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Past exhibition

Permanent Exhibition
Wearing Asia-The Exchange and Creation of Textiles
Wearing Asia-The Exchange and Creation of Textiles

Fabric is essential for tailoring clothes. Before the Industrial Revolution, the production of textile was done in a very small scale and mostly at home. Nowadays, there are various ready made textile products available in the market, and people no longer have to work at a loom. As a result, fabrics have become simultaneously the most familiar yet strange materials to us. Through differences in spinning, dyeing, or the uniqueness of the ornamentation, even the pre-cut fabrics of ancient Asia can be decoded and identified to a particular culture, religion, gender or even occupation. What's even more interesting is that across the aesthetics of time and region, the spread of ancient fashion was far faster than we could have imagined. After all, fascinating things always have a way of becoming fashion. China had been famous for making smooth silk textile as precious as gold. These unique silk textile serves as a symbol of East Asian civilization. In South Asia, India produced premium quality dyed cotton fabric that was not only hugely popular throughout the world, but also helped launch a global revolution in cotton textiles. These cross-region trends and trends not only drove business opportunities, but also cultural influence. In Indonesia, which is thousands of miles between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, elements from different cultures and regions gather and flow, they being released out to the world again at the proper time.

This exhibition presents the Asian fabrics and wardrobes in the National Palace Museum collection, including those from China, Japan, other regions within the cultural circles of East Asia, as well as the fabrics of India, Indonesia, and other countries in the South and Southeast Asian cultural circles. The three sections, "Thousand Threads - Superb Weaves and Embroideries of East Asia", "Vibrant - Dazzling Dyes of South Asia and Southeast Asia”, and “Circulation - The Cross-regional Influence of Ornamental Techniques and Art” introduces fabrics and wardrobes from different culture circles. Furthermore, they explore the cross-regional exchange and creation of fabrics amidst the flow of trade. In addition, an educational promotion area will showcase the "Splendid Textile - Common Decorative Techniques for Asian Fabrics" to introduce simple and easy techniques to decorate textile in Asia. Thousand Threads-Superb Weaves and Embroideries of East Asia

The Chinese mainland gradually developed an agricultural economy based on sericulture with the successful domestication of wild silkworms. The unique spinning and weaving technology emerged the silk civilization. With the development of processing technology, silk fabrics, such as brocades and satin, not only became the clothing materials for the imperial court and the upper class, but also has a lasting effect on the other neighboring East Asia regions. For example, trade along land routes with Tibet and sea routes to the Japanese archipelago were all influenced by weaving techniques and ornamental culture implications. Moreover, the Tibetan region uses the dragon patterns and ruyi clouds that are symbolic Chinese ornamentations; or, the famous Nishijin weaving and Yuzen dyeing in Japanese traditional kimonos features auspicious meanings such as peony, lion and tortoiseshell. These have nearly become a common ornamental language in common. Vibrant-Dazzling Dyes of South Asia and Southeast Asia

The fertile land of South Asia gave birth to the colorful and rich civilization of India. The exquisitely dyeing and weaving techniques of India made the paint dyeing techniques vivid and lively. Using natural mordant and wax-resist dyeing techniques, rich layers of vibrant colors could be applied to fine and thin fabrics. In the age of exploration, Portuguese merchant ships sailing for pepper and spices. Indian fabrics were also regarded as a rare gift from Asia and brought back to Europe. In the seventeenth century, the English East India Company entered Asian markets as a later comer and turned its attention to the Indian dyed cotton, which vibrant colors that Europe could not achieve with its dyes, and sold them in the European market, unexpectedly set off an unprecedented boom and revolution.

Indonesia, the country of ten thousand islands, spans three time zones and is home to hundreds of nations across thousands of miles. Each locale produces uniquely woven textile products. The most distinctive traditional wardrobes are kain panjang and sarong. These expresses local style with different fabric materials, application of craft, or pattern designs. In Indonesia, Java, and other island areas, the fabric pattern designs are mainly based on the natural environment, including in mountain, animal, human, and boat patterns. Through these patterns for ceremonial ceremonies, the cultural connotation is conveyed. Circulation-The Cross-regional Influence of Ornamental Techniques and Art

The seas of Southeast Asia and the South China Sea have always served as the routes for Asian-European trade. The number of overseas Chinese immigrants in Indonesia increased sharply after the mid-19th century. Chinese from the southeastern coastal areas of the mainland mostly lived in the northern part of Java. Many people began managing local cloth shops, making batik fabric, while laying roots and adapting their original culture. The batik cloth they produced had a strong influence on Chinese ornamentation.

Interesting examples of cross-regional communication in exotic patterns can also be seen in Indian fabrics. The Parsi wore ethnic wardrobes embroidered with Chinese-style patterns after migrating to Gujarat, India, during the middle ages. Dyed Indian cottons were sold to Indonesia and printed in gold there, they were highly valued and became important ceremonial items. A piece of clothing carries the message of different cultures, as well as serves as witness to a fusion of tradition and foreign culture in wardrobes.

Indonesia/Early 20th century
Batik lower body wrapper with design of cloud on a red ground

The Southeast Asian seas and the South China Sea have been the hub of trade exchange between Asia and Europe. Chinese migration to Indonesia began in the 16th century and peaked in the mid-nineteenth century. The majority of the immigrants came from the southeastern coastal areas of mainland China, particularly from the province of Fujian. Most of the overseas Chinese living in the northern region of Java Island ran fabric stores that specialized in batik (wax resist-dyeing). They produced beautiful and exquisite fabrics that are known for fine craftsmanship. The batik design often incorporated unique Chinese design motifs such as Xiang-yun (auspiciousclouds)andRui-shou(auspiciousanimals)tocreate one-of-its-kind design patterns.

Historically, the port of Cirebon on the north shore of Java has maintained strong trade relations with China. The use of design motifs such as rain clouds, rocks, dragons and phoenixes in batik cotton fabric of Cirebon reflects the strong influence of Chinese culture. This work in the museum’s collection is an example of the region. The “Mega Mendung” (giant cloud pattern) symbolizes rain clouds and prayers for rain. The design features rich and vivid colors applied with the Chinese cloud coloring method. Different shades of the same color are used in combination with smudging and gradation technique to achieve a three-dimensional effect. Today, the “Mega Mendung” remains to be the most representative fabric design pattern of Cirebon. Splendid Textile: Common Decorative Techniques for Asian Fabrics

Textiles are essentially made from fibers that are interlaced with each other; the fibers are locked into place by various methods to create the desired shape and appearance. For example, non-woven fabrics are web structures bonded together by beating and entangling fibers, yet woven fabrics are made from yarns interlaced in a regular order through a binding system. Prior to the invention of synthetic fibers, humans extracted fibers from various plant and animal sources. Animal or plant-derived fibers can be spun into a yarn, which is then warped and made into fabrics. In Asia, the most common animal fiber sources are silk worm cocoons and wool, while the most common plant fibers are cotton, ramie, banana leaves, etc. Easy access and experience in using different types of fibers resulted in different cultural practices of fabric production.

Fabrics with elaborate and exquisite patterns are appreciated all over the world. Formation of patterns is by and large determined by the weaving and dyeing techniques applied in the production process. The more patterns and colors there are in each surface area, the more difficult it is to produce such fabric. The ability to produce multi-color dyed patterns indicate the maturity level of the fabric makers’ resist-dyeing and mordant dyeing skills. Decorative techniques such as embroidery are free from the constraints of warp and weft and allow for higher degrees of freedom in pattern creation. This exhibition features three of the most common fabric decorative techniques used in Asia, including weaving, dyeing and embroidering. Observing how textile patterns are formed enhances the visitors’ perception and appreciation of textile as well as the cultural heritage embedded therein.

Weaving techniques

Woven fabrics are often made of many threads woven on a warp and a weft. The lengthwise warp yarns are held stationary, while the transverse weft is inserted over-and-under the warp by using a shuttle. Fabrics are created by weaving together thousands of warp and weft yarns; they can be categorized into plain weave, twill weave, and satin wave, depending on how the yarns are intersected. By using warp and weft yearns of the same color but different floating lengths, one can create fabric patterns that are indistinct; yet, by applying the same method to yarns of different colors, one can produce distinct fabric patterns that are stylish and vibrant.

Dyeing techniques

Coloring is one the earliest decorative techniques humans have used since the dawn of time. Colorful and lively patterns on fabrics can be created by using techniques such as direct painting, color printing, or resist-dyeing. In resist-dyeing, methods including tie dyeing, stencil dyeing, wax resist-dyeing are used to prevent the dye from reaching all the cloth, thereby creating color contrast between the pattern and its background.

Embroidery techniques

Different from fabric dyeing, embroidery is the craft of decorating fabric by using a needle and thread to create three dimensional patterns. Embroidery allows for creative expression with a high degree of freedom. In embroidery, needles and thread are used to replace paint brushes, and a wide range of stitches can be applied similar to using different brush strokes on a canvas. By using stitching methods such as the plain stich, cross stich, knot stich, chain stich, and couching stich, threads of different colors and materials are turned into artistic creations that encapsulate humans’ imagination of the many wonders of the world.
Exhibition Information
  • Event Date Permanent Exhibition
  • Location 3F S304