Interview: Naeda B. Robinson and Macedonian Folk Dress

Today’s interview is of Naeda B. Robinson, teacher, weaver, world traveler, and researcher of Macedonian folk dress. Her new book on Macedonian dress, Macedonian Village Dress:  Going, Going, Gone, documents traditional women’s garments in the remote mountain villages of Macedonia, dating from before the combined introduction of Communism and industrialization in the 20th century.

Macedonian Village Dress beautifully illustrates the vanishing styles of Macedonian folk dress, and features interviews of many individuals and photographs of hundreds of garments, including details of embellishment techniques, such as embroidery.

Robinson’s research was supported in part by the Costume Society of America, the International Music and Art Foundation, and the Earthwatch Institute.  Her first research project in Macedonia, funded by the Earthwatch Institute, introduced her to the Ethnographic Museum of Bitola, Macedonia in 1995.  After seeing the museum’s extensive, but undocumented, dress collection, Robinson saw an immediate need for field research to record and preserve the rich history and cultural traditions surrounding the folk dress of Macedonia.

Photo:  Robinson, p134

Lauren Michel: How was it that your research led you to the mountains, and who, specifically, were you interviewing?  How long did your process of field research take?

Naeda B. Robinson: It took eight years to go to the many villages and interview the people who remained in them after the combined introduction of Communism and industrialization.  They were the elderly grandmothers and the grandfathers who had not migrated, as their children had, down to the cities, so they lived in the villages, much as they had for many years before.

Naeda Robinson, examining traditional Macedonian garments

[NBR, continued] In 1995, I went to research the very elaborate wedding ensembles that we knew still existed because elderly women anticipated being buried in their wedding ensembles, so they saved them.  We really didn’t find any of the wedding ensembles, because they all had gone along with their owners into the cities and we were going to the villages that they came from.  One lady had a black velvet wedding dress, that of course, went over this long košula [a chemise, or underdress] that shows from underneath it and around the sleeves, but we asked her if she would put it on.  No, she was saving that to be buried in it, so her husband would recognize her.

A lot of the wedding clothes were still in Macedonia, but not in places that we had access to, and people we spoke with kept saying, ‘well, if you go up in the mountains, you’ll find them.’

That’s how I got started, and it was wonderful.  We went back to several of the villages, three times over the course of several years, just because there would be something that I remembered that I wanted to get to complete an ensemble or to find out about.

Photo:  Detail from Robinson, p37

LM:  At the Costume Society of America’s annual symposium in 2007, in San Diego, California, you had a presentation featuring many examples of Macedonian garments.  How did you go about collecting them?

NBR: I never asked if the babas (the little old ladies) wanted to sell anything.  Initially I was reluctant because I felt, and still feel, that the garments belonged in the villages with their makers.  However, I made an exception the second day we were going up to the villages.  At the home of a widower named Iliya, my assistant, Vase Robev asked me if I wanted to buy anything and I said no, and then he said, ‘but Naeda, Iliya’s wife died seven years ago, and his daughter took the wedding outfit down to Veles,’ which is a big city, and he had a dowry chest with all the remainders in it, and would I buy it?  Well, I hemmed and hawed around for a while, and then I did buy it.  It was a treasure chest of garments, but of everyday, well-worn garments, most of them, and showing the progression of the embroidery, from very simple to very elaborate.  After that one instance, it really was a long while before I made more purchases.

Photo:  Detail from Robinson, p84

[NBR, continued] However, as time wore on, and the babas, and the old men, were saying, ‘so and so’s coming back next year from New Zealand or Canada or someplace,’ but they didn’t.   So during the last three years, I really did buy garments, because in every village, every remaining little old lady, a baba, had her hope chest with the remainders of her dowry, though the wedding garments had gone with the children.  The ladies loved to talk about them and all the wedding traditions that went with them, and Vase interviewed some of the men and got some interesting stories, which are in the book.  We also took many, many pictures [see note below  –LM].

On my expedition in 1995, I was introduced to a museum in Bitola, Macedonia’s second largest city.  They have a very good ethnographic museum and they showed me some of the garments from their collection.  They were gorgeous, but each garment had a cardboard label that had nothing but the village it came from, what year, and what it was, whether it was a dress or a vest—nothing else about them, at all, nothing.  Seeing that collection further urged me to visit the mountain villages and do my field research.

With the help of The International Music and Art Foundation in Lichtenstein my team and I helped the museum get storage cabinets for the garments, purchase and implement a computer and collections management software, and take digital images of all the garments, with the anticipation that it would lead to research.

Featured at the back of the book, is a CD with images of all of the garments in the museum’s collection. The images are not really reproducible, but are adequate for identification, and hopefully, research.

What I still would like for my book to do is encourage someone who would be well-received at the museum, to want to go in and study the garments, because one could do a whole dissertation on sleeve cuffs, or mourning ensembles, and that was the whole point of getting it organized, really, because it’s still just sitting there, as far as I know.

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Note on Images:

Nearly every page of Macedonian Village Dress features color photographs of garments, garment details, and villagers wearing traditional dress, including many older photographs of villagers in folk dress, dating from the early and mid-twentieth century, and the book’s accompanying CD of photographs of the garment collection of the Ethnographic Museum of Bitola contains images of nearly 1000 artifacts.  While I would have liked to include samples of all of these, the villagers photographed and the museum both prefer, however, not to have their images reproduced outside of the book and CD, therefore only images of garments from the book are pictured above.  –LM

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As of this writing, copies of Macedonian Village Dress, Going, Going, Gone (ISBN 978-9989-2707-0-3, published by the International Music and Art Foundation: Vaduz, Lichtenstein, 2009; co-authored by Maria Canavarro, 206 pages) may be ordered directly from Raphel Marketing (211 North Ave., St. Johnsbury, VT 05819. Phone: 802-751-8802. Email: neil@raphel.com).  

Individuals, or groups other than non-profits, may order the book at $25.00 per copy plus $15.00 postage and handling for the first copy, and $5.00 postage and handling for each additional copy sent to the same address; postage and handling for a case of 20 copies will be $50 (this may change with new postal rates).

For a limited time only, non-profit groups (501c3) concerned with textiles, weaving, embroidery, costume etc. by pre-arrangement with the author, may receive orders shipped to one address for the price of postage and handling, with the cost of the books a donation to your group. Please contact Neil Raphel at Raphel Marketing for more information.

Naeda Robinson is also available to give presentations on Macedonian village dress, with prior arrangement and within a reasonable distance from California’s Monterey Peninsula.  Please phone or email for information and details specific to your needs.

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1 Comment

  • Elizabeth June 29, 2014 12.14 pm

    Hi how can I purchase your book on traditional Macedonian garments please?

    Thanks

     

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