Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Something Unexpected - Final

In earlier times and not long ago, the infant mortality rate in China was very, very high.  Children were referred to as “baby” or “little one” and not even given a name until they had survived 100 days.  So, perhaps that is why bai jia bei, or hundred families’ quilts, were important and continue to be made.  Their purpose was to keep the baby safe from evil.   

St. Louis Art Museum 112: 1989
Gift of Julius A Gordon and Ilene Gordon Wittels in memory of Rose Gordon

Historically, this may have developed out of another tradition where a new mother was given small pieces of silk and embroidery so she could make a jacket for the child.  The resulting bai jia yi or “hundred families’ jacket” symbolized the community of people that wished the child love and blessings and protection from evil. Above is an example of a bai jia yi from the collections of the Saint Louis Art Museum.

- Cindy DeLong

In search of meaning...

Maonan women often made bed coverings to commemorate their impending marriage. This maker was clearly focused on assuring that every piece of fabric placed in this project had spiritual meaning. Look closely at every detail of this piece and you might get a glimpse of what was on going through her mind as she planned, stitched and finished this utilitarian object for her new home.

What were her questions? Was she thinking about her betrothed? Was she thinking about the love they shared or had she even met her soon to be husband? She may have wondered, if their marriage, like her quilt top, would be filled with happiness, prosperity, fertility (perhaps many sons), longevity or even immorality? Can we even begin to know the wishes and hopes of her spirit as she begins this new phase of life?

Oh, the mysteries of finding meaning in quilts.

- Dottie Evans

I have been looking into the similarities and differences between the IQSCM's ceremonial robe worn by the Yi people (see picture from Day One) and a Buddhist priest's robe. First, the visual differences are striking. Both have a large wingspan and similar silhouettes, yet the ceremonial robe is pieced and appliqued while the priest's robe is primarily embroidered. The priest's robe is also filled with Buddhist symbols, dragons, and other auspicious symbols.

While this robe is from China, not Tibet, the ceremonial robe seems to be a close relation to Tibetan textiles to the Yi people's textiles. The people of Tibet are staunch Buddhists, compared to the Yi people, who are primarily Animists, not Buddhists. The Yi people moved from Tibet into the Chinese Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, leading me to believe that there could have been a transmission of ideas and influences between these two groups.

Here you can see a Buddhist priest robe in the collections of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. And here is one from the Brooklyn Museum of Art

- Amanda Lensch

At the end of my study of the black silk waistcoat, I wondered if there were others in existence either by the same maker or other maker(s). It was suggested that I count the stitches per inch so that the quilting could hypothetically be compared with other like jackets. Here is a quilted robe from the collection of the Hong Kong Museum of Art -- I wish I could compare it to that one. 

Quilted robe from the Hong Kong Museum of Art

There are 6-7 stitches per inch on the subject waistcoat. The black quilting could not be photographed against the black silk. 

- Anna Rolapp

Comparison piece. Baby carrier, IQSCM 2011.026.0006

My baby carrier has now been observed, compared with other Chinese carriers, and researched, using books and web sources. However, it looks new, not used. Did the maker never marry? Did the baby die young? Or did the person bringing the carrier to Nebraska buy it at a market? Was it made for the tourist trade? I want a happy ending.

- Ruth Walker

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Something Unexpected - Day Three

When making a quilt there is value in stepping away and coming back to the project the next day, week or sometimes months later; the same is true when researching an object. I notice new symbolism with each passing day; today it was discovering two new motifs, Buddha’s Hands --which symbolizes prosperity in Chinese culture (top) and Cao Guojiu’s (one of the 8 Daoist Immortals) Castanets or Tablets (bottom).

- Dottie Evans

21st century Chinese girls are going to school and receiving an education. They are spending less time with their mothers and grandmothers learning the traditional sewing techniques of their culture. In the past a young girl would make a baby carrier before her marriage. Today she is more likely to go to the market and buy a finished carrier made by an older woman in the community. Or she will buy the component parts of the carrier and assemble them at home. The finished product shows evidence of the differing skill levels of the two generations.

- Ruth Walker

Ba Gua (Eight Symbols of Daoist philosophy,
often depicted in an octagon shape)
In Taoism, “bagua,” which means “eight symbols,” represents principles of reality. There are many combinations and relate to heaven, earth, wind, water, and other concepts. They are represented by an eight-sided form we call an octagon. A Chinese bagua quilt has eight-sided blocks similar to what Western quilters call Pineapple Log Cabin. 
Block in a mid-nineteenth century Japanese kimono
“Ba Gua” block from a 30-year-old “Bai Jia Bei”
(Hundred Families Quilt)

Today we saw this form in a circa 1850 Japanese kimono jacket, the circa 1983 bai jia bei quilt, and in the 2013 bai jia bei quilt I am studying. The blocks in the kimono jacket and older bai jia bei were less than perfect, actually pretty crooked and irregular, and they reminded me a little bit of a crazy quilt block. 

”Cracked Ice” imagery in a decorative window screen
Then I remembered a window we saw at the Beijing Antique Market. It is a design Marin calls “cracked ice.” Could this be related to the development of crazy quilts too? 

- Cindy DeLong

Longpo Yi ("Dragon Wife's Robe") from Writing with Thread: Traditional Textiles of Southwest Chinese Minorities

Today's task was to go through supplementary material to search for similar objects, design styles, etc... In one of the books, Writing with Thread: Traditional Textiles of Southwest Chinese Minorities, from the University of Hawaii Art Gallery, I found something exciting! Its another example of this object! Appliqued half-square triangles are placed on a dark woven ground. The description describes this object as a Longpo Yi ("Dragon Wife's Robe"), a ceremonial robe worn by a female during funeral processions. I now have a name for this beautiful robe - a Longpo Yi. 
- Amanda Lensch

Reverse side of the waistcoat

The quilted waistcoat I am studying has a Hollywood connection. Now that makes me homesick! (I am from California).  It was purchased by a costume designer to possibly be copied for use in Bernardo Bertolucci’s film "The Last Emperor" in 1985.

- Anna Rolapp

Look for more of Something Unexpected, tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Something Unexpected - Day Two

Today, as I compared my robe to several other pieces at the IQSCM one particular thing stood out - color! Now both pieces - one garment, one more similar to a table runner - feature half square triangles that are hand pieced together. The unique thing is the use of similar colors of silk. Both pieces have orange, dark red, several shades of blue, green, gold, and a light tan. The combinations when set off by a navy ground or border are extremely striking. We know these two pieces come from different areas SW China and Tibet, but I think both makers chose their fabrics carefully, choosing what would be pleasing to the eye.

- Amanda Lensch

Chinese double-sided black work looks much like American counted cross stitch. It would require exceptional eye sight and nimble fingers.

Baby carriers are made by young girls before marriage. Some girls buy finished pieces at market and assemble them at home. Might be similar to a quilt kit?

- Ruth Walker

How amazing it was today to see an image in the book "Chinese Dress" (by Valery Garrett) of the Qing Dynasty’s Prince Chun II wearing a waistcoat, an "informal black hip-length jacket," that appears to be an exact match to the one I am studying from the IQSCM collections.

- Anna Rolapp

Is it a “Quilt”?

By definition a quilt is three layers hand or machined quilted together with a distinctive pattern of quilt stitching through all layers. Right? Well, what I discovered today is I’m working with an object that isn’t a quilt but the top layer of a Chinese bedcover or, to use the French word, a duvet cover.

http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/duvet (See “translations of “duvet”)

In the world of quilt research it’s important to agree on terminology. This piece would have a back fabric to form a pocket, then be filled with other warmth-adding materials, before it became a bedcover. But because the three layers are not stitched together, it’s not a “quilt!"

Is it a nice hand appliquéd object? Yes. Is there a foundation piece that the appliqué is attached to? Yes. So, technically, it is not a quilt. Right?

We must agree on our definitions before we can full research an object. Wow, a whole new world is right at my fingertips.

- Dottie Evans

Today's afternoon was spent comparing other textiles -- quilts or other things -- to our study pieces. Marin provided me with some of her own personal objects, brought home from her China travels -- a baseball-style cap, a bookbag, and a jacket, all from her travels in 1992 and she brought in a vest (adorable!) she purchased for her little boy during our May trip. She also sent me pictures from a quilt accessioned into the collection of the Denver Art Museum (DAM) in the early 1990s.

If you put images of all these pieces together, WOW! They all have a similar flavor. In fact two blocks in the study quilt and that of the DAM are as much alike as they could possibly be without being identical!!! WOW!

However, the most fun and interesting was taking a block from the recently acquired Bai Jai Bai quilt (my study piece), made in 2013, and comparing it with a block from the older Bai Jia Bei (“Hundred Families Quilt”) that we received from Xi'an Jiaotong University Art Museum. The older one was made approximately 30 years ago in the Chinese tradition for a new baby.

Setting these blocks side by side -- very different -- very much the same -- very interesting!! WOW WOW WOW!

- Cindy DeLong

Check back tomorrow for the results from Day Three of Something Unexpected.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Something Unexpected - Day One

Longpo Yi - “Dragon Wife’s Robe," made by the Yi people in
Malipo County, Yunnan Province, China, first half of the 20th Century.
International Quilt Study Center & Museum 2012.021.0001.

In my happy place studying this beauty all week! Look closely, you may be able to see a pattern in the blocks. What I originally thought were randomly arranged blocks actually have some semblance of order.  By looking carefully you can see that the first row of blocks do not have blue fabrics, yet the second row does. The third row does not have blue, continuing the pattern.

- Amanda Lensch

Quilt cover, maker unknown, made in Niujiang, Huanjiang, Guangxi, China,
Circa 1925-1975. International Quilt Study Center & Museum 2012.040.0003.

I’m a learner by nature. Give me input from reading, listening or doing and I’m in my element.

The quilt that I was assigned in class today was filled with Chinese folk art symbols. While we haven’t studied Chinese symbols in the classroom yet (that’s tomorrow’s lesson), I was excited to recognize some of the symbols as a result of reading parts of Nancy Berliner’s book “Chinese Folk Art: The Small Skills of Carving Insects”. We also completed a hands-on observation of our quilt this afternoon.

I look forward to listening and learning more about Chinese symbols tomorrow. What an adventure to go to China again (well figuratively anyway!).

- Dottie Evans

Baby Carrier, maker unknown, made in Guizhou, China, circa 1950-
2000. International Quilt Study Center & Museum 2011.026.0007.

 A Chinese “Snugglie.” All cultures must find a way to carry the baby!

- Ruth Walker

Pan Kai Li, Bai Jia Bai. Wang Jian Village, Shaanxi Province, China,
Dated 2013. International Quilt Study Center & Museum 2013.020.0001.

Our "blogging assignment" today was to write about something that surprised me about the Chinese object that was assigned to me for this week's work. I was there (lucky me!) when Dr. Crews and Marin purchased the object, on site, in Wang Jian Cun (village) last month. So, I've already examined it pretty closely -- one of the privileges Amanda and I enjoyed as research assistants!

Even so, I continue to marvel at this "bei jia bei" ("One Hundred Families") quilt, traditionally made for new Chinese babies. Many representations of the "five poisons" are stuffed and appliqued on the quilt to frighten away any evil forces, thus protecting the child. The Five Poisons are: Snakes, Centipedes, Scorpions, Lizards, and Spiders or Toads.

I have never seen this technique before and we actually have a video of the woman demonstrating making these for us! Way COOL!
- Cindy DeLong

Waistcoat, maker unknown, made in China, circa 1880-
1900. International Quilt Study Center & Museum 2011.020.0001

The object I am studying is a black silk satin waistcoat. It appears to be a uniform of some sort; there is a mark where a label of some sort used to be on the inside below the collar. The surprise elements are the thirteen heavy gold/brass exquisitely carved buttons that add an elegant touch to the garment. 
- Anna Rolapp

Check back tomorrow for more of Something Unexpected.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Something Unexpected

By Marin Hanson
Curator of Exhibitions

Today at the IQSCM, we start a one-week course titled, "Asian Patchwork and Quilting: Folk Art/Religious Art."

Although we'll be learning about and viewing pieced and quilted objects from all over Asia, China will be the main focus for the course. In fact, each student will be assigned a Chinese patchwork or quilted object to examine, document, and interpret during the course of the week.

Along the way, they will share "Something Unexpected" with you, our "Pieced in China" readers. Every day, each student will post a brief observation and a picture of an aspect of their object that they found particularly interesting or unexpected.

We hope you enjoy this sneak peek of students in the process of learning about Chinese patchwork and quilting!

Marin Hanson is the Curator of Exhibitions at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She holds undergraduate degrees from Grinnell College and Northern Illinois University and earned her MA in museum studies and textile history with a quilt studies emphasis from UNL. She is currently pursuing doctoral research on cross-cultural quiltmaking practices, with particular emphasis on China and the United States.