Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Presented at Textile Society of America 11th Biennial Symposium: Textiles as Cultural Expressions, September 4-7, 2008, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Copyright © 2008 Abby Lillethun


This one-hour discussion panel will examine bi-colored black and brown silk textiles called chiao-chou and shiang-yin-sa, (a.k.a. black gummed silk, Canton silk, cloud perfumed silk, gambiered silk, and by other names). Little known in the West, these textiles express cultural identities associated with a specific geographic locals where the required mud treatment can take place. Thus, the textiles have primarily been made in southern China in Guangdong province and in Southeast Asia in Thailand and Vietnam where Chinese immigration occurred. Since their heyday during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), they faded from use. The panel first contextualizes the textiles and the culture surrounding them through a brief history and explanation of the dyeing method. Even though common people used them, chiao-chou and shiang-yin-sa demanded a high market value based on the silk fibers and lengthy dye process. Beyond precious monetary value, beliefs imbue the textiles, such as their benefit to health and well-being. The fabric also represents the unified cosmos, bringing together the earth, vegetation, water, and sun in material form. Members of the panel will examine the characteristics of the textiles––such as chemical properties and permeability to light and air––in relation to the senses and to the beliefs inhered in the textiles in the second section. Samples include contemporary and one-hundred-year-old pieces. The reemergence of these textiles comprises the third aspect of the discussion. Here the panel will examine recent marketing invoking the cultural beliefs while simultaneously promoting the silks as ecological and sustainable. The panel will close with discussion of the use of chiao-chou and shiang-yin-sa by fashion designers such as Vivienne Tam in the United States, in the 1990s, and Bonnie Tchien Hy in Paris, currently.