Textiles and Gardens of Yunnan

18 Nov

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, there are lots of really cool textiles in Yunnan province. Cool textiles are a good indicator of other cool things in the vicinity, so here’s quick review of my September trip to Li Jiang and Dali.

Li Jiang is quaint and very picturesque if you can manage to avoid the hoards and hoards of tourists. The cobblestones are literally worn smooth and shiny by the passing of their myriad feet. It’s full of stone buildings, quiet pocket gardens, and has vendors of just about everything tucked in every possible nook and cranny.

The pomegranate vendors in particular were out in force, with bicycle carts, or carrying huge baskets, and weighing out the fruit on the spot.

Due to the shear number of tourists, shopping for textiles was initially really disappointing. There are about five kinds of shops in Li Jiang with exactly the same items – the tea shop, the yak meat shop, the kitch shop (wind chimes, etc), the hippy tie-dye shop (with djembes!), and the jewelry shop. I was on the hunt for textiles that weren’t of the mass-produced tie-dye variety, and so we asked at our guesthouse.

Our innkeeper has a sister who knew somebody who was willing to show us great textiles. This kind of intro will either be really good or really bad, and ended up being the latter. The shop we were taken to had gorgeous textiles, but at about 10x what one would pay for the same item in Shanghai or Beijing. After extracting ourselves as politely as possible from the shop, I had just about given up.

While searching for a beer in which drown my disappointment, I came upon two traditionally dressed ladies (I think they were Bai minority, but I’m not sure. Their heads were mostly plucked, with a long queue left on top. The queues were twisted into a small bun and then secured with several silver hair sticks. They each had a huge denim backpack. I asked what was inside, they looked around furtively and indicated we should head into a nearby alley, and then the textiles started coming out. Each bag was chock full of embroidery, delicate handwoven silks, embroidered shoes, woven and embellished jackets, batiks, aprons, and on and on.

The source of the textiles are the traditional costume of the peoples who live in the area. This picture is a chestnut vendor in Dali. The traditional attire includes a jacket with embroidery on the collar, cuffs, and hem, plus a highly decorated apron, and usually a skirt with a decorated hem. The most decorated item in a woman’s wardrobe will be the carrier she uses to carry her baby on her back.

Across the lake in Shuanglong, the traditional dress is quite a bit more subdued. The ladies here mostly wear indigo, with accents of purple fabric. We happened to be in town on a day when a large outdoor ceremony was happening under a big banyan tree. I had my camera out, but wasn’t taking pictures because I thought it might be rude. One of the ladies in blue came over and (much to my surprise) said in Mandarin that it would be ok to take some pictures, and so I did.

Shuanglong is a sleepy little town with great architecture, and a really neat wooden pagoda building just off the dusty main road, and overlooking the lake. The eaves are covered with carvings of hundreds of animals and spirits, including this guy.

Right now in my craft world, I’m working on refurbishing a bed spread made from a textile from a trip four years ago to Turkey. More on that project tomorrow.