Weaving new life into an old art

Updated: 2011-12-27 10:23

By Pei Pei (China Daily)

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ENSHI, Hubei - Liu Weixiang stretches thread for the loom by hand with one end of the threads fastened to posts. Then she plaits the threads like hairs.

Weaving new life into an old art 

Liu Weixiang is a master weaver of the Tujia ethnic group in Enshi, Hubei province. 

Sheep horns are used as needles to separate the threads before she runs them through the loom to form the background warp. She cuts and combines the threads to reflect the designs in her mind.

The wooden shuttle moves quickly and with such ease between the threads it looks like part of her nimble hands.

A master weaver of the Tujia ethnic group, Liu sits beside an old wooden loom in front of her house made of wood and bamboo, busy with her hobby, stooping and concentrating on colorful threads flying between her deft fingers.

"I went to find red flowers, cape jasmine, turmeric and gall nuts in the mountains and made dyes out of these plants when I was a girl. The colors were naturally bright," said Liu, 57, recalling her beginnings with making the traditional brocade bedclothes of the Tujia ethnic group.

"It takes years of labor to become an excellent weaver. You need to spend 10 hours a day weaving for about 10 years and be a good one," said Liu without moving her eyes away from her loom.

"I started learning the skill from my mother at the age of eight in the early 1960s. All Tujia girls were supposed to learn it before marriage," said Liu.

The brocade bedclothes are an important part of a dowry, and a woman's character and ability are told by the brocade works she makes, Liu said.

"I still remember clearly my works were cherished by my husband's family very much when I was married," she said, wearing a shy smile recalling her marriage.

"Today few Tujia girls want to take the trouble. They just go to work in big cities after leaving school," said Liang Xiao, Liu's daughter. "But my mom is trying her best to pass down this old handicraft."

Liu has started teaching her four daughters.

"I had to sit in front of the loom for 10 hours a day at first. Bending over for a long time without rest is horrible. My eyes dried up and my vision blurred. It is difficult for me to handle 300 to 400 threads at the same time, while my mom can easily manage 5,000 to 6,000," said Liang Xiao.

"Mom is incredibly patient and forgiving. I never remember her losing her temper."

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