RUMJANA RAKOVSKA is a needlepoint (kene) and frivolite master from Sofia, Bulgaria, who is one of the Bulgarian Masters that form the Painted Circle community. Mastering the rare technique, she collaborates with Painted with the wish to transfer this knowledge to more people. As Painted cherishes the stories of the people behind the hands of our collective, we asked Rumjana to tell us a little bit about her experience with kene and her contribution to Painted Series.

I learned how to do kene from a master called Radka Karagitlieva. This woman had gone around all of South Bulgaria where the kene technique is very widespread and had collected samples of the technique which she put into two books. I stumbled upon her work accidentally when I was watching a TV show. I immediately got interested and called the company to ask them for her contact. It was quite a long and tormenting process because I had to wait until the autumn for her to go to Plovdiv and meet me. I had seen kene before already because I was regularly visiting the Association of Folk Artisans and Craftsmen in Oreshak. There I saw fantastic things, some of which were made by Karagitlieva’s students. The books were good but I wanted to find a person who can teach me face to face. There was no Internet at that time of course. Now there are video masterclasses that can teach you but it’s a different feeling when you are being observed by a master while studying the technique in person. Then you have the possibility to immediately get feedback if you’re doing something wrong and correct it and this allows to absorb the purest form of the technique. This technique is one of the most delicate that I have seen and this makes it so exceptional. It just brings me personal joy to use it. 

Every true master when they reach a higher level of their skill has to show other people what they know. This is why doing a workshop with PAINTED at the National Academy of Arts in Sofia in 2016 and teaching young people my knowledge was very special. It was a very interesting and pleasant activity teaching the girls who participated the kene technique, even though it lasted only one day. The girls were very enthusiastic about it which was a beautiful thing to see. The way they were concentrating on every little action that I did was a thing I will never forget. This day was one of the days when I was filled with happiness.

Except for the group of young people who were part of that workshop, however, I haven’t met any other people who had the desire to learn the techniques I know. Unfortunately it is very hard to preserve Bulgarian crafts nowadays. We the masters who are familiar with crafts are getting older and sadly there are very few people who are willing to learn and preserve our knowledge. And this is a type of knowledge that has been accumulated throughout many years. It is heart breaking to see it disappear. This is why I applaud PAINTED’s efforts and contribution. Doing several collaborations with them, besides the workshop was very untraditional. That’s what I loved the most about it. The things that I was asked to do were very unique and untraditional to me and this was a great challenge. It was a very stimulating experience.

interview by Eliza Lachkova, 2020