Socks, of the Un-Fancy Variety

I’ve been contemplating Tang Dynasty socks for about a year now, and earlier this summer I finally knocked out a pair that fit me. I did my best to measure my foot in order to get the right size, looking at extant socks from the 8th century (and prior) and Seong Myeong Su’s instructions for Beoseon Socks (Korean).

My first few attempts ended up being too small to wear comfortably, particularly around the bridge of my foot.

Treasure Details - Shosoin - Imperial Household Agency
Pair of socks for Fuefuki (piper) player of Kuregaku (dance and music), No. 75, in the Shosoin Repository. Made of nishiki (colorful patterned weave silk) on purple ground. Lined with white plain weave silk.

The design of the sock is simple enough, with the top seam of the sock cut on the bias, a split at back of the ankle, and a pair of ties to secure the sock on the foot. The Shosoin Repository has two styles of socks – some shorter, and some taller socks presumably intended to be worn with boots. My plan is to wear these with my elevation shoes, since I need a thicker sock to make my boots fit.

I cut my socks out of lightweight linen and used a backstitch to sew the two pieces together, right-sides out. I turned down the top edge and the edges of the ankle split and sewed them with a slip stitch. I trimmed the seams and turned the wrong-side out and ironed the sock before stitching the seam again to enclose it. Since the seam runs down the middle of my foot, I wanted to make sure it was adequately protected from wear.

I made the ties the same way I made the ties for my banbi, only smaller, and attached them the same way as well.

Finished socks with ties.
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Crowing Rooster Pillows

I hesitated when Countess Laurel Gwen, Meridies, put out the call for participants in a medieval effigy project. My concerns about my own participation were related to cultural appropriation – because I’d be not only showcasing the material culture of a culture that I have no personal ties to, and which my own ethnicity/nationality (White American whose ancestors immigrated from Europe before the Revolutionary War) have a history of marginalizing, but also recreating an image of that culture’s burial practices. After some research and reassurance, I decided to go ahead.

Enter the roosters.

The 鸡鸣枕, ji ming zhen, or “crowing rooster pillow” is often seen in Chinese burials from the SCA period. The Yingpan man’s head rests on one, and we have examples of these pillows from the Eastern Han Dynasty through the Tang Dynasty. I had decided to try and stick to the Astana finds in Turpan (link goes to an image of one of the mummies with might be a reconstructed pillow), so I knew I had to make a rooster pillow.

Since this was a side project while I was (and am) prepping for my vigil and elevation, I didn’t dive as deep as I eventually will into this particular item and use in Han Chinese death practices during the Tang Dynasty. I dug around and looked at images and tried to recreate something that looked and functioned like what I saw, using materials and methods I knew to be known and used in that period. (Sadly, this appears to be one of those topics that doesn’t have any good English-language articles/write-ups, which means the research will be slow-going.)

The extant pillows I can find vary in shape, but all have a similar silhouette – two heads, joined pushmi-pullyu style onto one body. Many of the extant pillows have coxcombs and waddles, though some do not. It’s difficult to say if these smaller pieces of silk were absent, or just deteriorated and separated from the main body of the pillow.

 The Ming Pillow of the Eastern Han Dynasty unearthed from the Niya Husband and Wife Tomb in Minfeng County in 1959 (pictures provided by the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Museum)
A pillow from the Eastern Han Dynasty, unearthed from the Niya husband and wife Tomb in Minfeng County in 1959 (picture by the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Museum).
A crowing rooster pillow from the Jin Dynasty (266-420 CE).

I still have some of the 24″ wide brocade I used for my banbi, so I decide to use some of it for my rooster. After sketching out a basic shape, adjusting for stuffing deterioration, I cut out two pieces from the brocade for the sides of the rooster, and a third gusset piece for the bottom, since so many appear to be able to sit flat. This also allows for more stuffing to be put into the pillow.

I sewed the pieces together with a backstitch, and used some green felted wool for the comb, held within the seam. I also made two tassels out of yellow silk embroidery floss and inserted it so that it would hang from the end of the beak, like some of the extants show. After it was sewn up, I turned it right-side out and ironed it. I have what feels like a bottomless bag of Tunis wool that was given to me years ago, which I used to stuff the pillow. Once stuffed, I turned in the edges of the opening and stitched it closed.

After the pillow aspect of the rooster was done, I focused on embellishment. My rooster needed eyes and a waddle. Going off of the Jin Dynasty extant, I used yellow silk and jade beads for the eyes, and yellow silk and green silk for the waddle, which were half circle pieces.

The finished pillow.

This was a fun project, because aside from the green wool (I don’t have really any wool), everything I used was already in my supply/scraps bin – and most of it was scraps. The whole thing came together in only a couple of days, and if I had chosen to start it on a weekend, I probably could have easily finished it in one day.

The finished pillow.

So now I have a crowing rooster pillow, which I’m fully expecting my 2 year-old to try and claim as her own.

She says it is a dragon.

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OMG Shoes

Heads up – this is going to be a picture-heavy post, hence the use of the “read more” cut.

I’ve had my eyes on some Tang Dynasty styled shoes on Taobao for awhile. The distinct rise of the up-turned or raised toe (高头履, gāotou lǚ, literally “tall head shoe”) seen on the shoes worn by Tang Dynasty women in artwork has eluded me and my amateur cobbling attempts. The much more subtle Han Dynasty shoes, exemplified by Emperor Qin’s Terra Cotta Army and Lady Dai’s shoes, were much easier to figure out replicate. I have a box of in-process attempts at the raised toe shoes, using a variety of “how to make it stick up” methods.

With my impending vigil and elevation, though, I didn’t feel that I had time to do justice to the shoe. I’d already put in an order in early March for a pair of canvas boots similar to what we see Tang Dynasty men in round-collared robes (圓領袍, yuánlǐng páo) wearing, but they didn’t arrive until late May, due to the pandemic. Because international and domestic shipping are so significantly delayed, I was afraid if I ordered a pair from China, they may not arrived in time.

Someday, shoes – someday you will be mine.

Shoes from the Taobao listing linked above, in a variety of styles and colors. Those red ones…
Continue reading “OMG Shoes”
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Elevation Bling – Necklaces

I didn’t have an “elevation chest” of fabric or accessories sitting and waiting to be unsealed when I was given my writ. I honestly thought I was still a good 2-3 years out, so I had time. So over the last 4 months, I have been slowly acquiring all the fabric and other bits to make my vigil and elevation outfit.

I’ll be writing more about this process using the Elevation and Vigil categories, so if you want to see all these posts, you can click on that to see them all together in one spot. Yay metadata!

Ahem – anyway. I am basing my elevation outfit the donor portraits from the Dunhuang/Mogao Caves. The Chinese Historical Costume Restoration Team – the group behind the amazing recreations that often float around the internet uncredited, recreated an outfit worn by the ladies in Mogao Cave 9.

The Chinese Historical Costume Restoration Team's recreation of a Dunhuang portrait, likely from Mogao Cave 9.
Recreation of a Dunhuang donor portrait by The Chinese Historical Costume Restoration Team.

As it is with so much of this research, verifying that this very possibly restored image is from Cave 9 is difficult. It could be that it is from Cave 9/Grotto 167, and these black and white images don’t have enough contrast to fully confirm it. (I also suspect that, if this is the case, the image has been reversed.) Donor portraits in these caves were often in lower border panels of larger illustrations, and not often the subject of interest in comparison to the richly detailed murals of Buddhist art. Some of the caves have been digitized, with high resolution images of each wall and corridor, and some with digital walkthroughs. There seem to have been a rash of art exhibits back in 2016, but finding definitive information about this particular painting – likely a copy made from the mural as opposed to actual removed plaster – is difficult.

These ladies are shown wearing multiple necklaces, hair combs, u-shaped hair pins, and 9-10 larger, decorative hair pins.

As I’ve stated before, I’m not a jeweler or a metalworker, so I reached out to friends who are and asked for help in recreating the fancier bits that these ladies are wearing, while I took on the necklaces.

Late Tang women with prominent golden hairpins
A closer view at the jewelry and hair accessories from the Chinese Historical Costume Restoration Team’s project.

The innermost necklace is most likely rock crystal, or clear quartz, similar to Lady Mi’s necklace. The second necklace is most likely jade, which is a well documented material for personal adornment throughout Chinese history. The third necklace could be carnelian or coral, as both highly valued red stones used for adornment during the Tang Dynasty.

The majority of the beads are round, but the red necklace alternates between round beads and some sort of oblong shape. I interpreted these as teardrops, in part because we see teardrop shaped pendants on Khotanese ladies in Dunhuang Caves. After making these, a necklace from the Unified Silla period (Korea) in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s collection was shared on the SCA Korea (Unofficial) Facebook group.

The Unified Silla period, which spanned 676-935 C.E. is contemporaneous with the Tang Dynasty. Official ties between the two states weren’t reestablished after the Silla-Tang War (668–676) until the 8th century, but it’s not unreasonable to conjecture that fashion trends shared similarites – especially when the make-up of this necklace is not unlike Lady Mi’s rock crystal necklace. The comma-shaped jade in the Korean necklace are known as gokok (곡옥) in Korean and as magatama (勾玉) in Japanese, and suggest that this style of bead came to Korea from Japan, as they date from as far back as 1000 BCE there. There is a chance that the red beads in the Dunhuang necklace are comma-shaped as opposed to teardrops, but given the other Dunhuang images we have to go off of, I think it is the less likely option.

I still had some 6mm clear quartz remaining from my recreation of Lady Mi’s necklace, so I used that as my basis in terms of size for the other two pieces. The jade and red necklaces appear progressively larger than the quartz, so I chose 8mm and 10mm beads, respectively. I was able to source jade beads in the same milky green tone. For the red, I ended up getting “mountain jade,” which is dyed dolomite – actual carnelian, coral, or jadeite was not cost effective. I was also able to find mountain jade pieces that were teardrop shaped, in order to mirror the pattern in the images.

It was difficult to find red mountain jade beads in a teardop shape. If I were to make this again, I’d try to source a larger teardrop bead for the red necklace, to give more visual contrast between the two shapes. The ones I purchased were 8×12 mm.

For closures, I chose to make S-shaped hooks. I put two rings at the center of the red necklace to allow for my laurel medallion to be attached (it has S-hooks). This type of closure was known in China, as shown by the S-hook clasps of the bracelets and necklace found in Li Jingxun’s Sui Dynasty tomb. Li Jingxun’s burial jewelry was most likely imported from the west, since the techniques for working with gold did not fully develop until the Tang Dynasty, thanks to the influence of other cultures connected by the Silk Road.

I used my dress form to work out the proper length of each necklace so that they would each lay correctly.

These necklaces were the first thing I finished in preparation for my elevation – it was an easy project to knock out, once I had sourced what beads I didn’t already have on hand. I’m happy with how they turned out, and I’m excited to see what they will look like once the medallion is attached to the red necklace.

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The Rock Crystal Necklace of Lady Mi – A Maker’s Diary

This post is a result of my cursory research of Lady Mi’s rock crystal necklace, exhibited by the National Museum of China in 2019, and my attempts to recreate it. I don’t plan on ever entering this necklace in competition, but I wanted to share this process as it shines light on how one can recreate something that looks period without using 100% period techniques or materials – and, mainly, on a budget. I’ll link to all the items I purchased for this project, as well as the sources used. Special thanks to Minamoto no Hideaki for helping translate.

Lady Mi’s rock crystal necklace, on display at the National Museum of China in their Datang Fenghua Exhibition (大唐风华特展, January 2019). Click to enlarge.

Lady Mi, consort of the Fujun official (辅君夫人米氏, 685 AD-755 AD) was buried in what would become the suburbs of X’ian, Shaanix Province. Her tomb was discovered in 2002. She was buried wearing a rock crystal necklace with amethyst and turquoise drops and three blue beads, all strung on silk. The silk had degraded, and archeologists had to search for the beads that had scattered around her neck.

They found 92 crystal beads, 2 amethysts, 2 turquoise, and 3 blue beads. The amethyst and turquoise were set with gold bails.

Continue reading “The Rock Crystal Necklace of Lady Mi – A Maker’s Diary”
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Updating Files and Plans

I’ve added two new files to the Documentation page on the site – my handout on Tang Dynasty Games (taught at Magna Faire 2019) and my documentation on the banbi I entered at Magna Faire, Menhir, and Midwinter A&S.

I’ve got plans to revise the banbi documentation for publication over on the Tang Dynasty Garment Construction section, so you have a more easily accessible “how to” on this garment.

In My Sewing Bag: Socks! At Meridian Grand Tournament, I cut out and stitched my first stab at a Tang Dynasty sock, but it was too tight across the bridge. So at Menhir, I recut with a bit more room there and am currently seaming them up for another try-on.

Painted silk socks from the Astana Cemetery (Tang Dynasty).
Painted silk socks from Astana, in Zaho, F. (2012). Silks in the Sui, Tang, and Five Dynasties. In D. Kuhn, (Ed.), Chinese Silks (pp. 203-257). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
p. 246.

There is an extant pair of Tang Dynasty socks from the Astana Cemetery, and we have a bunch of socks that date to the 8th century in the Shōsōin Treasure House. I’ve pinned a bunch, and I’m working on separating out my currently very disorganized Tang Dynasty Pinterest board into sections – with the socks being the first go-round.

And before you eyebrow at me, no, this is not my “check it off the list” post for February. I’m working on two – how to cite museum objects and do’s and don’ts for contacting libraries/museums/academics with questions.

Bye for now! <3

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A Tale of Two (Linen) Skirts

Two linen skirts, both comparable in dignity.

I have two Tang Dynasty skirts made of linen. One is pretty pastel pink-and-purple. The other is kick-you-in-the-face orange.

The pink skirt is a split skirt, meaning that it is two panels pleated to bands with ties that are seamed at the sides, with a gap at the top so that it can be wrapped around the wearer’s waist and tied.

My pink skirt, looking kind of orange and in need of an ironing before I wear it again.

The orange skirt is a single-panel wrap skirt. It’s still a panel pleated to a band, but it is one long panel – long enough to wrap around the wearer 1.5 times, with ties at each end. It’s worn very similarly to a modern wrap skirt.

So. Much. Orange.

Here’s a (cued) video showing how to wear both kinds of skirt. (I can’t speak to the two-toned tie method’s period accuracy, since I haven’t seen ties in paintings that look like they are two colors, but it sure looks cool!)

Before I launch into the specifics regarding these two styles of skirt when they are made of linen, let’s talk about wrap and split skirts during the Tang Dynasty. The extant skirt we have from the Song Dynasty 1 and the doll-sized skirts from the Tang Dynasty 2 all appear to be of the single-panel wrap variety; however, we have some pictorial evidence of split skirts.

Detail of A Palace Concert, potentially showing evidence for the two-panel style skirt 3

Two ladies on the right side of the table in A Palace Concert appear to have split skirts, perhaps with a secondary skirt worn beneath. The lower lady, wearing a pale pink printed shirt and a pale skirt with a green tie. Deciphering what we are seeing here is a little rough, not only due to the degradation of the painting. It is possible that the split in the paler fabric of the skirt is instead the hanging piece of the lady’s skirt tie, but given the position at her underarm and the way the skirt folds move around it makes me question that theory.

Like the lady below her, the flute-player’s pale skirt is divided at the side to reveal a triangle of red fabric with some sort of design. She is also wearing a red pibo, but the shawl clearly flows down her back and across her chest as opposed to under her arm. Even if it was tucked inside her skirt’s waistband, which we occasionally see in other images, the fact that we can see it would still stand as evidence of a two-panel skirt.

In addition to A Palace Concert, ladies on the north wall of Mogao Cave 107 are wearing two skirts, the top-most of which has a very deep split.


Detail of mural on the north wall of Cave 107, showing split-style skirts, as well as skirts with horizontal stripes.4

So to the question of which is more period, there might be a distinction to be made between the two styles of skirts based on region or a narrower time period, given the fluctuation of fashion during the Tang Dynasty, but I haven’t yet dug that far to find/make that distinction. Cave 107 is dated to late Tang (827-859), while the A Palace Concert is anonymous, making it more difficult to date.

I (usually) wear linen skirts at events where I am chasing small children, because small children don’t understand that sticky applesauce or banana hands on Mama’s silk is a bad idea. But I learned something about linen skirts when I wore the orange one at Known World Costume and Fiber Arts in Georgia this summer – single panel wrap linen skirts with linen ties do not want to stay up.

This is possibly and very likely due to the weight of the linen and the way the linen-on-linen ties act. Silk is stronger, and has a bit of tooth compared to linen that helps it grip. My very first Tang Dynasty skirt had bias cut silk ribbon ties, but they weren’t heavy enough and were too slick to do the job, so my subsequent skirts had either poly-satin ribbon ties (which is fine in a pinch) or ties I made myself out of fabric tubes or folded and stitched silk.

The pink, two-panel split skirt has never slipped the same way that the orange one did. I think it’s because the weight of the skirt is split between two sets of ties. Also – in my experience, if you want to embrace the cleavage-y aspect of Tang Dynasty clothing, go with silk. My linen skirts do better if they sit at the top of your chest, so that your breasts can help support the fabric, as opposed to across the middle.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, tree and outdoor
Me, wearing the red silk skirt with the Sartor silk band that Mistress Una made for me.

The width of the ties make a difference too. I’ve noticed that my big band skirt that my Laurel, Mistress Una, made for me, tends to sag a bit at the sides. I think that if I replace the poly-satin ribbon ties with wider, silk ties (at least as wide as the band itself), I can fix this issue. As it is, the narrower ties are secured at the top of the band, meaning that the bottom of the band sags.

If you compare the photo above to the photo below, where I am wearing a skirt with a thinner waistband, the silk ties are in better proportion to the waistband, and do a much better job at… well, their job. (These are both two-panel skirts, by the way).

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing, stripes, child and outdoor
Me in my stripey split panel silk skirt.

The next few events on my docket are sans children, so I think I’ll tackle the Sartor skirt first in terms of fixing stuff. Then I can figure out how to best turn a the orange wrap skirt into a split skirt, so that I can wear it around a toddler without fear of malfunction.

  1.  Zhou, X.; Gao, C. (1987). 5000 years of Chinese costumes. Hong Kong: The Commercial Press. p. 123.
  2. Chen, B. Y. (2013). Dressing for the times: Fashion in Tang Dynasty China (618-907). (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Academic Commons. (doi: 10.7916/D8KK9B6D). p. 92.
  3. “唐人宮樂圖 (A Palace Concert).” (618-907). National Palace Museum. Retreived from https://theme.npm.edu.tw/selection/Article.aspx?sNo=04000957&lang=2.
  4. “Mogao Grottoes Cave 107.” Digital Dunhuang. Retrieved from: https://www.e-dunhuang.com/cave/10.0001/0001.0001.0107.
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Child’s sock, from Musée Guimet

museeguimet:

Chaussette (ou sous-chaussure ?) d’enfant

dynastie Tang (618-90
damas, sergé, soie
Chine

© Musée Guimet, Paris, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Benjamin Soligny / Raphaël Chipault

Section Textile du musée Guimet

So apparently the Musée Guimet’s tumblr is now defunct. This post is originally from December 29, 2013. This is me testing this to see if I can cite the reblog… Because you always cite your stuff. <3

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The Late Spring (暮春即事) by Yu Xuanji (魚玄機)

深巷窮門少侶儔,
阮郎唯有夢中留。
香飄羅綺誰家席?
風送歌聲何處樓?
街近鼓鼙喧曉睡,
庭閑鵲語亂春愁。
安能追逐人間事,
萬里身同不繫舟。

阮郎唯有夢中留。
香飄羅綺誰家席?
風送歌聲何處樓?
街近鼓鼙喧曉睡,
庭閑鵲語亂春愁。
安能追逐人間事,
萬里身同不繫舟。

Lovers seldom come to this deep alley,
Their spirits have to linger on in dreams.

Whose fragrance of damask is this?
From which tower does this breeze blow the song?

Sounds of drums in the street,
Disturb my morning sleep.
Magpies chirping in the courtyard,
Confuse my spring sorrows.

How can I care
For things of this world?
Ten thousand miles, my life,
Like a boat unmoored.

The Late Spring (暮春即事) by Yu Xuanji (魚玄機). Tang dynasty.

Concubine, nun, and courtesan Yu Xuanji was a Chinese poet of the Tang dynasty distinguished for her direct, autobiographical poetic style. Yu lived a short life abounding with scandal and strife; she had an affair with renowned lyricist Wen Tingyun (温庭筠), lived promiscuously, and allegedly beat her maid to death, for which she was executed. Stories of Yu’s sexual adventures have lead some to credit her as the first well-known openly bisexual woman in China.

Yu’s work was published in a collection entitled Fragments of a Northern Dreamland, which has since been lost. The forty-nine surviving poems were published in a “freak anthology” in the Song dynasty alongside poems attributed to foreigners and ghosts. Yu’s vivid and deeply emotional poetry is reminiscent of the post-Romantic cult of personal expression popular in western poetry.

(via sinethetamagazine)

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Today in History – The Death Of Empress Wu

todayinhistory:

December 16th 705: Empress Wu Zetian dies

On
this day in 705, Wu Zetian, the only sovereign empress of China, died
aged 81. Born during the Tang dynasty, she entered the court of Emperor
Taizong as a concubine when she was 14 years old. After Taizong’s death,
the new emperor Gaozong defied custom and chose the well-educated Wu to
remain as his favourite concubine. She rose to become Gaozong’s empress
in 655, after eliminating the current empress by allegedly killing her
own child and framing the empress. The new empress quickly silenced the
elder statesmen who opposed her position on the grounds that she did not
hail from the established aristocracy, with critics exiled and, often,
executed. Emperor Gaozong was a sickly man, and frequently entrusted
affairs of state to Wu, who managed imperial business essentially
single-handedly. Wu was a capable leader, known for her sound
management, her decisiveness, and her ruthlessness; these attributes won
her the respect, and fear, of the Chinese imperial court. Her greatest
accomplishments included agricultural and education reform,
stabilisation of the imperial bureaucracy, and imperial expansion. Upon
Gaozong’s death in 683, his son by Wu ascended to the throne, but,
concerned by the machinations of his ambitious wife, Wu had him exiled
and installed her other son as emperor. In 690, when she was 65 years
old, the empress claimed the throne for herself, and ruled as a
sovereign empress for 15 years. The question of succession led Wu to
designate her exiled son as heir, rather than choosing a member of her
own family, thus ensuring the continuation of the Tang dynasty. In 705,
senior officials conspired to compel the aging Wu to yield power to her
son. She accepted their demands and retired from the throne, dying in
December of that year. Despite decades of condemnation as a vicious
usurper, the achievements of Empress Wu Zetian, who defied the gender
conventions of her day, are increasingly being acknowledged.

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