Tie-Dye Craft Zigong's Cultural 'Name Card'

ByLi Wenjie May 24, 2019
A tie-dye craft [For Women of China]

Zigong, a city in Southwest China's Sichuan Province, is renowned for its production of tie-dyed items, including wall hangings, tablecloths, bedsheets, scarves, clothes and adornments. The tie-dye craft, integrated with traditional Chinese cultural elements, has become Zigong's cultural "name card." Given the ingenious, creative designs used to make tie-dye items, many Chinese and foreign artists recognize the craft as an exquisite art form. Zhang Xiaoping, a State-level inheritor of the craft, has made great contributions to the promotion of the traditional craft. During the past four decades, she has exerted every effort to study the traditional craft and improve her craft-making skills.

Records indicate the craft (creating Zigong's tie-dye items) dates back more than 2,000 years. The item originated during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), and the craft was at the height of its popularity during the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties. During the dynasties, the exquisite works of art were offered as tributes to members of the imperial families. To promote the traditional craft, Zigong established a tie-dye craft plant during the 1950s. Given the plant's workers' efforts to develop the craft -making skills during the past six decades, the plant has evolved into an enterprise, with an annual capacity of one million square meters of tie-dyed cloth, clothes and adornments.

To make a tie-dyed item, craftspeople must complete complicated procedures — including drawing patterns on white cotton, silk or hemp cloth, folding the item to create pleats, soaking the item in lukewarm water, using the sap of Indigowoad Root or felon herb to dye the cloth, and stewing and drying the cloth in the sun — by hand.

In July 2011, Zhang Xiaoping was named a Sichuan provincial master of arts and crafts. In June 2012, Sichuan Department of Culture recognized her as a provincial-level inheritor of the craft.

Zhang was born into a family of craftspeople in Zigong in 1948. Influenced by Zhang Yuzhong, her father, a master of the craft, Zhang Xiaoping developed an interest in the craft at an early age. Under her father's influence, Zhang Xiaoping became an expert in the craft.

Zhang Xiaoping makes a tie-dye craft. [For Women of China]


In 1978, the tie-dyed kimono belts, designed and created by Zhang Xiaoping, were exported to Japan. During the past several decades, her tied-dyed artworks have been displayed during many international and national arts and crafts exhibitions.

Completing an embroidery is time consuming, and the work requires tremendous patience. However, Zhang Xiaoping has never given up on her pursuit of artistic perfection. The tie-dyed work, entitled The 12 Ladies in A Dream of Red Mansions (composed by Cao Xueqin, during the Qing Dynasty [1644-1911], and considered one of China's four great classic novels), is one of the works that has given Zhang Xiaoping the greatest satisfaction. The work vividly portrays the 12 women (depicted in the novel), each of whom is 2.3 meters in height and two meters in width. "My father passed away soon after we began designing the work in 2006. It took me six years to finish," recalls Zhang Xiaoping.

"Craftspeople have created numerous exquisite tie-dyed works, whose patterns vividly portray figures, animals, plants, flowers and/or scenes. One can hardly duplicate others' works, created at different times with different skills," says Zhang Xiaoping.

In addition to blazing new trails while she created tie-dyed works, Zhang Xiaoping during the past several decades has put much effort into cultivating inheritors of the craft. Since the late 1970s, she has been committed to providing training to workers with plants that produce tie-dyed items, to help them improve their craft-making skills.

After she retired from the plant in the late 1990s, Zhang Xiaoping continued to provide training to workers . Invited by colleges and institutes, she traveled across China to give lectures on the tie-dye craft.

Zhang Xiaoping hopes some of her apprentices will become masters of the craft, who can design and complete every step of the procedures of making the items. She also hopes her apprentices will create more excellent works. "I hope more young people will 'fall in love' with the traditional craft, so they will promote the art form throughout the world," says Zhang Xiaoping.

A tie-dye craft made by Zhang Xiaoping [For Women of China]


(Women of China English Monthly January 2019 issue)


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