The Chinese silk weaving is well known in the world for its long history, advanced crafts and fine workmanship. Silk fabrics in ancient times include the following varieties: juan(thin, tough silk), sha (gauze as a general term), qi (damast), luo (silk gauze), jin (brocade), duan (satin), kesi (brocade woven using a special craft).
In the Shang Dynasty, silk fabric with conspicuous twisting warp weave ad already emerged. When it came to the Western Zhou Dynasty, more complicated brocade-weaving craft was developed. Down to the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Period, silk-weaving had attained a rather high level. Silk fabrics cover juan, luo, sha, and jin; the designs include rhombus pattern, S-shape pattern, and geometric patterns adorned with dragon, phoenix, human figure, etc. Silk weaving and knitting in the Qin and Han dynasties, Han in particular, made a leap forward on the basis of the Warring States Period tradition, containing more varied silk fabrics such as jin, ling (twill-weave silk), qi, luo, sha, juan, gao (thin and white silk), wan (fine silk fabrics), etc. The common designs on silk fabrics in the Han Dynasty include floating clouds, animals, flowers and plants, auspicious characters, and all sorts of geometric figures. The art of silk-weaving in the Han Dynasty was already elaborate, in particular in the weaving of single-thread gauze with even distributed meshes, of which the representative work is a plain gauzed Buddhist monk’s robe unearthed from the Han Tomb No.1 of Mawangdui in Changsha, Hu’nan Province. It measures 128 centimeters across from one end to the other end of the two sleeves, 190 centimeters long and yet weighs only 49 grams. Extremely marvelous.
Silk weaving in the Tang Dynasty was meticulous in the division of work. The Weaving and Dyeing Administration under
the central government had been set up to take charge of production, while private silk-weaving business could be found all over the country, producing large quantity of fabrics. Craftspeople at that time did their utmost to seek gorgeous coloring effect. Among the multiple varieties, brocade was the best-known, called “Tang brocade.” As is different from traditional craft in which warp was used to weave decorative patterns, Tang brocade-weaving, affected by the Western Region textile culture, used weft to form decorative patterns sandwiched between warp weave. It was called “weft brocade.” The loom used for weft brocade by which decorative patterns are formed with multi-layer and multi-colored weft, is complicated in structure but easy to handle, capable of weaving more complex designs and broad fabrics. Since the middle period of Tang Dynasty, using weft to form decorative patterns had become the mainstream in silk jacquard weave. The Tang brocade, which assimilated exotic ornamental patterns, manifested a fresh, resplendent and imposing style. Aside from Tang brocade, ling (silk fabric with twill weave as basic characteristic) was also very popular, in particular the lian-ling manufactured in Zhejiang Province, which was best known at that time. Dou Shilun, best reputed silk pattern designer, usually took subject matters like sheep, horse, dragon, phoenix, etc. for decorative patterns. As what he designed often appear original, unconventional, and full of vitality, they were called “Duke of Lingyang patterns,” as he was ever made Duke of Lingyang by the emperor.