Friday, 11 December 2015

Dragon imagery in Chinese Imperial Textiles

The Oriental Museum, Durham University   

The Oriental Museum in Durham University opened in May 1950. Since then the collections have grown and it now has around 30,000 objects with collections covering Ancient Egypt, the Near and Middle East, China, Korea, Japan, India and the Himalayan region and stretching into South East Asia. The Ancient Egyptian and Chinese collections are of particular significance and hold 'Designated Status', recognising their importance on a national and international scale.
The unprepossessing outside of the museum gives no hint of the treasures inside. 

In addition to an exciting programme of temporary exhibitions, over the last 5 years the permanent galleries have been fully refurbished. The Museum attracts over 30,000 visitors a year.  You can visit the website at this address;

Here are two views inside the museum.
The Macdonald Gallery

The new South East Asian gallery opened in March 2015

The Friends of the Oriental Museum support the Museum in a number of ways. They help the Museum to acquire new objects into the collections and volunteer on museum projects such as cataloguing the departmental library. The Friends also arrange a series of talks each term which are open to members and non- members.  For information on forthcoming talks and how to join the Friends and support the museum, click here;

I am fortunate to live within walking distance of the museum so naturally I want to support it.  The museum’s Friends put on a series of talks each term. Recently I went to a fascinating talk by David Rosier about Dragon imagery in Chinese Imperial Textiles.  His talk was very well received and hopefully, he will be able to give another talk in the lecture series next year.  .

David lived for a many years in Hong Kong and worked extensively in China. During this time he and his wife became interested in the stunning imperial textiles that they saw and started to create an extensive collection of Court Costume predominately from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

His lecture was a tour of over 1000 years of colourful silk embroidery with the focus being on the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 to 1911). I contacted David to ask if I could use  some of the pictures that I had taken on my blog.  He gave his permission and also provided additional notes to explain some of the significance of the imagery.  (My note taking during lectures is rather rusty!)

The Chinese Dragon Symbol.

The Chinese dragon symbols are thought to originate from Neolithic times (6000-1600 BC) in the Yellow River Valley where jade carvings provide recognisable dragon images. One of the earliest examples of the dragon imagery that would be adopted by the Imperial Court as the personal emblem of the Emperor originates in the Song Dynasty in the Nine Dragons Scroll by Chen Rong dated 1244. This scroll is in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, USA.

The scroll shows the nine different forms of dragons. Imperial Dragons are a combination of 9 animals and are represented in 9 different forms each with specific powers and attributes. Nine is regarded as the most auspicious number in Chinese culture.

The ‘benevolent’ Imperial Chinese Dragon is associated with control of the weather which will determine the success or otherwise of crops grown to produce food. The dragon is adopted as the personal emblem of the Emperor because of this association of providing adequate food for the population. All Emperors took this responsibility very seriously and performed numerous rituals and sacrifices during the year to ensure the success for all forms of agriculture.

It is thought that the adoption of the dragon on Court Costume as an indicator of Imperial status dates to the commencement of Imperial rule in China with the Qin Dynasty (221-206BC). Dragons were deployed on a variety of court costume and their structure (number of claws, position, nature of the body scales and the number of dragons incorporated) were used as indicators of the seniority of the wearer (Insignia of Rank).

Dragons were incorporated into formal state costume in the form of Roundels (4 on each robe) or Squares (2 on each robe) positioned on plain outer surcoats (Chao Fu) to indicate the status of the individual within the 12 ranks of the Imperial Clan, which included the Emperor and Empress, plus the 9 Ranks of Civil and Military Officials that formed the upper echelons of the Imperial Government.

A state robe known as a Chao Pao would have been worn beneath the surcoat and dragons were deployed in the design on a silk ground of a colour appropriate to the rank of the wearer.

Dragons were also used on semi-formal court costume (Dragon Robes known as a Jifu) which were worn by all members of the Imperial Clan plus the 9 Ranks of Civil Officials (Mandarins) and 9 Ranks of Military Officers. Individual Imperial edicts, determined all forms of costume and dress accessories for all ranks at the Chinese court.  In 1759 these regulations were reviewed, revised and extended by the Qianlong Emperor. The project resulted in the regulations being  codified in 18 volumes with 5000 pages of descriptive text and over 6000 illustrations which  indicates the complexity of this system. Despite the reference documents having been partly looted from The Summer Palace in 1860 the surviving folios are an invaluable source of information regarding the actual regulations and their visual form.

Robes worn by the Emperor and Empress. 

Robes incorporating dragon imagery which were worn by the Emperor and Empress were embroidered on an Imperial Yellow Silk ground. This colour was for their exclusive use and robes for other ranks utilised colours appropriate to their rank and status. In 1759 the Qianlong Emperor introduced the usage of the twelve ancient symbols of Imperial Authority which were embroidered in fixed positions according to the nature of the robe and for the exclusive use of the Emperor and Empress.

Dragons of the highest status, representing the Emperor and the first 4 ranks of the Imperial Clan had five claws and are known as Lung Dragons. There are dragons with 4 claws (Mang Dragon) as well as those with only 3 or 2 claws. The number of claws are the main indicator of the dragon’s status.
Semi-formal dragon robes (Jifu) were worn by all members of the Imperial Clan (men and women) plus the officials of the Court and Government. Dragons were an integral part of the design and those of high imperial status would have 9 dragons where those of lower rank would have 7 or 5 dragons. The colour of the silk ground would change according to the rank of the wearer and these robes varied in their structure according to the season of the year.

Imperial dragons were worn by women of the Imperial Clan as well as wives of officials. Their rank was derived from their father or husband and robes were of a similar construction to their male counterparts. Whilst men of the highest rank would wear 9 dragons on their semi-formal robes the women would have no more than 8 dragons (8 being the luckiest number in Chinese culture).

Finally the characteristics of a dragon were incorporated into mythical creatures that formed insignia of rank of certain officials. A First Rank Military Official was represented by a creature known as a Qilin which had a head of a dragon, body of a deer and tail of a bear. In addition a creature with the head of a 1 horned dragon and body of a bear, known as a Xie Chai, represented the group of 50 exceptional Civil Officials that were known as Censors and acted as the Emperor’s Auditors.

Examples of Imperial Insignia.

David brought along many examples of the imperial insignia for us to see.  It was a stunning collection of shimmering embroideries. He has given his permission for me to use some of my images.

Imperial dragon insignia roundel with a five-clawed dragon. © David Rosier
This shows an imperial dragon insignia roundel with a five-clawed Lung dragon.  It dates from the late 19th century and has as an additional, and optional, design feature. These are the eight precious items for the Buddhist religion. Similar symbols exist for the Daoist/Taoist and Confucian religions.
The flaming pearl in the centre of the roundel indicates knowledge and enlightenment. In the majority of examples the dragon is chasing the pearl but occasionally the Emperor would allow the dragon to be portrayed having caught the pearl. This would normally be a reward for exceptional intellectual services to the court.

Finally the design above the head of the dragon is known as the Shou symbol and relates to a wish for longevity. This particular form means 10,000 times 10,000 years-a wish for immortality. This iconography was reserved for the Emperor and his designated heir, the Crown Prince,

Close up of Eternal/everlasting knot  © David Rosier
Here is a close up of the eternal/everlasting knot which is one of the 8 precious items of the Buddhist religion. It is very similar to the Celtic Knot.  I have used this symbol in my weaving. Go to my first post in June 2014 to see the silk handfasting bands that I wove with this symbol.

Imperial princess roundel © David Rosier

This is an imperial princess roundel showing the Lung dragon on a green background. Green was the next highest ranking colour for women after Imperial and then Apricot Yellow. The flaming pearl has been replaced by the Shou symbol which is a wish for a long life. 

This roundel, along with 7 identical ones, would have been deployed on a semi-formal ‘celebration’ robe, identical in structure to the Jifu Dragon Robe, which would have been used for a special birthday celebration such as the ‘coming of age’ at 15 years. This example dates from the mid 18th century.

Imperial dragon collar trim © David Rosier

This is part of an imperial dragon collar trim for a robe and dates from the 19th century. Dragons in a running or flying design, chasing the flaming pearl, would decorate robe trim which normally extended around the neck of the collar and could encircle the body of the robe. An identical design would have been used to form ‘horseshoe’ cuffs.

It was wonderful to have the symbolism of the robes explained.  I shall look at Chinese textiles in a new way in future.

Embroidery with peacock feathers  © David Rosier 

Finally, but certainly not least is this beautiful embroidery.  Peacock feathers have been used to make a shimmering surface.  David did not bring this example with him as it is so fragile but he described it. His description of it fired my imagination. I contacted David and he kindly sent me an image of this highly unusual and delicate piece.

Contact details for David Rosier.

David can be contacted at to discuss a possible lecture or special interest day topic and the logistics associated with staging an event.

Here is a list of lectures:

Lectures of approximately 60 minutes cover a range of topics linked with Chinese Imperial Court Costume of Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
The most popular lectures include:
Chinese Imperial Court Insignia of Rank-‘Ultimate Power Dressing’
Chinese Imperial Court Costume-‘A Journey through the Emperor’s Wardrobe’
Dragon Imagery in Chinese Imperial Costume-‘Ruling from the Dragon Throne’
Emperor Qianlong-Ultimate Renaissance Ruler and Fine Art Collector.
In addition David gives full and half day Special Interest/Study Days ( ‘Dressing the Emperor’s Court’) plus a double lecture session. All talks are illustrated with digital images plus a display of relevant textiles.

He lectures regularly to textile and costume organisations, historical societies, museums, universities, Chinese Cultural groups, The National Trust and Art Fund around UK and is an accredited lecturer for the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies (NADFAS). which has 300 societies around UK and approaching 100,000 members.

There is a link to a lecture David gave for the Oriental Rug and Textiles Society.   You can view his talk here.

A Source of Inspiration.

As you can see from the selection here, the textiles that he brought along for us to see were stunning. I was taken by the idea of peacock feathers being used in embroidery to give iridescence to the background.  I wondered whether I could produce such an effect in weaving by using several colours in silk to make up the warp threads.

Here is a close up of a peacock feather.  The number of colours is astonishing when magnified.

I decided to try if I could achieve the effect of iridescence.  I took silk in three colours: emerald green, bright blue and dark blue to use as the warp.  Three strands of 60/2 silk were used together to make the warp.

I have a weave pattern which gives the effect of feathers so I thought that I would try to weave a scarf with iridescence inspired by the Chinese embroidery.

The details of this scarf will be given next month as this is already a long post to end the year and the scarf is taking a long time to design and weave.

I hope you have enjoyed my posts for 2015.  Do tell your friends about my blog.

With best wishes

Susan J Foulkes

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Museum of America in Madrid

I spent a week in Madrid last month and had a wonderful time.  One of the unexpected delights is the Museum of  America.  If you get the opportunity to visit Madrid, do go to this museum. Click here for their web site to view the collection. The site is in Spanish.

This stunning museum has a magnificent collection of textiles from South America.  I was fortunate to be there at the same time as an exhibition of a selection of their collection of Huipils. Fortunately the exhibition dates had been extended.

Here is a flavour of the colours.

The vibrant stripes are a wonder.  Colours that I would not usually put together look stunning.

Vibrant stripes

The book about the museum collection was only available in Spanish but worth buying. It is listed on the museum web site.

Tradición de tradiciones  by María Jesús Jiménez Díaz   2006  ISBN 978-84-8181-386-9
published by Ministerio de Cultura, Madrid

All textiles are a good source of inspiration.  The huipils are usually woven in warp faced weave so the lovely stripes can be examined in detail.  Choose an area that you like and make up a pattern. 

close up of Huipil

graph for narrow band
For this band of 37 warp ends. I used a double thread in the centre so that the deep pink would show more clearly.  I wanted a narrow band so I reduced the pattern. 

Here is the band I wove./  I used 16/2 cotton so the band is very narrow. 

I made part of the band into a bookmark.

Here is another lovely book with lots of inspirational pictures to help with stripe design.

Textiles from Guatemala by Ann Hecht 2001  British Museum Press ISBN  0-7141-2739-6

Madrid is an amazing city.  We had beautiful weather - sunshine and blue skies for the whole week in November!  The art galleries are first class.  

Susan J Foulkes December 2015

Monday, 16 November 2015

Collapse Weave 2

Collapse weave 2: Completing the workshop.

I liked the collapse weave effect with the first warp but I felt that the white wool stripes were too wide.  I wanted to have the effect of blue waves with white tops.  I made a new warp with only 4 ends of wool for the white stripes.  See my blog entry for October for the first post about this workshop.

New warp:

Six blue silks: B1 is the lightest blue and B6 is the darkest blue.













B1: 16
B2: 16

B2: 32

B2: 16
B3: 16

B3: 32

B3: 16
B4: 16

B4: 32

B4: 16
B5: 16

B5: 32

B6: 16
B5: 16

B6; 32

Total number of warp ends:  784                     silk: 672 and wool: 112

Sample two

Width at reed: 25.5  inches
Width off loom:  18.25  inches

I used a temple (also known as a stretcher) to keep the width of the piece even.

The second warp on the loom.  I used a temple ( stretcher) to keep the width even.

Sample measurements:

Length:  15  inches including borders.
After washing in machine:   Length:   approx. 12 inches

The width varies according to the type of weft yarn.

Sample details:

A. 3  inches 56/2 merino overtwisted wool
approx. 24 ppi         Width after washing: approx. 12 inches

B. 3 inches  56/2 merino overtwisted wool
  approx. 12 – 14 ppi    Width after washing: approx. 11.25  inches

C. 3 inches unknown fragile merino yarn
12 – 14 ppi    Width after washing: approx. 12 inches

D. 3 inches unknown fragile merino yarn
24 ppi   Width after washing: approx. 1114 - 15 inches

E. 3 inches 500 gm cone fine merino
at 24 ppi   Width after washing: approx. 16 inches

F. 3 inches blue overtwisted yarn.  I do not know what type of yarn this is.
 at about 18 – 20 ppi  Width after washing: approx. 21 inches

Close up of weaving on the loom

close up unwashed sample

The washed sample
Washing the sample and examining the different weft yarns was fascinating.  It was very instructive to see how the yarns reacted to machine washing and the effect produced.  Keeping detailed notes for the blog and for the workshop will be very useful in the future when I try some more examples of collapse weave.

I completed the workshop by weaving the rest of the warp as a scarf.


Length off loom = 235 cm
Width off loom = 61 cm  (approx. 24 inches).

Scarf after washing:  149 cm by 21 cm

The completed scarf. 

The scarf rippled beautifully and I was pleased with this final result.  The narrower wool stripes and the wider blue silk stripes looked like rippled waves with white tops.  Here is a close up of the scarf.

Close up showing the felted wool stripes and the rippled silk.
The workshop has been a lovely way to find out more about overtwisted yarn and collapse weave.

Susan J Foulkes November 2015.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

The Braid Society November 2015:

The Braid Society is a fantastic organisation for anyone interested in narrow wares - braiding, plaiting, band weaving, tablet weaving, sprang, etc.  There is a facebook page for the Braid Society on

It was founded in 1993 and has members around the world.  The aim of the Society is to promote the education and practice of the art and craft of making constructed or embellished braids and narrow bands. Next year is exciting as the 3rd International Braiding Conference is being held in Tacoma in the USA.

Check out my blog for details of the workshop that I will be running at the conference.

Click on this link to see what other workshops are on offer.
Booking is now open for Braid Society members.  Non-members will have to wait for a couple of weeks.


Here is the latest annual journal Strands.  I always look forward to it as there are so many different craft interests and so many interesting craft practitioners.

This edition is no exception.

Contents page

My article about the stunning Latvian belt from Lielvārde has an accompanying YouTube video to illustrate the weaving process. The Lielvārde belt: weaving motifs can be found at this link.

The article by Celia Elloitt-Minty is a wonderful detailed examination of some of the tablet woven textiles from the Hallstadt culture 850 - 450 BCE.  It is fascinating to see some of the motifs which also appear in patterned band weaving. Tablet weavers will be interested in the details of threading tablets explained by Gail Marsh.

There are three articles about different aspects of braiding. Barbara Walker describes one type of braid with six variations. Rosalie Neilson shares her red white and blue braids inspired by the US team at the Sochi Olympics and their sweaters. Jacqui Carey tells of her search for Naxi braids in China. The final article by Shirley Berlin looks at prayer ropes.  The instructions for making these lovely knotted strings are given in detail with an excellent series of photographs.  I will definitely be trying this technique for myself.

The centre pages are a set of beautiful photographs from the Braid Society Travelling Exhibition 2015. The theme for the exhibition was Spring is Sprung and the different interpretations of this are so colourful.

Curiosity and experimentation are such important foundations of innovation.  It is an inspiring issue, as usual.

Online discussion group. is a discussion group moderated by the Braid Society and primarily exists to provide members with information about Braid Society activities. Non members of the society with a genuine interest in braids and bands are also welcome to join this group. Members can ask questions about any narrow ware technique, or share details of their latest project. For details on how to join, go to the Braid Society home page.

I have organised five online workshop for Braids and Bands over the years.

I will be running another workshop next year for Braids and Bands.  I thought that it would be useful to go 'back to basics' and take a closer look at bands with 5, 7 and 9 pattern threads. The workshop will be useful for beginners but also remind more experienced band weavers that using only a few pattern threads, delightful bands can be produced.  I do not have a date for the workshop as yet as I am still working on the materials.  It will probably be later next year.

AGM of the Braid Society.

The AGM was held in a beautiful building in the centre of Leeds.  The facilities were excellent.  I was thrilled to be asked to give the talk in the afternoon.

I brought along examples of the bands that I have  woven and set up a display.  Here is one of my tables showing bands from Lithuania, Finland, Russia, Estonia and Latvia.

One of my display tables showing bands that I have bought or woven myself.

The title of my talk

I am showing the fragment of a marriage band from Leksand Sweden dated to 1850. I am wearing the Delsbo belt from Sweden.
I wove this Lithuanian belt which I saw in the museum in St Petersberg, Russia. I am wearing a copy of it which I wove.

Examining some of the bands I used in my talk.  I am now wearing the Lielvārde belt from Latvia.
The Lielvārde belt I am wearing was made by Ziedonis Abolini.  You can see other examples of his beautiful work on their web site. 

Click here to go to the English page.!home/mainPage

It was a lovely day.

Susan J Foulkes November 2015

Friday, 16 October 2015

Collapse Weave

The Online Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers.

I am a member of the Online Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. This wonderfully enthusiastic group has monthly online workshops and a membership from around the world.

To find out more details about the Guild click on this link
Details on how to join the Online Guild are given on the web site.

Do check out the web site and look at the gallery which shows the work produced by members in previous workshops. The annual subscription is very reasonable and you also receive the Journal four times a year. The Journal can be viewed at this link

Weaving Challenge Workshop.

This month the workshop is a weaving challenge which I could not resist.

Ann Sutton in her book 'Ideas in Weaving' describes a design game. She has a set of cards which are divided into categories such as  material, colour, weave structure, and design feature. It is this design game which is the workshop. Everyone wishing to take part in the design challenge was given three 'cards'. 

It is a challenge for me but also, for the large number of workshop participants.  It is fascinating to read the other combinations of cards and see how the different challenges are met.  I am learning a lot by reading other peoples comments and the pictures that they post on the online web site. Members of  Online Guild have a wide breadth of interests and expertise.

Design Challenge Cards.

Here are three three 'cards' which I was given. 

Colours: Inspired by water

Material: fine threads

Design: start from plain weave

I had to think carefully how to interpret my challenge. A few years ago I experimented with collapse weave. Plain weave and fine threads can be an option. I thought of waves with their white tops and decided that this would be my inspiration.

Warp and weft details.


110/2 wool






60/2 silk

Light blue 





Dark blue

Total number of warp ends: 556

Weft: 56/2 merino wool overtwist yarn.

Sett wool at 24 epi and silk at 32 epi.  Sett at approximately two thirds of plain weave sett. I used a 12 dent reed so that the wool was sett at 2 ends per dent and the silk at 2/3/3 ends per dent.

Six shades of silk are used.  The dark silk is in the centre and the silk shades lighter towards the edges of the piece.

The wool warp is 110/2 merino wool. These slightly thicker warp stripes in wool should give pleating which will look like white tops to waves. 

Width at reed: 19.25 inches                                Width off loom: 18.25 inches

weaving the collapse weave piece.
Here is the piece being woven.  I use a stretcher to keep and even width for the piece. I used eight shafts, four for the wool areas and four for the silk areas. 

Sample: details

5.5 inches plain weave
3 inches 2/2 twill in wool areas
3 inches 3/1 twill in wool areas
1 inch plain weave.
sample off loom
Close up of weave on the loom.  You can see the 2/3/3 threading for the silk in the 12 dent reed and the 2 per dent threading for the wool. 

Sample: washed and collapsed!

Width off loom: 18.25 inches
Length: 15 inches including starting borders.
After washing in machine: 9.75 inches  Length:  9.75 inches

Sample description.

machine washed sample

Silk areas pleated length ways and there was also some twisting of the pleats due to lengthways collapse.
Wool areas in plain weave showed tracking but on warp showed collapse.
Wool areas in 2/2 twill and 3/1 twill felted with a small amount of collapse widthways. 

Plain weave and 2/2 twill wool areas in close up. You can see the tracking at the top of the picture.
3/1 twill in wool area close up.


I used the rest of the warp to weave a scarf.  

Before washing.

Length of scarf: 70.75 inches
Width: 18.25 inches.

The silk ends were plaited together in groups of three – one plait for each stripe.
The wool was loosely plaited and tied off longer than the silk plaits. I hope that the wool would felt slightly so that I could cut off the knotted end to make a neater fringe for the finished scarf.

After machine washing.

Length: 57.25 inches
Width: 8 inches

I was surprised that the width of the scarf after machine washing was narrower than the width of the sample.  The scarf and sample were both washed at 30 degrees in a normal washing machine cycle with other garments.  I was expecting that the lengthways shrinkage would be less for the scarf.

The completed scarf

I have decided to try another warp using more silk stripes and narrower wool stripes.  I have yet to discover what will happen. Collapse weave is a wonderful adventure.  Exploring the possibilities are endless. 

Collapse Weave book

Collapse Weave: creating three-dimensional cloth by Anne Field, published in 2008 by Willson Scott Publishing, New Zealand. ISBN: 978-1-877427-17-6

When Anne was writing this book, I had long conversations with her about aspects of collapse weave. I was particularly interested in the mechanics of tracking and we spent some time analysing the effects and why it happens. She used one of my samples and two of my scarves in her book. 
One of my scarves had won third prize in an Handwoven competition in 2004.  Inspired by fleeting clouds, it had a double weave collapse structure. 

New band weaving book

I have just bought a new band weaving book from Finland. Check out my blog pages for the details. It is called Traditional Finnish Decorative Bands  and has illustrations of bands in the National Museum in Helsinki.  It is a reprint in English of a book first published in 1903.

This book is available from  

Susan J Foulkes October 2015

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Peruvian band weaving

I am often asked when I became interested in band weaving.  In 2007, we had a wonderful holiday in South America and visited Peru.  I found the Centre for Traditional Textiles of Cusco. This wonderful shop and museum was inspirational.
I had tried band weaving before but had been very unsuccessful.  I always show my very first attempt at band weaving when I am teaching workshops. It is a very uneven scrappy piece.  It has 17 pattern threads and is made of linen. I found it so hard that I gave up trying to learn band weaving.

After seeing the lovely work of the weavers, I decided to try band weaving again once I arrived home. Band weaving is an absorbing hobby.  The patterns seem infinite in variety.

Peruvian Woven Bands.

Here are a selection of bands that I bought in Peru. The bands that I bought in the Centre for Traditional Textiles had a card with the name of the weaver.  How wonderful!  So often weavers are anonymous and yet they are skilled artists.

This is a small back strap with the warp and some of the completed weaving.  It makes a pretty wall hanging.

A close up of the pattern.
Here are some more bands which are called chumpi.

close up of one of the motifs

Two beaded hat bands known as jokimas

by Nilda Callanaupa Alvarez
This book is published by Interweave Press and has lots of illustrations of the weaving of the highland people.  ISBN -13:978-1-59668-055-5   published 2007

These bands were a revelation for me.  I was intrigued by their complexity and wonderful  use of colour. I had forgotten that it was only nine years ago that I really began to study band weaving.  It feels as though I have been doing it as long as I have been weaving.

When I started to learn, most of the patterns that I found were from Scandinavia.  I had to find out more about them so we visited Sweden to explore museums and collections.  I had not realised that this was only the start of a long journey of discovery.

Susan J Foulkes  October 2015