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Patch up fabric leftovers into fine arts

10-21-2010 09:03 BJT

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China is the world's largest textile maker, which means that every year, a large number of scraps are left over.

Now, giving new life to those discarded remnants is Jin Yuanshan, a folk artist from northeast China. Our reporter Zhang Song attended an exhibition dedicated to displaying the beauty of patching art. There, she spoke with the artist to find out how she does it and why.

A heap of scraps. Throw them away? No. They are the perfect stuff to patch for Jin Yuanshan. The 64-year-old women has the talent and the patience, transforming hundreds of pieces of scraps into an accessory, a dress, home decorations, or a work of art.

A palm-sized flower like this takes a whole day to complete. To accomplish the entire piece, Jin spent seven years. When this work was displayed in Shanghai in August, Jin refused an offer of five thousand US dollars from an Italian collector.

Jin Yuanshan, quilting artist

Jin Yuanshan, quilting artist, said, "Each of my works is unique. If I sell it, I can't re-make another one, because I made them impromptu. I never prepare to draw a sketch or design the pattern beforehand. It depends on what I have on hand, then my inspiration flows out."

Jin immersed herself into the world of patching after her husband died of cancer in 1997. The time-consuming work focused her concentration away from the grief. She never thought she could quilt her way up to one of the few patching artists in China, a country with such a long history of quilting.

Throughout ages, patching up discarded fabric has been shared as a virtue and then a tradition by diligent Chinese women. The earliest one, a head cover found in a tomb in northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region dates back to the Tang dynasty some 14 hundred years ago.

Xu Wen, curator of the exhibition, wants to set up a dialogue between the past and today.

Xu Wen said, "Here we displayed 40 pieces collected from 20 ethnic groups, standing with those personal works of Jin Yuanshan. Together, they display a vivid demonstration on how the patching art moves as time goes by. If you wear such a piece walking on the street, others might think you are wearing an antique. But this one from Jin is a good choice as a fashionable evening gown with a strong folk flavor."

Xu exhibits the lineup at one of the birthplaces of China's future fashion designers, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology. The exhibition carries an ambition, to offer direction for young minds to push their folk culture to a new and broader vision.

Xu Yi is working on her graduate thesis on how to apply patching art in fashion design. The 20-something young lady is excited to participate in such an exhibition focused on the genre.

Xu Yi said, "An exhibition like this is so rare. Jin Yuanshan is one of the few experts that I can learn from and talk with about this genre. Today, you can easily see copying in the fashion design. A famous foreign designer once said that patching will be popular again after a well and long development of the fashion industry, for it can blend different kinds of art into one. I believe the trend is coming."

Wang Qinyi, college student, said, "I'm in the second year of my major in fashion design. To me, the exhibition is a big surprise. I never noticed patching art before. I didn't know anything about it until I came here. They are beautiful. Some follow a certain rule in patterns while other run the opposite way."

And I was lucky to try one on, a special one.

It's a traditional Korean wedding gown. A hand made piece like this costs around 2,000 US dollars. Even if you have the budget, you can't get this one, because it's a gift from a mother-in-law to her new bride. Thread by thread, patches were quilted with a mother's love.

Many of the traditional Korean dresses are patched together using scraps. It was very popular among poor people in the past, but today, that kind of attire is only worn on big occasions or for a performance.

But artists and fans of patching art won't be satisfied with that. They are looking for ways to bring the environmentally-friend folk culture back to everyday life.

Editor:Liu Fang |Source: CNTV.CN

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