Chinese Arts & Crafts

Chinese Arts & Crafts

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Bamboo Weaving Art

I think many of you have seen this rain hat made of bamboo and probably associate it with Chinese peasants. In China hand weaving hats from bamboo is an ancient folk art, and one of the first styles was precisely the round rain hat, which was later adopted by the Red Army during World War II, becoming known as the Red Army Hat.

In China the Bamboo Waving Art obviously doesn`t limit itself to rain hats. The product range is actually very wide, and items are classified according to their form and function. Some examples include baskets, trays, jars, boxes, cases, vases, folding screens, models of animals and figures, buildings, furniture, lamps and lanterns, bags, toys, fans and mats. Some are graceful pieces of art for decoration or enjoyment and some are indispensable commodities.

Artisan weaving an elephant

China is rich in bamboo resources and has a long history of using and planting bamboos. The history of bamboo weaves can be even traced back to the Neolithic Age (around 6000 BC). Many relics of bamboo weaves (mainly baskets and other appliances for food storage) were found in Zhejiang Province archaeological sites, showing that bamboo weaves were widely used by people at the time.

Nowadays Sichuan Province, Hunan and Hubei Provinces, as well as Zhejiang Province are well-known for their distinctive bamboo products and bamboo weaving products, some of which are highly decorative. The style of the products often varies according to place of production. For example animal models are characteristic of Shengxian in Zhejiang province, woven surrounds for porcelain articles are from Chengdu and famous fans come from Zigong, Sichuan Province.

Lampshade from Shengxian

The craft of bamboo weaving is passed on to the apprentice by the master and it`s said that the apprentices need at least three years to learn the craft. 

Through many complicated working procedures, bamboo is cut into strips and pieces of various widths, thicknesses, lengths and sizes, and then woven into different patterns with techniques that require considerable skill and experience. A piece of bamboo joint can be cut into more than twenty pieces and each piece has its own usage. Bamboo weaving is also very strict in terms of choosing the bamboo, different products must be made of bamboo in different growing period.

There are two kinds of bamboo splits used for weaving: bamboo threads, whose thickness and width are approximately equal, and bamboo strips, which are broad and extremely thin. 

Different kinds of bamboo splits and threads
Bamboo threads are mostly used for making articles such as baskets, boxes, bottles, jars and dolls, which are woven from the base upwards. After the base is finished the weaving continues spirally upwards. Bamboo strips are used for making bamboo mats and curtains, which are usually woven from the middle outwards to the borders and corners. Some products like lamps and hats are weaved over a mold.

Vase mold

Besides splitting, the bamboo goes through other procedures, for example, boiling is required to finalize the shape, soften the thin strips and avoid cracking. The strips also go through a plane to ensure the same thickness and through a conduit to ensure the same width. Finally, according to the design, there might be also procedures like dyeing, plating and polishing.

Unfortunately bamboo products have been mainly replaced by cheaper plastic and metal products, although in recent years bamboo baskets and many other bamboo weaves have gain back their popularity because of their environmentally friendly characteristics. Due to the fact that it regenerates very rapidly, bamboo is considered as a matter of fact a sustainable material and an incredibly durable alternative to our limited global supply of hardwood.

Bamboo weaves today have combined practical use and aesthetic functions, with many new products appearing. With nature becoming a dream for those people living in cities, holding a bamboo basket when going shopping might be a way of returning to a more natural life.

The pictures in this post were taken at DongFeng Bamboo Weaving Workshop in Zhejiang province, whose highly skilled artisans are renowned nationally and internationally. The owner of this workshop was awarded the title of National Bamboo Art Master and Zhejiang Arts and Crafts Master, and he`s one of the few remaining craftsman able to weave bamboo threads as thin as a human hair, creating amazing pieces of art.

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