One Brocade Stitch at a Time: Hu Chunfang
News source:hiHainan / By Li Xiang / 10 08,2020 16:05:33 / others

Spinning. Dyeing. Weaving.

Hu Chunfang vividly recalls the day she was introduced to Li brocade. “I still remember… I was only nine, when my mother sat me down before a spinning wheel,” Hu said, smiling.

Back then, Li brocade was her family’s sole means of survival. Perfecting the art has since become a life-long mission for Hu.

In addition to core skills, the 62-year-old master weaver is renowned for her trademark double-sided weaving. “I asked myself… my first love is weaving, so why not combine it with the existing double-sided embroidery method?” she said. Four years into experimenting, Hu won the 2007 Li Brocades Art Competition in Baoting.

Hu Chunfang explains the details of a double-sided design. (Hainan Daily)

A traditional Li Brocade pattern. (Hainan Daily)

Hu demonstrates the double-sided weaving technique. (Hainan Daily)

For her pioneering efforts, in 2010, Hu was honored as a national inheritor of the traditional spinning, dyeing, weaving and embroidery skills of the Li ethnic minority.

More recently, this past September, Hu’s exquisite collection opened the Hainan Clothing—Hainan Li Brocade Culture Exhibition at the Cultural Palace of Nationalities in the capital, Beijing.

“Hainan Clothing—Hainan Li Brocade Culture Exhibition” Opening Show. (Hainan Museum)

A modern coat for the Li ethnic women speaking Run dialect.(Hainan Museum)

A modern coat made of bark.(Hainan Museum)

An imperial robe with dragon and phoenix patterns from the Qing Dynasty. (Hainan Museum)

Li brocade was designated as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage in 2009. It was a method invented by the Li minorities of Hainan to make everyday clothes and goods out of cotton. With skills passed down from generation to generation verbally, each composition is said to reflect the Li people’s five dialects: Qi, Ha, Run, Sai and Meifu.

Due in part to its energy- and time-consuming nature, Li brocade lost its luster in recent decades. A single item made using the double-sided weaving method can take months to finish, depending on the complexity and size of the design.

But with combinations of colors and designs seemingly infinite, Hu still finds each of her pieces to be challenging yet rewarding.

Through word-of-mouth, Hu’s reputation quickly grew around her hometown in Jianmao, Baoting Li and Miao Autonomous County. Then, nationally.

A customer once came from Shanghai with a photo of a scarf and requested a replica. “I had never seen such a design. So, I studied the photo for hours,” she recalled. Her hard work paid off—and the Shanghainese became a regular.

By tradition, Hu isn’t supposed to share her know-how with non-family members. But she felt the responsibility to help preserve the brocade art.

“I invented my trademark double-sided weaving, so if I don’t teach others, the technique would be lost. I hope those I teach will be even more creative and yield better results,” Hu said.

So far, Hu has trained more than 300 students. Her newest apprentice is her 5-year-old granddaughter—for whom she had to tailor-make a set of tiny tools.

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