Years ago, the concept of traditional handicrafts means dull ideas and faint creation and may make people feel a little bit gloomy. Young people thought that the dusty history they bear were outdated. But now in Suzhou, artisans in the alleys and tourists to the alleys have all redefined the ancient legacy and craftsmanship. It is more like life that one can truly participate in than just a piece of physical object.

Exoticism Manifested by Silk Products

Taihu Lake Basin in Suzhou is home to premium silk and Suzhou embroidery, Suzhou fans, Chinese opera costumes and other handicrafts are manufactured based on that, making Suzhou a veritable “Paradise of Silk”. The general processes include silk reeling, weaving, and dyeing and finishing. To make Suzhou Silk more gorgeous and colorful, various printing technology such as direct prints, discharge prints and resist printing are all used.

In recent years, innovated production is added to the traditional handicraft of Suzhou silk. The concepts and elements encompass essentials from both the east and the west. Yitang Silk on Pingjiang Road, Suzhou City offers sensible presentation for such evolvement. In Milan Expo 2015, Yitang silk showcased its products that were inspired by the cultural difference between the east and the west. Advanced technology of silk prints was used to present all the elements that are related to cuisine, architecture, and folklore. Silk scarves are telling good stories. Gondolas from Venice and black-awning boats from Suzhou were designed to be displayed on the same silk scarf, with the highly-saturated colors contrasting with delicate tranquility, subtly showcasing the cultural differences for waterside towns to the visitors.

Routine and Creation of Song Brocade

Of all fourteen silk fabrics, Brocade (Jin) requires the most complicated process and features the uttermost sophisticated structure. Suzhou Song Brocade has its beginning in Song dynasty, and together with Nanjing Yunjin Brocade and Sichuan Shujin Brocade, they are regarded as the “Top Three Brocades in China”. Men of letters favor the material for its matte texture. Excellent literati never boast about their inner beauty, and they identify themselves with the low-key and yet quality valuable materials. Therefore, it is deemed by some as “the Crown of Brocade”.

To craftsmanship of Suzhou Song Brocade involves over twenty processes from silk reeling, dyeing, weaving and finishing. This durable material can be washed repeatedly and is good for daily use. In addition to dainty process, traditional patterns are also brilliantly used. The flourishing layout is delicate, neat, bright, elegant and classic.

But costly Suzhou Song Brocade rarely appeared in routine life in ancient time. That is why many artisans are endeavoring to include this century old technique into modern daily life. Colors and patterns are well moderated as per various demands and venues to fit the modern taste. The patterns for stage performance can be designed to be big and prominent while tiny patterns go better with daily use. In addition, the craftsmen have designed a series of derivative products of Song Brocade. For example, at “Qianjin Silk”, tourists can make frog buttons and brooches by themselves, during the process they can appreciate the classical beauty from the details and interpret the modern beauty in a traditional way.

 

Time Elapsed with Taohuawu Woodblock New Year Prints

Suzhou Taohuawu Woodblock New Year Prints started from Ming dynasty and the industry had its peak in middle Qing dynasty. In ancient times, the woodblock prints were once called Gusu Prints (Gusu and Suzhou both means Suzhou City). It had its influence on Japanese ukiyoe. Folks adore and use new year prints not only for the Spring Festival. As per folks, prints are also made for festivals and Chinese solar terms (one Chinese lunar year is divided into 24 solar terms and it is generally for central agriculture practice). Many aspects of life can be depicted by the prints.

Taohuawu prints need accurate and delicate cutting of block. The layout has to be of rich content and the combination of colors has to be bright and high saturated. Three procedures are involved, which are paper drawing, block carving and color printing, giving the impression of simple works, but in fact there are over twenty processes included. Artisans employ all their mind and skills to realize a vivid print. Harmonious Life and Flowers for the Wealth are among the traditionally favored themes. But the content has changed with demand of current tendence. Highly saturated colorful styles have been replaced by elegant and light lines and elements. Most of the works reflect the tranquil and slow waterside life and Taohuawu prints are mainly treated as artworks for decoration or collection purposes.

The work of the artisans in Suzhou alleys shows both the art itself and the transition of local life. The legacy is passed down from one generation to another and people feel the charm of legacies left by ancient time. The past is still glowing in modern days while people can experience the gradual changes. It’s the skills and craftsmanship that are creating the history and the future.

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