Written by Juliette Qi
The Yunjin云锦 brocade craft from Nanjing (Nanjing) has been the traditional Chinese art of weaving for over 1500 years. This technique is still used today in the Jiangsu Province in eastern mainland China. Recognized for its aesthetic values and use, it was named by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009.
Recognized Cultural Heritage
Mainly preserved in the Jiangsu Province in eastern China, this artform has more than a hundred processes, including the manufacture of looms, the sketching of patterns, the creation of jacquard cards for the preparation of drawings, the assembly of the craft and the multiple steps of the weaving itself.
Yunjin brocade crafts in Nanjing require the use of a large loom, which must be operated by two craftsmen. The first is on the side of the lower parts and the second on the upper parts. The particularity of this loom is that it allows you to weave fine and noble materials such as silk threads, gold threads and peacock feathers. The tissues obtained are therefore of very good quality. Generally selected to make royal clothes, including the dragon robe and the crown for emperors in the past, this technique continues to be applied to the manufacturing of sumptuous clothing and souvenirs today.
Aesthetic and Academic Value
Fabrics made using this technique have a good reputation all over China. Thanks to the fact that this technique has been passed down from generation to generation, we can still make the famous dragon robe of the emperor. Additionally, fabric made using this technique nowadays is mostly intended for use by researchers and museums.
The weavers used to perform their task by singing ballads, in order to memorize the technique which was used. Indeed, each rhythm corresponds to a very precise technique. While “passing the chain” and “separating the weft”, the weavers sing mnemonic ballads that help them to memorize the techniques they apply, thus creating san atmosphere of solidarity around the loom, as well as an artistic dimension.
For these weavers, their art is part of a historic mission: in addition to making fabrics for contemporary use, Yunjin is used for the reproduction of ancient silk fabrics for researchers and museums. Renowned for the splendor of its fabrics, Yunjin remains popular throughout the country.
In Chinese history, a Yunjin brocade is a symbol of status and an emblem of the aesthetic notions. Yunjin brocade patterns varied depending on the grade of mandarins. As Guo Jun, a weaver who owns his own workshop, says, “The motives are the soul of the Yunjin brocade. Without these allegorical motifs, the creation of brocades lacks value. Technically, one could change the motif of a unicorn into a portrait of Donald Trump, but the traditional national costume would then become a casual t-shirt”. After forty years of weaving Yunjin brocades, Guo not only takes on apprentices to learn to design brocade motifs, but also teaches them Chinese traditional culture.
Guo Jun, like many contemporary craftsmen, hopes that his workshop will train some apprentices who can make Yunjin brocade according to the modern aesthetic for that this craft can enter the international collection market and to suit modern styles. He thinks it is only with the recognition of collectors of art objects that the of Yunjin Brocade with noble character will be reborn.
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