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


  1. Hello! I have just come across your blog and the website of IQSCM thanks to allpeoplequilt.com. I m so excited to read you! A native from Cincinnati and then the east coast I have been living in China for the past two years (asia for 7 years) and a couple weeks ago I witnessed the celebrations of 100 days for a baby. I am a costume designer (having studied in Paris). I love sewing and researching and am looking very forward to following the blog.... Thank you!

    1. Glad you're enjoying it, Alexandra! We're hoping to add more to "Pieced in China" as we add new Chinese quilts to our collection -- please keep coming back.

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