In the costume drama “Being a Housemother” that is being broadcast recently, the “protagonist” in the play is a world-class intangible cultural heritage skill – silk. Many people are no strangers to silk, but not much is known about silk. As the only weaving process that cannot be replaced by machines, why is silk called “carved silk”? How does the intangible cultural heritage craft of silk reel show the long-standing history and the integration and innovation of culture?

The silk garments are “carved”

In the TV series “Being a Housemother”, classic silk reeling works – “Happy Eyebrows” and “Ten Thousand Years Like Intention”, etc., and the inheritance and development of reeling has become the main line of the whole drama. Suzhou, where the story takes place, has been the center of Chinese silk reeling since the Song Dynasty. In the hit drama “The Legend of Miyue” a few years ago, a silk embroidered shirt that took half a year to complete also dazzled many viewers.

Zhang Lili, a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts of Shanghai University, told reporters that silk is the imperial fabric of the Chinese court, and silk is not an embroidery process, but a weaving process, also known as “engraving silk”. In terms of craftsmanship, the most unique thing about reeling is that it uses the method of “passing warp and weft” to show the fabric delicately and vividly. The weaving method of “passing the warp and breaking the weft”, in layman’s terms, is to change a shuttle according to the pattern to change a color.

In the weaving process of reeling silk, every time the craftsman encounters a different color, he will immediately cut off the original silk thread and replace it with another color silk thread, which is the most difficult part of weaving. Therefore, in silk works, the pattern and the plain ground (where there is no pattern), the junction of color and color forms obvious gaps and holes, and the subtleties are high, as if carved, rich in three-dimensionality, so it is called “engraved silk”. The ancients described silk as “like a carved image”.

When it comes to colorful patterns, even a simple work requires thousands of “weft breaks” to achieve the most basic layered effect. Moreover, the silk is handmade and consumes a lot of man-hours, “like a woman’s clothes, it will be completed in the end.” Therefore, in ancient times, there was a saying that “silk is more expensive than gold and jade”, and the clothing and supplies made of silk were owned by the royal family and wealthy families, and they were all fine art.

In 2006, Suzhou silk weaving technology was included in the first batch of national intangible cultural heritage list. In 2009, silk reeling was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity published by UNESCO as a Chinese silk weaving technique. Yunjin and Song Jin, which are also selected as national intangible cultural heritage, can be partially replaced by machines, and the handmade silk is particularly precious in comparison.

This skill is flourishing in China

Although the art of reeling silk developed in China, it did not originally originate in the East.

According to expert research, Western silk fabrics first appeared 3,000 years ago. The Chinese technique is silk weaving, and the earliest Western fabrics were made from locally abundant flax fibers. For example, the surviving Egyptian weaving excavated in the 1st century BC uses twine. Until around 1000 BC, Egyptian hemp fabrics were exported throughout Western Asia and the Aegean Sea.

The introduction of weaving technology into China originated from the silk road of the Western Regions during the Han and Jin Dynasties, and has lasted for more than 2,000 years. In 1973, a very precious silk belt was unearthed in the ancient tombs of Astana in Turpan, Xinjiang, which according to archaeologists, is the earliest silk object found in China; The woolen fabrics unearthed in the earlier Loulan Han Dynasty sites were also woven using the “yin” method, which shows the long history of this craft.

When the silk originated and the exact time is difficult to verify, but from the physical objects handed down, it appeared as early as the Han and Wei dynasties in China. The fragment of the Han Dynasty “Mountain Stone Tree” silk weaving unearthed in Mongolia, its weaving method “through the warp and weft”, is exactly the same as the Song Dynasty silk “purple soup lotus” unearthed in Beijing’s twin towers.

Therefore, silk first originated in Europe, this craft came to China from as far away as Egypt and the Two Rivers Valley, and after meeting silk, a new art was born, Chinese to take this skill to the extreme. At that time, Europeans only used wool to weave carpets, which are now tapestries, placing 2-3 warp threads per centimeter, and Chinese developed this weaving method more finely, and 30-80 warp threads per centimeter could be placed as needed.

In the Song Dynasty, the combination of calligraphy and painting reached its peak

The silk reeling process is very complicated, only used to make clothes, which was overkill for the ancients. As one of the traditional Chinese silk weaving varieties, the historical silk reeling was popular in the Sui and Tang Dynasties, but the flourishing period was in the Song Dynasty.

The Song people pursued spiritual life, and the painting and calligraphy of the Song Dynasty ushered in a golden age, and they also innovated in the use of silk, combined with the art of calligraphy and painting, creating a new trend of weaving scroll painting with silk reeling technology. Because it is more artistic, it also gets the name “openwork”.

In the Song Dynasty, silk reeling mostly copied famous calligraphy and painting, and in the Northern Song Dynasty, Dingzhou’s silk was the most famous, and in the Southern Song Dynasty, Songjiang Zhu Kerou’s silk was the most famous. The “Silky Zhao Flower and Bird Square Axis” woven based on the paintings of flowers and birds of Song Huizong in the collection of the Palace Museum is a masterpiece of silk reeling in the Song Dynasty. During the Southern Song Dynasty, the country’s economic and cultural center moved to Jiangnan, where a large number of literati, painters and arts and crafts artists gathered, and at this time, ornamental silk based on calligraphy and painting became a favorite.

In the Yuan Dynasty, the art of silk was expanded, and it was widely used in temple supplies and official uniforms, and was simple and bold, in sharp contrast to the delicate and feminine style of the Southern Song Dynasty. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, in addition to weaving calligraphy and paintings, poems, and Buddha statues, they also woven robes, screens, cushions, etc., especially Suzhou silk was the most exquisite.

Why is exquisite silk fabric not as famous as embroidery? Experts from the Su Embroidery Museum have explained this. Embroidery is to cover the colored thread on the base, which is the “icing on the cake”. If you modify it, you can cover the old thread with a new thread, but the pattern of the silk fabric is synchronized from thread to surface, and you cannot modify it if you make an error. This further shows how difficult the silk reeling technique is, and it is not easy to pass it on to this day.

Reeling began to decline during the Jiaqing and Daoguang years of the Qing Dynasty, and no one was engaged in this industry for a while. After the founding of New China, silk reeling manufacturers were mainly concentrated in Suzhou, Nantong, Hangzhou and other places, mainly for handicrafts, and rarely used silk for clothing in China. With a few exceptions, in 2009, Suzhou silk reeling master Wang Jialiang spent three years copying Ming Dynasty Zhu Yijun’s “Fushou Ruyi” gown, which took Ming Dynasty craftsmen a full 13 years to complete.

The collision of ancient and modern skills creates a new spark

“Silk contains oriental beauty in its grandeur, and it cannot be placed only on the list of intangible cultural heritage.” Zhang Lili said that in addition to the pursuit of cultural significance, intangible cultural heritage should also enter modern life, so that classic and timeless cultural relics will show more vitality and vitality.

The Palace Museum has a precious cultural relic “A Thousand Miles of Rivers and Mountains”, which is an 18-year-old Song Dynasty genius boy Wang Ximeng completed under the personal guidance of Song Huizong. The green mountains are undulating, and the blue waves are vast, and the elegance and eternity of the aesthetics of the Song Dynasty stay in a 20-meter-long scroll.

A few years ago, the cross-border design team of the Shanghai Public Art Collaborative Innovation Center (PACC) decided to visit Wang Jianjiang, the inheritor of Suzhou silk reeling based on “A Thousand Miles of Rivers and Mountains”, to create a modern silk reeling haute couture clothing series to bring the cultural relics of the Forbidden City to life. Finally, intangible cultural heritage and modern craftsmanship were combined to design 1 silk gown, 2 pairs of silk women’s shoes, and 2 silk handbags.

“Using the simplest and most simple principles, silk weaves infinite possibilities. And custom clothing and supplies, there are endless possibilities. Zhang Lili introduced, for example, the design of the silk women’s bag, inspired by a certain hill in the “Thousand Miles of Rivers and Mountains”, selected its front form, refined the simple trend line of the mountain stone, and placed it at the cover on the front of the handbag, the curvature of the bottom of the mountain breaks the traditional straight line structure, retains the natural form of the mountain stone, and forms a curved and straight contrast with the straight cover line, which is unique. In the design of women’s shoes, leather strips, leather hanging tassels, Chinese knots, etc. are added on the basis of silk elements, presenting the fine beauty of traditional Chinese handicrafts, and showing the profound traditional cultural heritage of silk, which is particularly elegant.

In this way, in the spark formed by the collision of ancient and modern skills, the intangible cultural heritage skill of silk reeling has entered modern life. “The ancient charm comes from the concentration of ink landscapes, the texture comes from the meticulous inheritance, and the elegance comes from the icing on the cake.” Zhang Lili said that from ancient times to the present, people’s pursuit of beauty has been improving.

Today, we can see ancient silk relics in museums, and we can learn about this intangible cultural heritage skill in films, TV dramas and documentaries. Traditional Chinese skills, with the dust of history, still shine today. Peng Wei

Source: Liberation Daily