MAGDALINA TONEVA is a master of the needlepoint (kene) technique from Sofia, Bulgaria,
who is one of the Bulgarian Masters that form the PAINTED Circle community. In a heartfelt narrative, she shares her personal story with the kene technique and reveals a little bit about her collaboration with Painted.

I learned the kene technique a long time ago. As I’m a health worker, one of my patients - an older lady who was a member of the Association of Folk Artisans and Craftsmen, ignited my interest in kene. I saw her practicing it in the hospital and immediately thought I wanted to learn how to make it myself. I went to her home a couple of times where she showed me the basics of the technique. From then onward, after a lot of practice, I started experimenting with it. After gaining some experience I applied to be a part of the the Association of Folk Artisans and Craftsmen. Taking a week-long exam, I finally became a member and haven’t stopped creating ever since. I’ve always been in love with the kene technique. From the moment I saw it for the first time I thought that this technique was like a needle dance in the air because it’s very free. It symbolises ethereality and a dream to me. Traditionally in the past it was used for the creation of headcloths and handkerchiefs worn in the city as accessories. But the technique allows a lot of freedom. Nowadays you can do anything with it - from table covers to wall panels and clothing. It’s great for experimentation!

My collaboration with PAINTED further enriched my creative experience with kene. Taking inspiration from kene’s playful nature they pushed my creativity into exploring the innumerable possibilities of the technique. Our partnership was a very emotional experience for me.
At the beginning I approached the project with slight nervousness because I needed some time to adjust myself to untraditional ways of working. PAINTED gave me a big field for creative expression and I liked that very much. One of the things I particularly enjoyed were some pieces of jewellery with kene elements that we made collectively. We also put kene details on tights which was very fun. This experimentation with the technique enriched my experience a lot.

These recent years there has been a lot of development of the Bulgarian crafts. Our national folk art is limitless and there’s always more things to explore. There’s always this sense of community around the crafts. Especially around craft fairs, people gather around from many different cities and everyone creates something. This is how we all meet and exchange our knowledge, we buy each others’ collections and share stories. There are also young people who are interested and they try out kene too, but these techniques of course take a lot of time. They say that good things always happen with a lot of patience and love. And we the masters are always there to teach what we know to everyone who is curious.

interview by Eliza Lachkova, 2020