I’ve been fortunate to have acquired a lot of interesting costume pieces over the years, some as purchases but many as gifts. Not all of them have been big items, or rare ones. Socks are an overlooked piece of folk dress and I’d like to share some of the beautiful Eastern Serbian examples I have.
Socks throughout all Serbian regions were knit from wool, and only in the early 20th century occasionally cotton fibres (i.e. bridal socks, etc). Interestingly, the Serbian word for sock, čarapa, is a turkism. Knitting was done in a variety of techniques, the most elaborate of which was known as na pet igala (using five needles). This technique allowed for multicoloured designs to be knit into the sock directly. Generally, embroidery was used to decorate the socks, instead. This was most often cross stitch or pokrstica (as it was most durable on socks) and could be done in wool or cotton yarns. Silk thread was only used on bridal socks, as were sometimes beads or metallic threads.
In Eastern Serbia, throughout the Timok, Šopluk and Vlasina areas, the socks are strictly woolen. This is a pastoral region, and the once vast flocks of sheep were the main livelihood in the mountainous and hilly terrain. The socks in my collection are from the districts (okruzi) of Bor, Zaječar, Pirot, Jablanica and Nišava.
These men’s socks, at right, were the first eastern Serbian socks in my collection. They come from a village near Negotin in Serbia’s northeast. They were made in the 1970’s, and are decorated with geometric designs. The ornamentation of the instep is frequent in eastern regions because of the open type of shoe worn there, the vrncan type of opanak, which leaves the instep visible.
These women’s socks from a village near Pirot, in the southeastern mountains of Serbia that form part of the Stara Planina mountain chain. The ornamentation is only on the instep on these socks, which probably indicates that they belonged to a married woman. The design represents stylized tulips (lale)
A pair of women’s socks from the village of Trgovište near Knjaževac. This area is interesting as it is an area of overlap: the textile culture of Timok region and Šopluk region meet here. This overlap extends as far north as Zaječar. The villages show a mix of costume styles. These socks are still clearly of Timok style, integrating three types of ornamentation: geometric knit, geometric embroidered, and stylized floral embroidered. These would have taken a very long time to make and definitely would have been part of the festive costume of a woman in this village.
Mali Izvor is a another village in that overlap area between Knjaževac and Zaječar. The detail shown here is of another pair of socks, conforming to the same pattern and level of decoration. Again, three forms and two techniques are used, and the instep repeats the pattern embroidered on the upper portion of the sock. These and the previous socks are both from the interwar period (1920 – 1930’s) and came to me from another collection. They are particularly well preserved, as they were part of a dowry (the collector’s great grandmother) and were rarely worn.
These may in fact be my favourite socks from eastern Serbia in my collection. The village of Suvi Do is just east of Niš, a major centre in east-central Serbia. What is interesting about them is that they are remnants of a style that was much more common, much more “eastern” than current or post WWII costume in the Niš district. Men’s socks slowly were supplanted by what we would consider Morava or Šumadija style ones: mainly black, a ring of floral decoration, and that’s it. Niš is, of course, another overlap area, ethnographically speaking. The Morava zone to which it belongs has heavy influences of eastern regions. Older costumes of both men and women of the Niš district look radically different than the ones worn now. That is why it was a particularly exciting find to be able to purchase these socks. The work is exquisite – the designs are rustic and elaborate. The large floral motifs are beautifully executed, and speak to the Morava zone connection, while the geometric stripes and the stylized eagle on the instep are wonderfully eastern.