Bulgarian embroidery and its influence on modern design

In my role as a web developer and front-end designer, the languages that I use such as HTML and CSS, transform written code into websites. These hidden tags, their groupings and the order in which they are placed create their own individual patterns and meanings which together produce a visual structure. Just like Bulgarian embroidery, these graphical elements can be carefully studied to uncover their hidden meanings.

Handmade vintage Bulgarian embroidered shirt from Made In Bulgaria

Handmade vintage Bulgarian embroidered shirt from Made In Bulgaria

Bulgarian embroidery is part of the traditional Bulgarian folk costume, and it harbours symbols and meanings that were established far back in time. Traditionally the embroidered patterns are combinations of geometric shapes, which form together to create stylised images. As a child at home in Bulgaria, I remember being impressed by my mother’s traditional costume, which had been inherited from her great grandmother. In awe, I analysed the patterns and tried to redraw them on a sheet of paper, colouring them with markers. As I got older, my mother taught me how to embroider these elements onto fabric whilst she told me about the meanings behind the symbols.

Though you may not have heard of Bulgarian embroidery, it is likely that you would recognise it, as modern design pulls inspiration from both the design and technique.

The patterns of Bulgarian embroidery can be traced back at least 3500 years, to the Bronze Age of Thrace. Though their origins remain obscure, due to an absence of written records, it’s clear the Thracians left a lasting mark on the development of European culture and beliefs, having influenced both the Greek and Roman cultures. It is also thought that the Thracians were responsible for creating the oldest golden treasure in the world, dating back to over 6,000BC, which was discovered near the city of Varna, Bulgaria.

Bulgarian embroidery is not just used for beautiful decoration. It also serves as a narrative, a symbol of status and provides coded information. The position of triangles and other basic shapes, and how they slot together, can tell different messages and represent ideals such as nation, family and kinship. Some of the oldest motifs come from the skulls of Bulgaria.

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The colours that are used also carry their own symbolism, and heavily influence the meanings behind the designs. Associated with the Tree of Life, the colour green represents eternal life and resurrection. Red, is the symbol of maternal blood and life expectancy, and is often found used alongside green. White, as in many cultures, symbolises purity and innocence, but also joy, grandeur and beauty. Today, contemporary designers adopt on-trend colours to recreate these folkloric elements in modern design.

There are a variety of symbols, but one of the most important is the rhomb, which represents the feminine being. Different combinations of rhomb produce different shapes and messages, and each position has an individual meaning. Traditionally, the shapes and colours of a woman's clothing will be used to communicate her social status, for example, whether she is married or where her family came from.

Handmade embroidered earrings based on traditional Bulgarian motifs from Kitna

Handmade embroidered earrings based on traditional Bulgarian motifs from Kitna

Contemporary designers often draw their inspiration from an array of sources, both modern and ancient, to express their ideas in new and unique ways. Bulgarian embroidery has provided inspiration to many designers over the years, from fashion design to jewellery, graphics and interiors. The Italian fashion house Valentino used elements of traditional embroideries in classic wine reds for the houses’ 2015 Spring/Summer couture collection.

Bulgarian embroidery is a modern enigma, which houses deep-seated embedded technology and ancient unbreakable codes.

Learning Lithography at Leicester Print Workshop

A few weeks ago we went along to a short evening course at Leicester Print Workshop to learn the basics of photo-plate lithography. Our tutor for the evening was the talented Emma Gardner, an independent printmaker herself, she is also currently an Artist in Residence at the workshop.

Armed with our chosen photos, we gathered around the table to learn more about the history of this technique and the process behind it.

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Before we began, we were given a run through of the each of the steps - expose your plate, gum it, ink it, press it, clean and repeat. Sounds simple enough, right? Not quite. As we started to ink our plates, and things started to go wrong, we quickly realised that it wasn’t quite as easy as we all thought! Emma made it look so effortless, but getting the right amount of ink on your plate, and in the right places, takes real practice to master.

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Although it took us all a while to get used to the technique, eventually we got the hang of it and were able to produce some pretty impressive prints. Some turned out better than others, but in the end we had so much fun in the process that it didn’t matter.

Huge thanks to Emma and Leicester Print Workshop for having us, and for helping even the most lithographically-challenged of us to create some prints we’re really proud of.

 

“Wait, I know that guy, where have I seen him before?”

You’ve said that or similar plenty of times right? There are some faces that you recognise everywhere.

Well I know one face in particular who I see all the time. Although he’s not actually real I’ve met him many times, in many different contexts. He is ‘older-natural-looking-white-business-man-smiling-with-arms-crossed’ and he is a legend in the stock photography world.

If he’s not selling me an investment account, he’s advising on my tax affairs. Of course with that suit and salesman posture he also makes a great estate agent, an insurance broker, a recruitment consultant and a tax advisor. He can even sell you appropriate eyecare or advise on legal queries.  

He suits all of these professions because he looks the part. In the uninspiring world of stock photography this guy appears natural where so many others appear fake. He’s a genuine professional but not a city slicker. He’s an older gentlemen, but not too old. He’s not the stereotypical caricature of an frail geriatric or a retiree living life to the max. Let’s face it, he’s no ‘silver fox’. He’s just an average guy, but his smile is genuine and his posture is natural. He’s totally believable. He looks like he's worn that suit before, it didn't cost him £2,000, he probably got it from Marks & Spencer or Next. You could imagine meeting him when opening a savings account at the bank or when applying for a mortgage. You can trust him, he's not a big city banker or a used car salesman. He truly is a man for all seasons.

He's so commonplace that you must have seen him about yourself right? Or maybe you've never noticed him? And herein lies his issue. He's so versatile, so obviously leant to a multitude of adverts, annual account covers and bus depot hoardings that he's almost invisible due to his blanket blandness. He fits the billing so well that's he's used everywhere, whenever designers have needed to reach for that older, smiling, professional yet natural looking businessman kinda guy.  

Stock photography is a necessary evil in the design world. Not every job can afford a photoshoot, but for those projects where the extra budget is available, bespoke photography rewards that investment. Photography that is unique to your brand is always more genuine and you’re not likely to bump into the same posed individual moonlighting for another brand! The stock industry however, has come on leaps and bounds in recent years and there are many millions more images to choose from compared with five or ten years ago. This probably means the days of  ‘older-smiling-natural-looking-white-businessman’ dominating the marketing world are coming to an end.

Goodbye ‘older-natural-looking-white-business-man-smiling-with-arms-crossed’ I wish you the very best in retirement and in your future endeavours.

How to get your first job in PR and social media

How brands communicate with their customers and where we get our news from has changed massively over the past few years. Public relations (PR) and social media today is more important than ever in helping brands manage their reputation and get their message across clearly to the people who matter.  

It’s an exciting and rewarding job, and one that many people are drawn to. This makes PR an extremely competitive field to get started in, so you’ll need to be highly capable, a real people person and have solid social skills to succeed.

Here are a few of our best tips to help you get started in PR and social media.

Be confident

You’ll be working with a wide range of people and personalities, so you’ll need to be calm under pressure and know how to project confidence in any situation. Whether that’s picking up the phone, presenting to a room full of people or talking through an idea in person, it’s important to be positive and self-assured no matter what the day throws at you.

Know how to get things done

Working in PR, you’ll be responsible for juggling a number of different clients and tasks all at once. Tight deadlines, a constantly changing media landscape and the fast paced nature of the job, means your finger needs to be firmly on the pulse at all times. To keep a grip on your sanity, you’ll need to know how to effectively prioritise your time, be incredibly organised and able to switch between different tasks at a moment's notice.

Try it out

Try contacting agencies for work experience, an internship or even a coffee to find out more. Experience really helps you show potential employers your knowledge and understanding of PR and social media. Having spent even a little time working in the industry helps show you know what’s expected and give examples of how you can immediately make a difference. 

Develop your writing skills

Strong written skills and attention to detail are essential if you’re looking to build a career in PR. Understanding how to use the written word to craft different styles and tones is an important skill to master, and one that requires practice, so start now. Having this nailed will allow you to create copy that best reflects each client, their unique personality and the message they are trying to get across.  

Watch the detail

When applying for roles, check and double check to make sure your covering letter and CV are perfect - typos just aren’t acceptable!

Work on your digital skills

When you’re starting out, a great way to gain experience is to start a personal blog. Choose a topic you’re passionate about and really immerse yourself within the community.  

This can help to develop your creativity and written skills, as well as a solid understanding of social media. It’s also a good way to pick up experience of SEO, email marketing, online advertising and influencer marketing, which can all give you a huge advantage when applying for jobs.

A few more things to keep in mind

  • Research the industry and which area of PR you’d feel most at home in. Are you more B2B or B2C? Do you know the difference between consumer and trade press?
  • Learn how to build good relationships.
  • Be a real people person, or learn how to be.
  • Work on your telephone manner.
  • Get some experience, to show you can handle the high-pressure environment.

Jamie's Porsche 911 obsession

If you know RKH you’ll know that there’s a healthy contingent among us who are petrol heads. There are also a few connoisseurs of the electric car as well, but this is my blog post and I like noisy, big engines.

I love cars, I always have. I love motor racing. I love sports cars. I love classic cars. I love driving. It’s a love affair that has been in existence for the majority of my life and shows no signs of abating.

It’s hard to pinpoint where it all started.

I have a very early memory of being in a garage at Donington Park when somebody suddenly started up an AC Cobra. I was literally blown away by the noise of the Shelby Ford V8 engine.

Another one about being thrown around a grass track at Oulton Park by Jimmy McRae in an insane Ford RS200.

My dad didn’t help matters by constantly buying and then doing up performance Fords including a number of XR3s, XR3is and a ridiculous Fiesta RS Turbo.

But deep down the true cause of this, and the pinnacle of my obsession belongs to one car and one car only.

In my humble opinion the most perfect combination of design and engineering that has ever been produced. An iconic car that surpasses its purpose and transcends to a pure design classic.

The Porsche 911.

I’ll get the geeky car nerd bit out of the way so that we can get onto the design bit, which is of course what this blog is supposed to be about. By maintaining the same basic modus operandi for fifty years - a flat six, rear engined, rear wheel drive, two door supercar - and slightly honing each iteration, Porsche have created a car that drives like no other, handles like no other, sounds like no other and looks like no other.

It is as near to perfection as a car can be. I love the 911 more than is healthy for a man to love a car.

Pretty much everyone on the planet can describe what a 911 looks like.

The beautiful swooping curves over the body of the car, the bulbous headlights and the enormous wheel arches that are wider at the front than at the back. I imagine most people could make a passable stab at drawing one from memory.

The 911 is immediately identifiable and utterly iconic. Despite the fact that Porsche have introduced other models since, it is the 911 that will always be Porsche for me. The others are just side notes in the story of the manufacturer. Other manufacturers have their ‘look’ - you can tell a Ferrari is a Ferrari - but I’d argue that no other specific car model is as totally ubiquitous as the 911.

The other day I asked my Dad when it was that I first became fascinated by the 911. Without hesitation he said I was 4. I drew them, I built models of them, I pretended I was driving them. It has been a constant throughout my life and very little, if anything, has stood the test of time for me like the 911 has.

So, why is the design of the 911 so memorable? And I mean design in the full product design sense, rather than just the aesthetic.

The famous Indian custom car designer, Dilip Chhabria, was asked which car was the hardest to customise and he immediately chose the 911 saying: "It has to be the Porsche 911. It hasn’t dated since it was designed. It is a very desirable car. I have attempted to redraw, reskin and redesign it but could not do anything with it. I realised that it is difficult to alter the perfect design.”

Porsche set a very simple brief with the 911 and stuck to it with a steadfastness which is unparalleled, not just in the automotive industry, but also in any other sector that I can think of. They have been brave and utterly consistent in what they have done with the car. Rather than make wholesale changes with each generation they have just made tweaks here and there, adapting and subtly changing it, making it better and better and better.

There’s a lesson here to be learned by all of us who work in marketing communications. The temptation when working on any brand is to go in and change it. To think that we know best and to tear everything down and start again. Of course, in some cases this may well be the case, but I’d argue that in most instances we can take the Porsche route - be very clear about what it is we want to achieve and then by a series of iterative changes take the design on a journey to a better place.

Porsche is still on its journey and hopefully it will continue long after I’m around to witness it, but in the meantime I’m going to continue enjoying my lifetime obsession and appreciate the 911 for what I believe it is - the most beautifully designed car on the planet.

A-Z of life at RKH | Gains

G is for Gains in the A-Z of life at RKH.

Gains is the act of being healthy, packing on the muscle and looking lean, and it’s quickly taking over the RKH office. Several RKH’ers have already dedicated their lifestyles to the pursuit of Gains, with only a few of us managing to escape its lure - for now.

Long gone are the days of over indulgence on biscuits, cakes and beer. Now dubious-looking protein shakes and questionable-tasting protein bars are the norm when it comes to snacks.

One of our avid Gains enthusiasts commented: “Gains is more than just going to the gym; it’s a way of life. It’s about being careful of what you eat and making life decisions based on your health.”

This is exemplified by how the self-named ‘Gains Crew’ rate their lunch choices based on the amount of protein. Toasted bagels filled with chicken and spinach are in, whilst carb based options such as pasta are most definitely out.

Regular visits to the gym include weight lifting sessions, swimming and workout classes. The Gains Crew sometimes even sacrifice RKH’s Friday pilgrimage to the pub, choosing to worship the gym instead.

Whatever side of the fence you sit, you have to take your hat off to their dedication. Even if they do slightly overuse the word ‘Gains’.

Fantasy football - a football lovers dream

As a teenager playing video games like Sensible Soccer and Championship Manager, I should have seen this coming…

Computer games are great when you are a kid; you have all the time in the world to play them (once homework is out of the way of course!), and you hone your skills to beat your mates the next time you play. As an adult, that all changes. No time for sitting in front of the TV playing a game, so instead my attentions switched to playing a game that takes weeks' worth of planning, but only requires a little attention every few months actually ‘playing’ the game. Introducing 'fantasy football'.

There are lots and lots of different versions of this, but my favourite is Dream Team. Using the ‘knowledge' I gained from all those hours playing football games as a kid, I can finally pretend that I know what I am doing, and choose a great team and formation to win the league!

Dream Team works by each participant choosing a team of 11 players, with a budget of £50m. The formation needs to be either 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, with most people favouring the 4-3-3 as there is a better chance of scoring goals and racking up the points. You can choose from any player in the Barclays Premier League, and try to get the best players in your team to score the most points from clean sheets, assists, goals and other significant statistics.

Each season, this process for many fantasy football enthusiasts starts with as much research as possible over the summer, looking at recent player stats, form and injuries over pre-season. Plus finding out as much as possible about new players that have signed, the positions they have played in before, and if they are due to be away for any part of the season for African Cup games, Olympic games, national service (Korean players) or the South American Cup - all of which can keep players out for a number of weeks. This all takes time. Then after this research, it’s time to start building your team.

Usually, the process of choosing a team starts with the strikers, as these have the opportunity to score goals, and goals equal points. You really need to get a balance for strikers, though, as if you go for the most popular strikers that generally guarantee you 20+ goals a season, you will have spent most of your budget just on these players, so you need to find the right balance. Then you move onto goal scoring midfielders, wing backs that chip in with a few assists during the season, and some solid defenders that don’t pick up yellow or red cards (these lead to minus points and bans). Then you are ready.

When the season kicks off, it is a great feeling each week knowing that you have outscored your mates, and heart-breaking when you haven’t. One of the strangest things about this game is the way it changes your view of a game of football. No longer are football teams sworn enemies of the team you actually support, they contain players that are point machines, and it doesn’t matter who they play for. You find yourself watching games, hoping for cards or injuries for players that aren't in your team, and screaming the names of the players that are, in the hope they can hear you score that elusive hat trick. The whole experience makes it hard to actually enjoy watching a game of football, so is it really worth all this time and effort? Of course it is!

Even though it takes over your life for 9 months a year, you could be a winner, with all of that hard working paying off. The FA cup final at the end of the season could become your defining moment - like the 3-2 thriller when Arsenal played against Hull in 2014. In that particular season, the problem I had was that I had pretty much the entire Arsenal team (a good move from me, so I thought). My team had one flaw though - I didn’t have the players that actually scored that day, but did have the entire Arsenal defence that conceded 2 goals, which left me with minus points (-2 points per player). This move cost me 1st place and the title, but taught me an important lesson about football - it’s a funny old game, and there’s always next season.

Addicted to planning

It came as no surprise to me that the whole office was a little shocked when I first mentioned that one of my hobbies was planning. They couldn’t understand how planning your weeks out and sticking in themed stickers could be, and is, such a fun hobby.

It started over in America and is slowly working its way around the world, there are a variety of planners available and a great range of stickers and kits. I first discovered planning when I stumbled upon a YouTube video of a girl planning out her week and creating a gorgeous sticker spread. From there my fascination grew and I became hooked.

Planning is a creative outlet and a handy way of keeping track of everything I need to do each day, upcoming important dates and managing my time efficiently. It’s a great way to take time for yourself to relax and wind down, but to also arrange the week ahead. Being able to visualise tasks and achievements is very useful when creating short and long term goals. Over time it can be used as a scrapbook to look back on special days and lovely memories.

Many of the stickers are designed in Photoshop, each with their own personal touch. There are a huge variety of stickers available, from weekly and monthly kits, to monthly overview kits, decor stickers and more functional stickers too. The stickers can be purchased pre-printed and cut or alternatively you can purchase and download them to print and cut yourself. Stickers come in all themes and can be relevant to holidays, special occasions such as weddings or birthdays, tv shows and seasons. If there is ever a moment that you can’t find something you want, there are a range of templates available to help create your own.

When I first began planning I never could have imagined how much of a community there was surrounding this simple activity. There are endless Facebook groups and hashtags, all filled with enthusiasm over which planner each member has and which stickers you’re going to use that week. It’s so much fun being able to share a hobby with lots of different people all across the world.

The RKH Christmas Playlist

The start of December means it's officially Christmas time at RKH, so we've put together a little playlist to help get you into the festive spirit! 

There's everything from straight up classics to the slightly more obscure, but the one thing they all have in common is they make us think of Christmas. Listen to the whole thing on Spotify here

Steph

The Ramones - Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)

East 17 - Stay Another Day

The Futureheads - Christmas Was Better In The 80s

Georgia

Wham! - Last Christmas

Michael Bublé - White Christmas

Corey Taylor - X-M@$

Rick

The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl - Fairytale of New York

James

Nate Dogg and Snoop Dogg - Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto

Elvis Presley - Blue Christmas

Rage Against The Machine - Killing In The Name

Liam

The Darkness - Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End)

Billy Mack - Christmas Is All Around

Danny Elfman - What's This?

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Matt O

Bing Crosby - It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

Bing Crosby - White Christmas

Traditional - Silent Night

Iain

Snow Halation - dj-Jo

Andy

Leonard Cohen - Hallelujah 

Mud - Lonely This Christmas

Frank Sinatra - Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

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Kyle

Chris Rea - Driving Home For Christmas

Emerson, Lake & Palmer - I Believe In Father Christmas

Chris de Burgh - A Spaceman Came Travelling

Harriet

Brenda Lee - Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree

The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl - Fairytale of New York

Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas (1984)

John Lennon - Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

Mike

Rage Against The Machine - Killing In The Name

The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl - Fairytale of New York

Jona Lewie - Stop The Cavalry 

Slade - Merry Xmas Everybody

Paul P

Tom Waits and Tramp - Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet

Killing Joke - Love Like Blood

Run DMC and Aerosmith - Walk This Way

Jess

Mariah Carey - All I Want For Christmas Is You

The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl - Fairytale of New York

Dom

Vaughn Monroe - Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

Rage Against The Machine - Killing In The Name

Harshul

Eartha Kitt - Santa Baby 

The Jackson 5 - Santa Claus Is Coming To Town