In Nanjing we worked with two Yunjin (‘cloud’) brocade weavers as part of a residency offered to Thonik by the city of Nanjing and the Unesco heritage programme. On our first visit to the Yunjin workshop in 2016 we immediately fell in love with the intricate technique that combines weaving and embroidery in a painstakingly complex process. Two women operate the loom. Their work is so time-consuming that even extremely skilled weavers can produce just one centimeter of cloth per hour. They are part of a centuries-old, highly sophisticated craft production system that is included on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The highly developed sense of quality that we found in several antique museum pieces has suffered greatly from the transition to a market-driven taste.
The workshops still produce expensive brocades, but they are often quite tasteless. Even more important for us is the position of the weavers. Their craftsmanship effectively determines the beauty of the brocade. Yet in their work they are entirely subservient to the “master,” who takes all the aesthetic decisions. With Weaving Stories we wanted to boost the workers’ influence on the product, reveal the pride they derive from the time-consuming production process. That’s why we introduced a graphic translation of the production time in the design, with 1 cm high half spheres, each representing an hour of production time, as two half spheres form an hourglass.
Talking with the weavers Qiao Yun and Xiao Fang we found a common goal. Xiao Fang said it was her dream to produce fabric for the wedding dress of her daughter, XingXing. Eventually, 10 meters of cloud brocade was produced: a thousand hours of work. Three and a half meters of brocade, formerly exclusively reserved for the emperor’s clothing, was set aside for that wedding dress. We wanted the dress to be yellow, the color of the emperor, once the sole patron of the workshops in Nanjing, but the weavers insisted on red, as this is traditional for a wedding dress. Nanjing brocade is more colourful then other woven fabric, because of the added embroidery. We demonstrated this by designing a pattern that is also a sampler of 64 colors from the workshop’s color book.
The dress is designed by Fang Ye, a young talented designer from Guangzhou. Her work was part of the exhibition ‘The Future of Fashion is Now’ in Shenzhen and later shown in the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam. The documentary is made by Alice Wong. Born in Amsterdam from Chinese parents, she grew up in Hong Kong. She is a Design Academy graduate whose exam work was honored at the Dutch Film Festival. For this film she collaborated with Alexandre Humbert.
Weaving Stories shows how design can empower people in their search for a just and equal position in today’s world.
The project was on show
Design Shanghai – Neooold new cultural theme design exhibition, Shanghai (2021) The TextielMuseum, Tilburg, part of exhibition Cultural Threads (2019) Museum Kranenburgh, Bergen, part of exhibition Nude (2019) Power Station of Design, Shanghai, part of exhibition Why We Design (2019) 2018 World Historical & Cultural Cities Expo, Nanjing (2018) Dutch Design Week, Eindhoven (2018)
Read more: unesco residency, nanjing