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.


A piece of unusual fabric that is shiny black on one side and red-brown on the other laid unidentified among the Chinese textiles in the University of Rhode Island (URI) Historic Textile and Costume Collection for over half a century. Abby Lillethun’s interest in analyzing mud silks brought this cloth, identified as Xiang-yun-shā, from obscurity to notoriety. Its most obvious feature is the two-colored surfaces created by first dyeing the fabric and then coating one side with black mud as described in the preceding papers by Lillethun and Lin.

The selvage of the URI fabric, seen from the backside in figure 1, has some iron-rich mud along the edge and some stitching holes from a previous use. The geometric leno-weave pattern creates a key design with a little openness in the structure. The scanning electron microscope (SEM) photomicrograph in figure 2 shows some open spaces on either side of the diverted warps of the leno weave that run diagonally across the picture. This backside of the fabric has some mud deposits, but the black front side that is in figure 3 has a heavy coating of mud that covers the yarns completely. The treated fabric does not need to be beaten or calendared; the dried surface of the mud is quite shiny. The textile’s hand is firm and somewhat stiff.

A similarly colored plain-weave fabric makes up a contemporary pair of pants designed with the black side facing out except at the waistband, which has the brown dyed side exposed (pictured in Lillethun article). This newer fabric, which is named Jiāo-chou and could be up to 80 years younger than the URI fabric, has a lighter deposit of mud (Fig. 4), but still has a crisp hand. The mud coating contains carbon, silicon, calcium, iron, and aluminum—not an unusual combination of materials for mud and the same composition as the other coatings analyzed for this report.