Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textiles as Cultural Expressions: Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–27, 2008, Honolulu, Hawaii


Copyright 2008 by the author.


This report discusses black-colored silks from southeastern Asia that are often referred to as “gummed” silks. These silks are treated with iron-rich mud that coats the silk filaments and creates a deep black color (often in conjunction with a previous coloration). The report covers three areas. Firstly, I review various names used for black mud-treated silks and begin to contextualize the production and use region. Two mud-treated silk samples from early-1930s Southeast Asia are introduced in this discussion. Secondly, I initiate investigation into the role of mud-treated black silks in Chinese fashion history during the transition from the late-imperial era to twentieth-century modernity. Thirdly, the use of mud-treated silks in twenty-first-century fashion is highlighted.

Context of Mud-Treated Silks

“Gummed silk” is apparently a common euphemism for a variety of mud-treated or mud-coated silks. In the context of Asian black silks, gummed is not a reference to the raw state of silk filaments, but rather a general name for shiny black silk fabrics coated with tannin-rich mud. Jiāo-chou and xiang-yun-shā are the names most often employed in China to refer to slightly stiff bi-colored silks that are brownish-orange on one side and black on the other. Fashion designers, manufacturers, retailers, and authorities on textiles employ several other names for these bi-colored and other solid black mud-treated silks. For example, contemporary fashion designer Luiang Zi calls the bi-colored silks Liangchou. Other names for mud-treated silks include Canton silk, gambiered silk, Guangdong silk, lacquered silk, liang silk, Tang silk, and tea silk. The array of names suggests both a variety of southeastern Chinese and Southeast Asian ethnic groups making and using various mud-treated silk fabrics, and the imprecision in translating the names into English. To further confound clarity in researching or discussing these fabrics, codification of particular mud-treated silk textiles and their specific techniques and characteristics remains to be accomplished. Thus, to simplify terminology at this time, I employ the descriptive adjectives gummed (already widely applied) or mud-treated, as noted above) when referring to textiles from this broad category. For the bi-colored mud-treated silks from southeast China, I use jiāo-chou and xiang-yun-shā for plain and crepe weaves, and leno-weave, respectively.