The cloud-pattern brocade produced in Nanjing is historically counted among the four most popular types of brocade in China. Records suggest that it was first made fifteen hundred years ago. At the time of the Ming Dynasty, 600 years ago, the invention of the huge ‘Flower Tower’ loom revolutionized the production of the brocade. The ‘Flower Tower’ loom was an enormous structure, 5.6 metres long and 4 metres high; it is not only the largest loom for hand-weaving ever made, but probably also the most ingeniously designed. As for the brocade made on it, that was the gorgeously-coloured cloud-pattern brocade, worn only by the emperor and members of the very highest levels of court society.
For the techniques of making cloud-pattern brocade to be lost, would have been a tragedy. So, it was fortunate that, when the Ministry of Culture took the decision to conduct studies of a series of handicrafts, cloud-pattern brocade-making was included on the list.
In western culture, the ‘dragon’ can have some negative connotations. One need only think of the story of Saint George and his murderous dragon. In Chinese culture, by contrast, the ‘dragon’ stands for power and good fortune – making a dragon design the obvious choice for an emperor’s robes.
In the years from 1953 to 1966, the Nanjing Brocade Research Institute made great progress in studying and recovering the techniques of cloud-pattern brocade-making. But their efforts were brought to a sudden halt by the onset of the Cultural Revolution. Once again, the future of cloud-pattern brocade-making was in serious jeopardy. In our next episode, we’ll hear how the techniques were kept alive; we’ll also see, step-by-step, how the cloud-pattern brocade is woven.
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- China's intangible cultural heritage (5)- Nanjing cloud-pattern brocade 3
- China's intangible cultural heritage (3)- Nanjing cloud-pattern brocade 1
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