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Object Timeline

1950

  • Work on this object began.

1960

  • Work on this object ended.

2009

2019

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Skirt (China), 1950–60

This is a Skirt. It is dated 1950–60 and we acquired it in 2009. Its medium is hemp and its technique is plain weave patterned with hand drawn starch resist, indigo dyed. It is a part of the Textiles department.

The Miao are one of approximately 60 ethnic minority groups recognized by the Chinese government. The group resides primarily in Guizhou province in southwest China; some have migrated as far as Thailand and Vietnam, where they are known as the Hmong. Historically, they have been a marginalized group, practicing subsistence agriculture in the inhospitable hilltops and moving on when the thin soil is depleted. With no written language, no permanent architecture, and very little expression in other decorative arts, textiles are their most valued possessions and their major living art form.

The Miao have at least 80 different specific regional costumes. These regional subgroups hold festivals during the agricultural low season at which hundreds, or even thousands, of Miao travel long distances to attend. Elaborate costumes and jewelry are worn, particularly by young women, as an expression of group identity and as an indicator of wealth and skill. Although traditional dress is discouraged in communist China, ethnic identity remains strong among the Miao, as are their textile skills, especially in indigo dyeing.

Most, if not all, Miao women and girls know how to produce yarn from hemp or ramie, weave it into cloth, and decorate it. The range of decorative techniques is awe inspiring but always includes indigo dyeing and finishing, and wax-resist dyeing. Indigo is often grown and fermented at home. The pleated, indigo-dyed skirt is an important feature of all of the regional costumes, although they vary in the details of their construction, ornamentation, and length. Typically, the narrow, back-strap woven hemp fabrics are stitched together selvedge to selvedge. The wax resist is applied by hand in intricate geometric patterns using a small quill or tool with a copper head. The fabric is then dyed multiple times in an indigo bath. Various processes are often used to give the indigo a high sheen, which is particularly prized. The process of pleating the skirts varies as well, but usually involves inserting several rows of stitching to draw up the fabric in loose gathers, which are then manually manipulated into sharp pleats. Sometimes the skirts are dried on a barrel-like cylinder or stretched on a vertical frame to pull the pleats into straight columns.

This particular skirt is made from traditional indigo resist-dyed hand-spun yarns. The waistband and upper pleated band are solid blue, while the lower pleated band of the skirt is patterned with five rings of hand-drawn designs, including sawtooth and “Greek key” type patterns. The upper pleated band also has decorative stitches to hold the pleating in place.
This skirt would be the first example of Chinese minority textiles in the museum’s collection. This piece would also supplement the museum’s holdings of Chinese textiles, and expand upon a strong collection of resist-dyed indigo textiles from Japan, Indonesia, Central America, and Africa.

It is credited Museum purchase from General Acquisitions Endowment Fund.

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Its dimensions are

H x W x D (top edge): 86.4 cm (34 in.) H x W x D (bottom edge): 431.8 cm (14 ft. 2 in.) H x W x D (ties): 83.8 cm (33 in.) H x W (waist to hem): 55.9 cm (22 in.)

Cite this object as

Skirt (China), 1950–60; hemp; H x W x D (top edge): 86.4 cm (34 in.) H x W x D (bottom edge): 431.8 cm (14 ft. 2 in.) H x W x D (ties): 83.8 cm (33 in.) H x W (waist to hem): 55.9 cm (22 in.); Museum purchase from General Acquisitions Endowment Fund; 2009-36-3

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<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url=https://www-6.collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18732723/ |title=Skirt (China), 1950–60 |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=18 September 2019 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>