Friday, July 06, 2012

A Crafty Visit to Yunnan, China!


This May Amber and I took a trip back to Kunming, the capital of the Yunnan Province in China. I say "back", because we both lived there for a time in 2004-2005.

Jeff and Georgia with their new Double Happiness Quilt

Our return to Kunming was to visit our cousin, Jeff, and to celebrate his marriage to his love, Georgia. We were so excited to finally meet her, and attend their wedding! Amber and I decided to make them a quilt, complete with a special double happiness block. Double happiness, or shuāngxǐ, is a traditional motif used in weddings. You can see this special block in the lower right corner of the quilt. (There is a tutorial at the end of this post if you'd like to make your own!)

Kunming has a special place in my heart. Amber and I lived there for a year and a half, and really fell in love with the city. It is always a pleasure to wander the markets in Kunming. There is a major farmers market within a short walking distance of almost anywhere in the city, and the variety of foods available is astonishing. Even at restaurants, there is a beautiful display of fresh produce and meats to choose from. Often non-chinese speakers in our group (hi, mom!) could pick out a few dishes just by gazing in wonder at all the beautiful fresh produce. Yunnan is also a special place for tea, especially puer tea. You can see above the bricks and cakes of puer tea. Puer tea is aged, sometimes for decades like a fine wine, and I have heard there is some still aging from the Qing Dynasty.

Yunnan is an amazingly diverse place. It is one of the most biologically and culturally diverse areas in China. There are over 25 distinct ethnic minorities in Yunnan which often have unique language, crafts, and traditions.

Intricately Tie-Dyed Jacket

Handwoven fabric vests embellished with applique & cross-stitch and Jacket embellished with hand-made metal studs

A visit to the museum was a special treat, with traditional handmade garments from so many different cultures, and amazingly familiar fiber tools elegantly crafted.

Clockwise from top right, a gorgeously carved niddy noddy, a rustic yarn swift with a base made of tree roots, a simple but elegant Miao loom, and three copper drop spindles and a copper comb for separating bast fibers.

Shi Zhijie's textile art

We also visited our dear friend Liu LiFen's art gallery, 943 Studio Group. We were immediately enamored with Shi Zhijie, a local textile artist who's work is on display there. Her textile work was breathtaking, from beautifully quilted silk jackets, to a human-sized, freaky rabbit doll made with her own printed fabric.

Some of the local people at the nearby restaurant were taking a break and crafting it up too. This is a gorgeous piece of needlepoint!

We asked around for tips on knitting stores, and the craft craze hasn't hit China quite like it has here. To get our hands on some yarn we had to trek by cab out of the city to a giant wholesale market in Chengong, one of Kunming's suburbs. This place has everything for sale, and is where small shop owners go to get goods to sell to the public. The building itself extends from one freeway exit to the next--more than a mile long! We had to trek for about 30 minutes to get from the entrance to the knitters shops. We saw the piles of neon yarns and knew we had arrived!

There was a lot of polyester to be found, but we finally happened upon some shops selling cashmere, wool and marten yarns. Apparently marten is a pretty common fiber in China! Even this "Coors Light" yarn is made with it!

This adorable shop owner was selling beautiful wool yarns and was happy to show off her project.

As we shopped several women from the nearby stores noticed us and came to chat. We showed off our projects, too, and the ladies all loved our lace shawls. They had never seen anything like the lace knitting we were working on and asked Amber for an impromptu lesson.

We had lots of fun in China and wish we could go back more often. There were too many fun places and people to meet! I may just have to make myself a double happiness quilt to remind me of our fun times, so here is Amber to share her quilt block tutorial.

Double Happiness (Shuāngxǐ) Block Tutorial

Double happiness is literally the Chinese character for joy, but doubled and smooshed together. It is symbolic of happy occasions where two people bring joy to each other, such as weddings and new babies. The double happiness character is traditionally in red, a most joyful color in China, so I chose a bright red print and a lighter neutral for the background.

You won't need much fabric for this little block. You could get several out of a quarter yard, but a few scraps would be perfect!

Cut out the pieces shown in the diagram above. A rotary cutter, clear ruler, and cutting mat are going to be necessary for this tiny piecing. You will need to cut:

Red Fabric
18 of A (7/8" x 1-1/4")
12 of B (7/8" x 2-3/4")
1 of C (7/8" x 5-3/4")

Grey Fabric
16 of D (7/8" x 1-1/4")
5 of E (7/8" x 2-3/4")
2 of F (1-5/8 x 1-1/4")
Be very careful to keep a consistent 1/4" seam allowance. A quilters 1/4" foot is helpful.

Starting at the top of the diagram above, sew each strip across as follows, right sides together and shorter raw edges together. Press your seams after making each strip:

1) 5 strips of D+A+E+A+D

2) 2 strips of B+D+B

3) 4 small strips of A+D+A (shown at the bottom of image 3 below)

4) Now make a tiny block by sewing a B piece to the top and the bottom of each of the smaller strips. Press. Repeat for a total of four little blocks.

5) Take an F piece and sew a small block from step 4 to each of the longer sides of the F. Repeat with your other F and the remaining blocks. Press.

6-11) Use the second schematic diagram above as a guide, sew all your strips together to make your double happiness.

12) To make and 8" block, I cut 1-1/2" strips from my grey fabric and framed in the double happiness symbol.

Ta-da! Now stitch this into something pretty and give it to someone you love. Here's some ideas:

  • With 1/4" of insul-brite and a fabric for the back, make a cute potholder for the wedding of dear friends.
  • Applique onto a changing mat or diaper bag to welcome a new baby.
  • Make a bigger border and turn it into a decorative pillow for an anniversary gift.


Chris B said...

Thanks for the tutorial! This block will be perfect for a friend who's getting married in October.

Anonymous said...

Yay! what an awesome post. I love the video. And thanks for the tutorial!

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Alexis said...

Thank you for this tutorial! I am making a block right now. I think I see a small error in the instructions for part 1 of the sewing -- I think: "1) 5 strips of D+A+E+D+A" should be D+A+E+A+D"

Emily Platzer said...

Hey, Alexis, you are totally right! I am changing it right now.

Sonya Philip said...

So wonderful! I used to live in Hong Kong when I was younger, glad you were able to find a yarn store - that coors light yarn cracks me up!

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