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Heritage Trail project

Menglian Weaving Revival Project: Second Report

From July 23 to 29, 2011, project leader Lu Lei and Thai advisor, Turdsak Insang, went to Menglian County where the Dai, Lahu, and Wa minority are located. They conducted a six-day assessment of the Menglian Traditional Folk Craft Association.

Lu Lei meets with the Association

Lu Lei meets with the Association

Investigation Purpose 

After ten months of intensive training, members of the Menglian Traditional Folk Craft Association can already design their own patterns, dye fabric, and weave complicated, intricate patterns. To date, they have produced 18 different woven fabrics. In addition to the fabric, there are also stylish scarves. The purpose of this assessment was to:

  • Discuss the price of the fabric
  • Record photographic and film documentation of the weaving process
  • Determine the suppliers of the packaging materials and raw materials
  • Pursue the sustainable development of Menglian hand-woven crafts
The color and craftsmanship have improved

The color and craftsmanship have improved


Price of the Fabric

Price Investigation

In the past two months, CHP has conducted consumer and market research of woven fabric in Beijing. The results have indicated the price which consumers as well as businesses are willing to accept is somewhat low (around RMB150 per meter). Low price ranges are due to the consumer’s recognition of the low price of cotton in addition to their lack of understanding of the difficulty of hand-weaving.

Cost Analysis

The price of the fabric is the most important issue to the members of the Association. On average, the members can weave about two meters of woven fabric per month. During this inspection we also carefully calculated the speed and productivity of the weaving process. In one hour, a weaver can produce only two cm of woven fabric.  Thus, a two-meter piece of fabric will take one weaver 100 hours to complete. If a weaver works everyday for five hours nonstop, she can finish the fabric in 20 days. Furthermore, we have not yet taken into consideration the complex preparatory work for weaving (done about two days in advance). This includes washing, twisting, and winding the threads. It takes about three to four weavers working together to complete this job.

The most recent woven fabric

The most recent woven fabric

Price Determination

Through this in-depth investigation, we have reached a basic understanding of the overall cost that goes into weaving fabric. CHP recorded the entire weaving process in detail on film, in the hopes that consumers will come to better understand these traditional crafts as well as support this hand-woven fabric.

Packaging

After several discussions on this topic, both the Chinese and foreign packaging for the fabric were determined:

  1. Menglian handmade paper

Menglian’s handmade paper boasts fine workmanship as well as a unique texture, as tree bark serves as the main raw material. The paper is used for copying books/texts, mounting pillar columns, making lanterns, and other materials for Buddhist rituals.

2. Bamboo boxes

3. Handmade cotton thread

 The bamboo boxes and handmade cotton are also used in Buddhist rituals. The boxes are used to contain wax, and the cotton is used to bind Buddhist texts and books.

Packaging for the hand-woven fabric was co-designed by CHP and Zheng Jing, a leader of the Association.

Packaging, using local handicrafts

Packaging, using local handicrafts

Supply of Raw Materials

The color and texture of the cotton determine the end quality of the fabric. Under the guidance of Thai expert Turdsak Insang, the local cotton was dyed according to market demand. However, this dyed cotton becomes slightly stiff after weaving and is more suitable for decorative items rather than clothing. Turdsak Insang purchased some common thread from Chiang Mai, Thailand. Not only is the color of this material beautiful, but the gloss and feel are excellent as well. Fabric woven from this Thai cotton has higher quality and comfort. When considering the cost, it is not possible for the Association to sustain purchasing materials from Thailand in the long term. Finding local suppliers of raw materials is another core issue of this assessment.

Menglian cotton threads

Menglian cotton threads

After visiting multiple markets and communicating with cotton retailers in Menglian, we were excited to discover a type of cotton thread made in Wenzhou. Whether in terms of color or texture, the thread was very similar to the ones from Chiang Mai. Thus, the issue of raw materials was solved. 

Specialized Support

Color

Thai expert Turdsak Insang believed the color, luster, and gloss of the cotton thread found in Menglian’s markets were too ordinary. Thus, members of the Association received training on how to dye thread so the colors are softer, have a retro feel, and are more suitable to the taste of urban consumers.

Pattern

The Thai expert was very satisfied at the final selection of raw materials. He even used the available thread colors to design new and innovative patterns for members of the Association to weave.

Problems

The preservation of traditional crafts requires the active participation of the younger generation. During this assessment we interviewed many young Dai women. They were definitely interested in learning to weave as part of the Association, but they were unsure as to the sales price and the channel through which the fabric is sold. If there was a stable market for fabric and if the sales price was competitive, they would be willing to join the Association and inherit the traditional craft of weaving.

Future Tasks

Through this assessment it is clear that marketing and the sales channel of the fabric is CHP’s next most important task. In terms of cultural heritage protection – and especially when it comes to traditional crafts – passing on knowledge and skills to the next generation is important, but what’s more important is to gain public attention. CHP will help to design more products including bags, scarves, and coats in order to promote the fabric and gain public awareness about Menglian’s ethnic hand-woven products. 

 

Sustainable Development

 

Heritage of Traditional Crafts

The Dai minority’s traditional craft of weaving experienced a period of high acclaim in the past. However it has undergone a steady decline in the recent century. Now the woven products produced have become cheap souvenirs sold on the side of the street for tourists. Nobody care or pays attention. How do we change this situation?

Protection of Cultural Diversity

Sustainable development is the key to protecting traditional weaving. In this assessment, the project team and the Menglian county leaders discussed ways to revive traditional local weaving techniques, as well as preserve the cultural heritage of ethnic minorities in China. To achieve this, we must first enhance the cultural awareness of local residents and use this as a foundation to explore sustainable sources of income for villagers.

Sustainable Community

Sustainable community” refers to population, resources, environment, and other factors that contribute to the balanced development of a civilized geographic location. Sustainable development is a naturally-occurring and important feature of traditional communities. We hope the establishment of the Menglian Traditional Craft Association will play a positive role in the sustainable development of the region.

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