Located at the coastal area in East Zhejiang Province, close to Hangzhou Bay, Yuyao was once one of the key cotton-producing areas in China. In the Agricultural Treatise which was written by Xu Guangqi during the Ming Dynasty, it was said that the cottons from Zhejiang Province were produced in Yuyao. During the period of the Republic of China, the cottons from Zhejiang were also called Yao Hua, which means that cotton is regarded as one of the symbols of Yuyao. The Yuyao native cloth has begun using the cottons as its main raw material ever since Southern Song Dynasty. It is well-known throughout the country because of its long history, meticulous craft, various shapes and colours, beauty and utility, and various applications.
Yuyao belonged to Kuaiji of Yue Nation, now known as Shaoxing. Therefore, the native cloth is also called Yue Cloth. Before the Southern Song Dynasty, the raw materials of Yuyao native cloth were cimicifuga and pueraria. In the famous text by Hou Hanshu, it was written that Yuyao native cloth was once the tribute during the Eastern Han Dynasty. After the Song Dynasty, cottons were commonly cultivated in Yuyao. The output of native cloth in 1146 was 77,000 pieces. In the Yuan Dynasty, there were four National Supervisors organising the production of Kabob – a fine, fibrous cottonlike substance that grows around the seeds of the ceiba tree. Among them, one of the supervisors was stationed in Yuyao. It is said, the tradition of native cloth has been historically significant among all walks of life in Yuyao. Every family was busy with spinning and weaving in the north village of Yuyao before reform and opening-up. Later, the handiwork of native cloth was replaced by modern cotton-spinning enterprises. In the meantime, the traditional workshops were gradually wasted away. Currently, there are few craft workshops undertaking native cloth producing. Wang Guifeng Native Cloth Family Operation is the only workshop that has been passed on to next generations but it is in imminent danger.
In the old days, the country girls in Yuyao had to learn weaving. The skill is an important criterion measuring whether she is clever in mind and skillful in hand or not. Yuyao native cloth has numerous styles and varieties. The traditional producing technology is very complicated. There are over 10 steps which includes the proceeding of separating cottons, spinning, cotton mixing, dyeing, sizing, etc. More than 50 working procedures are required and over 20 tools are needed.
The proceeding of making Yuyao native cloth is a living testimony of Ningbo’s traditional textile culture. The traditional weaving craft, with the folk customs such as asking for Cloth God, has high research values in studying folk culture, farming culture and commercial culture in the southern areas.
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