Song Brocade of Suzhou
Song Brocade refers to the brocade developed since the Song Dynasty. With Suzhou as its major production area, it is thus called Song Brocade of Suzhou. As an ancient city of silk famous in China, Suzhou has been recognized as the land of brocade and satins. Song Brocade of Suzhou is characterized by bright color, exquisite pattern, and solid but soft texture. Song Brocade of Suzhou, Yun (cloud-pattern) Brocade of Nanjing, and Shu Brocade of Sichuan have been acknowledged as three types of celebrated brocade in China.
The history of Song Brocade of Suzhou can be traced back to the Spring and Autumn Period. At that time, a large amount of brocade was already used by aristocrats from the Kingdom of Wu which was located to the south of the Yangtze River. Having been developed for dynasties, brocade techniques were enhanced in an overall way in the Northern Song Dynasty. During the Tang and Song Dynasties, Suzhou became the center for silk production in China. In the Southern Song Dynasty, workshops were set up in Suzhou. Out of the synchronous Suzhou brocade, a new variety was developed, which boasted delicate texture and unique techniques. Not only was it used for making clothes like robes and gowns, but it was also substantially used in mounting scrolled paintings and calligraphic works. Hence Song Brocade has been passed down up to now.
Song Brocade produced in Suzhou is exquisite in craftsmanship and elegant in artistic style. Of traditional styles and features since the Song Dynasty, it is quite different from the dazzling gold-wefted brocade and figured satins which were popular in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. The production of traditional Song Brocade entails numerous procedures. Usually there are over twenty procedures from filature and dyeing to the completion. Here are some basic features of the product. On the one hand, patterns are woven in a structure of warps interspersed with wefts. On the other hand, multicolored shuttles are cast in different combinations as to change the colors of the pattern. Such unique techniques give birth to brocade with multilayered and multicolored threads. In terms of the artistic style, Song Brocade embraces variable geometric figures as the overall framework. Inside the framework, there are patterns like natural flowers, ornamental scepters and clouds (the latter two indicate good fortune). Moreover, different colors that jointly characterize a piece of brocade coexist in harmony and contrast. In this way, the brocade is beautiful yet not vulgar, simple yet elegant.
Song Brocade can be categorized according to the structure, craftsmanship, quality of the materials, thickness of the brocade and the utility. Generally there are four categories of Song Brocade, namely, Double Brocade, Fine Brocade, Box Brocade (used mainly to decorate small boxes), and Small Brocade (used mainly to decorate small craftworks). Double Brocade and Fine Brocade can be grouped under Big Brocade. Therefore, Song Brocade can also be divided into Big Brocade (gorgeous and used mainly to decorate valuable objects), Box Brocade and Small Brocade, each featured by a specific style and utility.
Featured by colored wefts, Song Brocade belongs to wefted brocade (Shu Brocade is warped brocade). It is woven by organizing slanting silk threads in a cycle of two warps (with white raw silk as the superficial warp and colored boiled-off silk as the underlying warp) and three wefts (one colored weft specific to the grain, one to the background, and the other to both). Song Brocade is characterized by complex patterns, simple combination of colors, as well as solid yet soft texture. It is also flat, stiff and smooth. It is woven by using multicolored wefts alternately in separate parts, thus making the surface of Song Brocade more colorful and enlarging the cycle for the colors of the patterns. Hence Song Brocade is distinguished from Figured Brocade and Shu Brocade. Patterns of Song Brocade boast fixed styles. Usually with varied colors combined in an elegant and harmonious manner, there are flower branches inside geometric frames like checked caisson ceiling. Here are some major patterns in Song Brocade, including an octagon with geometric lines surrounding the central flowers, fish playing in algae, and peonies.