Silk fabrics in ancient times include the following varieties: juan(thin, tough silk), sha (gauze as a general term), qi (damast), luo (silk gauze), jin (brocade), duan (satin), kesi (brocade woven using a special craft).
In the Shang Dynasty, silk fabric with conspicuous twisting warp weave ad already emerged. When it came to the Western Zhou Dynasty, more complicated brocade-weaving craft was developed. Down to the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Period, silk-weaving had attained a rather high level. Silk fabrics cover juan, luo, sha, and jin; the designs include rhombus pattern, S-shape pattern, and geometric patterns adorned with dragon, phoenix, human figure, etc. Silk weaving and knitting in the Qin and Han dynasties, Han in particular, made a leap forward on the basis of the Warring States Period tradition, containing more varied silk fabrics such as jin, ling (twill-weave silk), qi, luo, sha, juan, gao (thin and white silk), wan (fine silk fabrics), etc. The common designs on silk fabrics in the Han Dynasty include floating clouds, animals, flowers and plants, auspicious characters, and all sorts of geometric figures. The art of silk-weaving in the Han Dynasty was already elaborate, in particular in the weaving of single-thread gauze with even distributed meshes, of which the representative work is a plain gauzed Buddhist monk’s robe unearthed from the Han Tomb No.1 of Mawangdui in Changsha, Hu’nan Province. It measures 128 centimeters across from one end to the other end of the two sleeves, 190 centimeters long and yet weighs only 49 grams. Extremely marvelous.
Silk weaving in the Tang Dynasty was meticulous in the division of work. The Weaving and Dyeing Administration under the central government had been set up to take charge of production, while private silk-weaving business could be found all over the country, producing large quantity of fabrics. Craftspeople at that time did their utmost to seek gorgeous coloring effect. Among the multiple varieties, brocade was the best-known, called “Tang brocade.” As is different from traditional craft in which warp was used to weave decorative patterns, Tang brocade-weaving, affected by the Western Region textile culture, used weft to form decorative patterns sandwiched between warp weave. It was called “weft brocade.” The loom used for weft brocade by which decorative patterns are formed with multi-layer and multi-colored weft, is complicated in structure but easy to handle, capable of weaving more complex designs and broad fabrics. Since the middle period of Tang Dynasty, using weft to form decorative patterns had become the mainstream in silk jacquard weave. The Tang brocade, which assimilated exotic ornamental patterns, manifested a fresh, resplendent and imposing style. Aside from Tang brocade, ling (silk fabric with twill weave as basic characteristic) was also very popular, in particular the lian-ling manufactured in
The Song Dynasty silk weaving made further progress, in particular in the field of brocade, called “Song brocade.” Using three kinds of twill weave, two kinds of warp (raw silk for the surface and colored boiled-off silk for the base) and three kinds of colored weft, the weave looks regular and neat, shades of color elegant and harmonious with small ornamental patterns. The Song brocade was used for dress and adornment, for reward and trade, and as a material for mounting pictures. At that time, kesi brocade was also very popular, used mainly for weaving works of art such as paintings and calligraphic works. It shows that the function of silk-weaving crafts had been shifted from practical use to appreciation.
Kesi silk was produced in
Between the Song and Yuan dynasty, a giant spinning wheel with several dozen spindles was invented on the basis of traditional wheels. The wheel, driven with waterpower and able to adapt to large-scaled production, already had the rudimentary form of modern spinning machinery. Take hemp spinning for an instance. An ordinary wheel could produce at most 1.5 kilograms of yarn a day, whereas the giant wheel could made over 50 kilograms in twenty four hours. It is a significant invention in ancient
Gold-weaving was unique in silk weaving art in the Yuan Dynasty. The Yuan Dynasty rulers had partiality for gold, making gold weaving a fashion. The designs on golden brocade included dragon, phoenix, flower, tortoise shell, hui-figure (a figure in the shape of the Chinese character hui), etc. In order to suit the needs of the nomadic Mongolian nationality, wool weaving got an opportunity to develop. The woven woolen articles were mostly carpets, bed mattress, saddles, shoes and headgear, produced mainly in Ningxia and Helin (now under Mongolian jurisdiction). In ancient
During the Ming Dynasty, there appeared four silk fabric producing areas: Shanxi Sichuan, Fujian-Guangxi and the region south of the
Three major silk-weaving centers were formed in