Chinese Knotting
Qiu yan
Shanghai
Classic
Fabric Decoration

Hand-made knotted buttons feature on Qipao, Mandarin jackets and many other Chinese costumes and this iconic feature became popular all over China. This traditional clothing decoration has seen a resurgence of popularity in recent years. Red, blue, black, devised in myriad shapes, this knot assumes many forms to match the creator's mood, the style of the clothing or the fancy of the owner.

Qiuyan's inspiration comes from daily life, combined withcalligraphy elements, as well as eastern and western characteristics. She also gets ideas from her extensive qipao collection, dating back over 100 years.  The frog or the button knot (pan kou in Chinese) is a very ancient kind of Chinese knot. In olden times a simple strap was used to tie clothes together, but after the Yuan Ming dynasty, gradually people began to use these ties to create decorative knots and patterns that assumed good meanings. The pan kou was born.

The button is started by folding and sewing thin strips of woven fabric. It is a very different technique from the modern button made from a hard material such as plastic or shell which is then threaded through a hole in the fabric. The pan kou strips, if made of fine silk, will need to have a core of cotton. The decorative folded parts of the pan kou may also have a wire or metal core to facilitate decorative shaping. Qiuyan brought in some of her old qipao for us to examine. "The influential Chinese writer Eileen Chang said that in the details you may find the most fun, and the most fascinating beauty. The exquisitely detailed pan kou on a qipao add this essential finishing touch," Qiuyan commented. "Back then, the rich families would often use knots based on the specific patterns in the fabric. Knots may be very basic, but the most complex designs imitate musical instruments, chrysanthemum flowers, fish, animals, good-luck and long-life characters while some of the knots are symmetrical, and some are not. But simple or complicated, both sides must flow together without interruption."

Looking at her desk and some of her more complex design drafts, I can only imagine the gluing, ironing, styling, plugging of cotton, trimming, shaping and so on that is involved.  As she weaves the pan kou around her fingers, Qiuyan is fulfilling not only her life's dreams, but also her deep commitment to her heritage responsibilities.

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