square meters (600 to 800 square feet) are a piece of cake for us,” the 57-year-old ex-forestry engineer added.
“We are probably the last hand makers in Europe,” said Parpulov’s British business partner, David Bamford.
The 28 women working at the Hemus factory take several months to complete a single giant-size carpet — their largest creations have reached over 120 square meters (1,300 square feet).
They usually make just about 10 such tapestries a year, at a sale price of approximately $200 per square meter.
The factory also dyes the wool for the rugs, exactly matching the colors and design of the ceiling, wallpaper and furniture of their clients’ stately homes.
Almost any shape and design is possible, and the weavers can also make exact replicas of ancient rugs.
The women sit at the large wooden looms for hours, surrounded by boxes full of skeins of wool of every color.
The major challenge on large rugs is to make sure the knotting is uniform throughout as “every hand knots differently,” Parpulov said.
The largest loom at the factory is eight meters (26 feet) wide and the carpets are customarily made in one piece to prevent deformations.
One carpet — an 18-meter-wide one for Britain’s Osborne House, the former residence of Queen Victoria — was made in three parts.
“It is nice to know that what you’re making will go where you will never go and that royal feet will tread on it,” said Svetla Lambova, 39, taking a break from her carpet work.
Lambova is one of 16 local women who swapped the greenhouses and potato and onion fields in one of Bulgaria’s poorest regions to undergo a training course at the factory last year. Ten of them stayed.
“I thought it would be very hard to learn and I would not get used to the work... I am still much slower than the other weavers,” she said.
“Half of the women in the course gave up,” said Svetla Mundova, 40, another of the newly employed weavers, while tying and combing the threads of a large beige and brown carpet.
When Parpulov came to the former state-owned factory as manager in the 1990s, 1,100 women worked there.
A lack of orders and the disappearance of communist-era state subsidies had put the factory on the brink of bankruptcy and led to a stark fall in employees, many of whom retired, he said.
It took years of hard work, court battles and bank negotiations to get the company back on its feet. In the end he and Bamford were able to buy it.
“But with three or four weavers going into pension every year, I realized last year that in five years’ time I will be left with five or six of the 18 workers I had,” Parpulov said.
He made it his “top priority” to recruit and train more women, and succeeded with the help of a 74,000-leva (38,000 euro, $52,000) grant by the US-funded Trust for Social Achievement.
He now dreams of substituting the wood-fired stoves in the smoky factory hall with central heating, and of finding clients in Bulgaria to give him the funds necessary to train more weavers.
Until recently, his company had not sold a single large carpet.
Now, a beige and moss-colored rug with carmine grapes adorns a reception room at Bulgaria’s famous Rila Monastery.
“I can say now with a clear conscience that I have left something in my own country — a small pearl that fell from the pouch,” Parpulov said.


What makes dogs so special? Science says love

Updated 20 February 2020

What makes dogs so special? Science says love

  • Canine science has enjoyed a resurgence in the past two decades, much of it extolling dogs’ smarts
  • Although dogs have an innate predisposition for affection, it requires early life nurturing to take effect

WASHINGTON: The idea that animals can experience love was once anathema to the psychologists who studied them, seen as a case of putting sentimentality before scientific rigor.
But a new book argues that, when it comes to dogs, the word is necessary to understanding what has made the relationship between humans and our best friends one of the most significant interspecies partnerships in history.
Clive Wynne, founder the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, makes the case in “Dog is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You.”
The animal psychologist, 59, began studying dogs in the early 2000s, and, like his peers, believed that to ascribe complex emotions to them was to commit the sin of anthropomorphism — until he was swayed by a body evidence that was growing too big to ignore.
“I think there comes a point when it’s worth being skeptical of your skepticism,” the Englishman said.
Canine science has enjoyed a resurgence in the past two decades, much of it extolling dogs’ smarts.
Titles like “The Genius of Dogs” by Brian Hare have advanced the idea that dogs have an innate and exceptional intelligence.
Wynne, however plays spoilsport, arguing that Fido is just not that brilliant.
Pigeons can identify different kinds of objects in 2D images; dolphins have shown they understand grammar; honeybees signal the location of food sources to each other through dance; all feats that no dogs have ever been known to accomplish.
Even wolves, dogs’ ancestor species known for their ferocity and lack of interest in people, have shown the ability to follow human cues — including, in a recent Swedish study, by playing fetch.
Wynne proposes a paradigm shift, synthesizing cross-disciplinary research to posit that it is dogs’ “hypersociability” or “extreme gregariousness” that sets them apart.
One of the most striking advances comes from studies regarding oxytocin, a brain chemical that cements emotional bonds between people, but which is, according to new evidence, also responsible for interspecies relationships between dogs and humans.
Recent research led by Takefumi Kikusui at Japan’s Azabu University has shown that levels of the chemical spike when humans and their dogs gaze into each other’s eyes, mirroring an effect observed between mothers and babies.
In genetics, UCLA geneticist Bridgett vonHoldt made a surprising discovery in 2009: Dogs have a mutation in the gene responsible for Williams syndrome in humans — a condition characterized by intellectual limitations and exceptional gregariousness.
“The essential thing about dogs, as for people with Williams syndrome, is a desire to form close connections, to have warm personal relationships — to love and be loved,” writes Wynne.
Numerous insights have also been gleaned through new behavior tests — many devised by Wynne himself and easy to replicate at home with the help of treats and cups.
One involved researchers using a rope to pull open the front door of a dog’s home and placing a bowl of food at an equal distance to its owner, finding that the animals overwhelmingly went to their human first.
Magnetic resonance imaging has drilled down on the neuroscience, showing that dogs’ brains respond to praise as much or even more than food.
But although dogs have an innate predisposition for affection, it requires early life nurturing to take effect.
Nor is the love affair exclusive to humans: A farmer who raised pups among a penguin colony on a tiny Australian island was able to save the birds from marauding foxes, in an experiment that was the basis for a 2015 film.
For Wynne, the next frontiers of dog science may come through genetics, which will help unravel the mysterious process by which domestication took place at least 14,000 years ago.
Wynne is an advocate for the trash heap theory, which holds that the precursors to ancient dogs congregated around human dumping grounds, slowly ingratiating themselves with people before the enduring partnership we know today was established through joint hunting expeditions.
It’s far less romantic than the popular notion of hunters who captured wolf pups and then trained them, which Wynne derides as a “completely unsupportable point of view” given the ferocity of adult wolves who would turn on their human counterparts.
New advances in the sequencing of ancient DNA will allow scientists to discover when the crucial mutation to the gene that controls Williams syndrome occurred.
Wynne guesses this happened 8,000 — 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age, when humans began regularly hunting with dogs.
What makes these findings important, beyond advancing science, is their implications for dogs’ welfare, he argues.
That means rejecting brutal, pain-based training methods like choke collars based on debunked understandings of “dominance” popularized by celebrity trainers who demand dog owners become “pack leaders.”
“All your dog wants is for you to show them the way,” says Wynne, through compassionate leadership and positive reinforcement.
It also means carving out time to meet their social needs instead of leaving them isolated for most of the day.
“Our dogs give us so much, and in return they don’t ask for much,” he says.
“You don’t need to be buying all these fancy expensive toys and treats and goodness knows what that are available.
“They just need our company; they need to be with people.”