Koreana AUTUMN 1995 Vol.9 No.3
Feature
Clothes, Ornaments and Artisans Who Make Them
Kim Yoo-kyung
Editorial Board Member
Kyunghyang Shinmun
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Throughout their long history, the Korean people have created and worn clothes to fit their physical and cultural characteristics. Their traditional costumes clearly reflect the Korean national character, the traditional love of bright, clean lines, and the climatic conditions of the Korean Peninsula.
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The traditional costume most familiar to us today is the hanbok. Its colors, lines and silhouette have changed with Korean society. Today Korean clothing conforms to modern tastes and yet remains firmly rooted in tradition.
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In this article, journalist Kim Yoo-kyung examines the development of Korea's unique sartorial tradition and how traditional fabrics and costumes are begin made and worn today. She introduces us to artisans dedicated to the spinning and weaving of muslin, ramie and hemp cloth, to traditional indigo dying techniques, as well as the sewing of women's costumes and the manufacture of changdo, miniature knives used by aristocratic men and women in days gone by.
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Women of the Choson Kingdom were ingenious when it came to enhancing the beauty of their clothing, hair and general appearance. Among their many ornaments were pinyo, stick-like hairpins often decorated with dragon heads or jade flowers, bright taenggi hair ribbons, and rings made of amber, agate or jade.
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Perhaps most varied are the norigae pendants hung from the ribbons of jackets or the breast bands of skirts. The pendants usually consisted of decorative knots known as maedup, colorful tassels and tiny objects, such as glass bottles, symbolic animals and flowers or ornamental daggers. Originally used to protect a woman's chastity, these tiny knives became another form of personal adornment.
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No traditional costume would be complete without poson, white "boot-socks" padded with cotton for warmth and comfort, and kkot-shin, intricately embroidered leather shoes, Kim Yoo-kyung consider these time-honored accouterments along with the top'o robes, symbols of traditional male dignity still worn by men from the conservative clans of the Andong region. We hope her observations help our readers understand the beauty and wisdom of Korea's traditional costumes.
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Ch'one
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Ch'ungmu, on the southern coast of Kyongsangnam-do Province, has long been famous for its quilting, and nowhere is the beauty of this tradition more evident than the Ch'ungmu quilted baby carrier, or ch'one. The baby carrier, a coverlet for carrying a baby on one's back, is unique for the brilliant contrast between the finely quilted black background and bright pink or red details.
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First, the outer covers, one black and one red or pink, are sewn together, then a layer of cotton wadding is applied and carefully quilted in tiny stitches. The baby carrier is embroidered with fortuitous peony or bat motifs, and a bright border of pink or red is applied along the edges. At the top of the baby carrier, which is folded over to support the infant's head, a strip of white quilted fabric is applied, much like the crisp white collar on a traditional hanbok.
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While this might seem sufficiently flamboyant for a baby carrier, the Ch'ungmu chone goes one step further: at the center of the back, just below the baby's head, an ornamental rear apron, or husu is attached. The husu is a rectangular piece of red quilted fabric covered with intricate embroidery depicting the ten longevity symbols called shipchangsaeng. The edges of the rectangle are finished in fine embroidery and the corners are decorated with tassels of bright thread, often in the five basic colors representing the elements forming all cosmic matter. The husu is only used on special occasions-for example, a baby's first outing, first birthday or other important events.
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A child being carried in a Ch'ungmu ch'one is like a beautiful flower. Once I saw a woman carrying her child in a ch'one as she waited for her husband's flight to arrive at the international airport in Seoul. She caught the attention of the entire waiting room with the beauty of her baby carrier. It was truly a lovely sight reflecting her devotion to her child and husband. The woman told me that people would often came up to compliment her when she used the baby carrier. Indeed, having a Ch'ungmu ch'one to carry one's baby was once the dream of all Korean mothers.
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"In the old days, grandmothers always dreamed of having one of these baby carriers for their grandchild. It didn't matter how poor your family was," the mother went on to explain. "If you carried your baby in a Ch'ungmu ch'one, you were given respect. Even the babies sense how good they look in one of these carriers."
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You do not see many children carried in ch'one these days, however, and most young women don't appreciate the value of a Ch'ungmu ch'one. Still, people who remember the good old days know how warm and beautiful they are. Many remember how they longed for one but had to wait until they had the financial means to make or buy one, even after their child had grown.
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"I keep it carefully folded in the wardrobe. Every once in a while I take it out and unfold it. It makes me feel good just to look at it," said one woman. Clearly the ch'one represent a standard of beauty that goes far beyond the practical use of the baby carriers.
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In the olden days, women made their baby carriers by hand at home, but today the tradition is being carried on by one woman, Yi Chong-nyon, a former embroidery teacher who runs a quilt shop in downtown Ch'ungmu. The ch'one require such careful stitching, she only makes one or two a year. In fact, she has only made about two dozen in her career.
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Ornamental Knives
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Hardly threatening, changdo, the small ornamental knives generally worn as pendants by upper-class women during the Choson period (1392-1910), are in fact tiny treasures, miniature works of art Still, it makes one wonder: Where else in the world do ordinary women carry knives as fashion accessories?
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Of course, there is more to fashion than appearances. Choson women chose to carry knives, a universal symbol that transcends sex, for a reason. Chastity was of the utmost importance to women during that era and, although the carefully crafted knives were hardly savage weapons, their beauty did not detract from their effectiveness.
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In modern society, the changdo is little more than a fashion accessory, but it was once a powerful symbol of traditional values and the Confucian spirit, with a history of several thousand years. While the ch'ilchido (seven branched) knife manufactured by Paekche craftsmen in AD. 369 is beautiful and mysterious, ornamental knives from fifth-sixth century Kaya and intricate gold daggers and sheaths found on ceremonial belts in Shilla tombs dating to the seventh and eighth centuries represent the epitome in decorative knives. The Kaya knife consists of two large knives with four smaller knives, each measuring 15 centimeters across and 20 centimeters in length, attached to the sheath. This knife may well be the archetype for the Choson changdo.
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Changdo attached to gold ceremonial belts from a somewhat later period of Shilla appear to have been used for decoration, much like the jade commas and gold fish so often found on such belts.
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Pak Yong-gi, designated a "human cultural asset" in the field of changdo-making, lives in Kwangyang, Chollanamdo Province, part of the territory of the Paekche Kingdom. Through his dedication and expertise, he seems to be carrying on the Paekche changdo tradition Kwangyang has long been famous for its iron and gold as well as its many blacksmiths skilled in the smelting of these metals, so it is hardly a coincidence that Kwangyang Iron and Steel Mill is located here. Pak makes some 500 different kinds of changdo, using a variety of precious metals, such as gold and silver, as well as jade, mother-of-pearl and horn, to decorate their sheaths.
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Pak began to learn his craft at the age of 17. The most important thing when making a changdo is being certain that the blade is perfectly tempered. Too hard and it will break; too soft and it will bend. It takes a carefully trained craftsman with extensive experience to make such perfect knives.
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Pak's knives are strengthened by his careful tempering of the steel. He hones the blade with meticulous skill, making certain it is perfectly straight and unmarked Changdo blades vary from 5 centimeters to 30 centimeters in length. Determining the correct proportions for the blade and handle is one of the craftsman's most important tasks. And fitting the sheath to the knife with such precision that only a single sheet of paper fits between them is another measure of the craftsman's skill.
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"It's all a matter of experience. It can't be learned any other way. You have to watch the Steel as it heats in the fire, and at just the right moment you plunge it into a vat of water mixed with yellow mud. It also takes more than 200 different tools to make a single knife," Pak explains as he grasps the blade with four fingers and skillfully presses the decoration on the sheaf with his thumb.
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In the Koryo period, government officials carried two small daggers with their calligraphy brush. The changdo thus came to be associated with artistic and literary pursuits, and women began to wear them as chest pendants reflecting their social stature and breeding.
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Flower Shoes
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There is nothing so lovely as an elaborately embroidered kkotshin, literally a "flower shoe," peeking out from the flowing skirt of a hanbok. In traditional society, young girls waited breathlessly for their fathers to return from the market, hoping they would bring a pair of kkotshin, boat-like lealher shoes embroidered with floral designs, a far cry from the straw shoes most people wore. Even today kkotshin conjure up images of joyful holidays and young brides dressed in colorful bridal outfits.
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The kkotshin tradition is carried on by a family in Seoul. The family has dedicated itself to the craft for five generations. The late Hwang Han-gap, of the third generation, made several pairs of these shoes for King Kojong of the Choson Dynasty to wear during royal ancestral rites. Hwang's son and grandsons have carried on the tradition ever since.
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Rubber shoes were introduced in the 1920s, but before they became popular, leather shoes were the preferred footwear. The late Hwang said that in the old days he was so busy at the end of the year, before the New Years celebration, that he often had no time to sleep. Photographs from the final days of Choson show peddlers seated behind scores of leather shoes piled high on straw mats in the market. And beside these peddlers sit boys, shod in straw shoes, selling what look like sashes and hair ties.
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After the 1930s, as rubber shoes became popular, the kkotshin craftsmen had little work. It wasn't until Koreans developed a renewed taste for the traditional that Hwang Hae-bong, of the fifth generation of the Hwang shoemakers, took up the business again. He learned the skill in his twenties, following in the footsteps of his grandfather who had been designated a "human cultural asset" in this field Today he completes several dozens of pairs each month.
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"The kkotshin's charm lies in its graceful lines and the way it turns up at the toe. There is no right or left foot at first, but the shoes mold to the feet after some wear. The process is quite long and involved. It takes seventy-four steps to complete one shoe. There's the embroidery, the preparation of the glue and the lining. And then there's getting all the materials together. I still have some wild boar bristles my grandfather left behind for needles. I've tried very hard to find more, but I haven't been able to find any."
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Kkotshin are usually decorated with embroidered plum blossoms, peonies or the ten longevity symbols. The sole is made of cow leather. The quality of the shoe is determined by its stitching. The threads are left unknotted on the inside of the toes and heel so that the wearer can adjust the stitching as necessary.
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Hwang notes one important change in modern times: people's feet have gotten larger. Visit any museum and you will see tiny leather, bronze and silk shoes worn by Princess Tokhye and other well-heeled personages of the Choson Kingdom.
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References to kkotshin are found in historical records from the Choson period. One tells the sad tale of Queen Shin, the wife of King Yonsan-gun (r.1494-1506). The queen was a kind woman, unlike her brutal husband, but she was deposed and forced from the palace when Yonsan-gun's half-brother took over the throne in 1506. Her embroidered shoes kept slipping off as she left the palace at the crack of dawn, so she finally ripped the silk coverings off and used them to tie the shoes to her feet.
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Kkotshin played a role in another woman's tragic story centuries later when President Park Chung-hee's wife was assassinated in 1974. The First Lady had some silk shoes made for her mother, but her mother said she wanted her daughter to be dressed in the finest attire when she was sent to the next world, thus the First Lady was buried in her mother's silk shoes.
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Padded Socks
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The crisp white line of a padded sock, or poson, is essential to the overall effect of the traditional costume hanbok. It hardly shows, but the poson has been memorialized in many a poem, song and dance. Indeed, the poson is its most charming and effective when seen on a carefully upturned ankle in the shamanistic salp'uri dance or the stately Buddhist nun's dance.
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Poson are an important part of everyday life as well. They add to the beauty of the hanbok, and the quality of their stitching reflects on the class background of their wearer.
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The paper pattern used to make a well-fitting poson was an essential feature of every woman's trousseau in traditional society. In fact, the well-bred woman's trousseau included a special doth bag to hold her poson pattern, and careful attention was taken to make the pattern itself as pretty as possible. The paper patterns of court ladies, known for their elegance, became models for all paper patterns. The Bridal Poson Shop of Seoul's Ch'ongjin-dong has a collection of some 20 different poson patterns obtained from women of the Choson court.
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Poson are made of four layers of white cotton fabric between which thin layers of cotton wadding are quilted. Each time the poson are washed, the wadding must be removed and requited. The sewing and washing of poson were perpetual tasks for all Korean women just a generation ago. Children's poson were often adorned with embroidery along the instep or tassels at the toe. The poson of women from respectable families were expected to fit perfectly and often took as much effort to put on as the old Western-style corsets. However, if a poson was not carefully made, people often joked that it looked like it was made in the shape of a broom. An old story from the Choson period tells of how the king laughed at the respected Neo-Confucian scholar Yi Hwang (1501-1570) because his poson were shaped like brooms.
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With the growing popularity of Western-style clothing over the last several decades, poson have fallen out of favor. Gone are the days when a young bride had dozens of pairs made for her trousseau. Shops specializing in poson-making all closed by the end of the 198Os, and most of the factories manufacturing the rubber shoes worn with poson closed in the 199Os. Poson-making has become a minor cottage industry, and the many stores of the old poson shops are a thing of the past. Still poson live on because connoisseurs of traditional fashion recognize the importance and charm of the quilted socks.
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Karakchi
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Like changdo, karakchi rings were more than simple decorations-they often symbolized self-defense to the traditional Korean woman. At first glance, they appear to be simply beautiful feminine adornments, but in the past they sometimes proved to be lethal.
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Karakchi always come in pairs. One is worn on each hand, and when the two hands are clasped, the rings lock together. Paradoxically, these rings are always worn with the most elaborate attire.
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The most dramatic example of their power was an incident during the Japanese invasion of Korea in the late sixteenth century. Non-gae, a renowned kisaeng (female entertainer) in the town of Chinju on the southern coast, used her karakchi to kill a Japanese general in the defense of Chinju Fortress. She lured the amorous invader to a cliff above the Namgang River, embraced him and dived into the water with her rings locked together.
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Non-gae's story has been passed down in poetry, song, dance and stories and remains very much alive in the hearts of the people of Chinju. Visit Chinju Fortress where Non-gae dived off the cliff and the locals will be happy to describe how Non-gae locked her arms tightly around the evil Japanese general and how the Choson sailors beat him with their oars as he floated down the river. The rock from which Non-gae jumped is a favorite photo opportunity for tourists, young and old.
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In the shamanistic salp'uri dance as performed by the Chinju master, Kim Su-ak, there is an act called "For Non-gae," in which Kim always wears many rings. This is because legend says Non-gae wore a ring on every finger so she would not lose her grip on the Japanese general Practically speaking, it seems unlikely that a 19-year-old girl like Non-gae could carry a full-grown man to his death, but clearly the rings represent the power of the young girl's will. No doubt her rings were made of metal, not the easily broken jade as so man y karakchi are.
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Chinju is also famous for its sword dance, which is probably related to the Koreans' victory at the battle of Chinju Fortress and Non-gae's bravery. Non-gae and the karakchi remind all Koreans of the beauty and strong will of the ideal Korean woman. Thanks to Non-gae, the ring was much more than a fashion accessory. Today we can find many silver and jade rings in the antique markets of Insa-dong and Chang-anp'yong in Seoul, reminders of this remarkable tradition.
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Gold Leaf Applique
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In Seoul's Tapshimni neighborhood there is a family that is carrying on the gold leaf applique tradition for a fourth generation. The family of Kim Tokhwan has been applying gold leaf to fine garments for more than 100 years.
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"My great-grandfather was a purchasing agent for the royal court in the final years of the Choson Kingdom Whenever there was a big court ceremony, he had trouble finding enough gold brocade. Often the boats or caravans carrying the fabric he had ordered from China would be late, so he decided that it would be a lot easier to manufacture it here in Korea. I'm the fourth generation of Kims to make gold leaf applique fabric."
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The gold applique is applied with woodblocks carved from finely grained pear tree wood in more than 100 patterns: Chinese ideographs wilt auspicious meanings, pomegranates, gourd shaped bottles, "heavenly" peaches, flowers, phoenixes and dragons. In fact, the patterns are so varied, there are even separate male and female phoenixes. When Kim works with a woodblock worn nearly flat with use, he creates classic works of art that remind us of life a century ago.
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Gold leaf applique is a complicated craft. One must know not only what thickness of glue to prepare for the different fabrics but also the elaborate rules governing the use of different patterns on different garments. Poor judgment can produce truly vulgar results. One does not learn what kind of pattern to use, where or how, in a single afternoon.
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"Just a few decades ago, old women from aristocratic families would bring in full court garments and ask me to do this and that," Kim recalls. "They often told me the stories behind the clothes, but nowadays, people think money buys everything. They think you can stick a dragon, a symbol reserved for the king, on anything! And I don't get anyone bringing in old court clothes. I guess the well-bred ladies have all died."
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Every wall of Kim's house is covered with hair ribbons, long skirts, court robes, ceremonial jackets and traditional black silk hats, all carefully appliqued. Nowadays most garments are appliqued with imitation gold made of tin and copper and pressed in thin sheets like paper. Garments appliqued in gold can be prohibitively expensive. A 2-meter hair tie used in wedding ceremonies requires about one-half tael (over six ounces) of gold.
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Top'o
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The men's hanbok is a classic garment adding to the dignity and style of its wearer. Whenever there is an important family ceremony in the old yangban households of the Andong area, particularly those of Neo-Confucian scholar-officials Yi Hwang or Yu Song-nyong, the men of the family wear the top'o, the most distinguished version of the man's hanbok. In fact, Andong is the place to go if you want to see hanbok as they were traditionally worn.
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The top'o is like the turumagi overcoat except that its sleeves are wider, it has an extra layer of fabric in the back, and it is generally made of fine Andong hemp cloth.
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I realized just how dignified and reserved Andong men are when I attended an ancestral memorial rite held at the home of the direct descendent of Yi Hwang on October 26, 1979, the day when President Park Chung-hee was assassinated. All the men of the family gathered, visiting the ancestral gravesite and performing the many complicated ceremonies. Every one of them was dressed in a top'o and turumagi and carried a short walking staff. They have been wearing the same outfit for generations. The few gentlemen not dressed in the traditional attire stayed back and did not participate in the rites performed in solemn silence. There wasn't a single woman in sight, not even the women of Yi Hwang's immediate family. It wasn't until the rites were all finished and the participants had sat down for a drink of wine left from the ceremonies that one of the men said, "What's this I hear about the president dying?"
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I went to another ancestral memorial rite held at the family home of Yu Songn-yong in 1992. The porch of the innermost building was covered with bronze ritual utensils, small ceremonial tables were being piled with food, and the men of the clan, dressed in the traditional top'o, turumagi and ceremonial hats, were waiting around the outer men's quarters.
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I once heard a telling story about the Yu clan from Lieutenant Colonel Yi Won-sung who served in the Andong area in 1990. During a visit to the Yu clan's home, Yi pointed out an error in the display of a military artifact related to the revered Yu. A few days later two dozen of the older members of the Yu clan invited Yi to the family shrine and asked him to write an article on Yu's military philosophy. "It has been four hundred years since our ancestor Yu Song-nyong wrote the Chingbirok, but no one has written a commentary on it. The absense of a modern-day analysis of his philosophy is a matter of great shame for us," the old gentlemen explained. Every one of them was dressed in the traditional top'o and wearing a horsehair hat.
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"I've never seen anything so solemn and dignified. I could hardly refuse them," Yi recalled.
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Mumyong: Cotton Fabric
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Ten cotton seeds a Koryo official Mun Ik-chom, smuggled out of Yuan China in 1363 were the seed of the Korean cotton industry that has since provided clothing for Koreans for over 600 years Once so popular and universal that it was as good as currency, mumyong, as home-woven cotton is called, disappeared with the advent of mechanization. The first machine-woven cotton fabric was produced by Kyongsang Textile Co. in 1919 and sold under the brand name Vega, apt symbolism of the heavenly weaver freeing the earthly weavers from the looms of their homes.
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In the late l960s, belatedly realizing the impending extinction of the home weaving tradition of mumyong, the government searched across the country for mumyong weavers and found the family of No Chin-nam in Naju, Chollanamdo. No was designated a "human cultural asset" for being the sole practitioner of mumyong weaving in the country.
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In 1946, when No Chin-nam married and came to her husband's village in Naju, all 40 households in the village were engaged in cotton farming and weaving She herself had woven all the mumyong for her trousseau before she got married at age 20. Every man and woman of her husband's 14-member family of three generations was involved in cotton weaving in one way or another. Her four young sisters-in-law learned weaving by the time they were 10 years old, and until the youngest left home to get married, all the fabric the family needed was woven at home on the ancient loom which nobody knows when it was made. The family figures it is far more than 100 years old.
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Mumyong was made fine and coarse according to its use and sometimes very thick for fashioning Western-style suits. No Chin-nam recalls that they farmed yellow as well as white cotton before the Korean War and, with black-dyed yarn, she sometimes wove three-color mumyong. Her Saetkol Village in Tashimyon was reputed to produce the finest mumyong However, as machine-woven cotton gained popularity, the villagers began hauling their looms to the village dump on the hill The only reason the loom in No Chin-nam's home survived was that she had sisters-in-law for whose trousseaus she had to weave well into the 1960s. The soil of the village was well-suited for cotton farming and the fabric she could weave was of better quality than the machine-made fabrics one could buy.
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Unlike ramie or hemp weaving which still defies mechanization, cotton weaving has become completely mechanized over the past century and the last loom in the country was saved in the nick of the time after the marriage of the last of No's sisters-in-law. The ancient loom has become so worn out that it is accorded the care reserved for a national treasure w hen it is moved to Seoul or other places for weaving demonstrations. Besides, the wooden parts of the loom and spinner are not easily replaceable for they are not items that one can simply walk into a store and buy like one would an auto part.
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These days, No weaves only a couple of rolls of mumyong a year for demonstration purposes. Occasionally, she produces some special orders for textile artists. Meanwhile, the descendants of Mun lk-chom, who introduced cotton to Korea, established Mokhwa (Cotton) Girls' Commercial School whose school badge features a full-blown cotton boll.
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Hansan Moshi as Fine As Cicada Wings
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Cutting the ramie plants, splitting the bark for the fibers with hands and teeth, and mounting the fibers on ancient looms, moshj or ramie weaving has not changed much from ancient times. The oldest extant ramie garment in Korea was made in 1326.
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Very finely woven ramie is likened to cicada wings. Modern designers say that ramie is an art in itself. An image of a woman in an immaculately fashioned ramie dress automatically pops into the mind of every Korean when asked about the Korean idea of beauty.
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A courteous Korean gentleman dressed in a ramie ensemble complete with a ramie coat and a wide-rimmed horsehair hat is surely a daunting presence on a sizzling summer day. I remember such a man whom I visited at his ancient house in a small town. In the summer heat that wilted the plants in the paddies and silenced the whole village, he was perched on the elevated wooden hall of his house, dressed in a perfectly starched ramie outfit, his back ramrod straight, looking very dignified.
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For women, too, ramie clothing is a luxury to be worn from Tano, the fifth day of the Fifth Moon, to the beginning of autumn.
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With two expert weavers of "human cultural asset" status and an authentic beater craftsman, Hansan in Soch'on-gun, Ch'ungch'ongnam-do is the veritable center of ramie weaving in Korea. Because ramie is absolutely incompatible with dry and cold air, the workshops are all partially underground Ramie fibers are acquired by chewing the tip of the bark into hair-thin strands and twining them for length by rolling the ends together on the knee. For the finest ramie fabric, 31 centimeters wide, the warp consists of 900 strands of two-ply fiber. About 20 skilled weavers produce such fine ramie in the Soch'on area. A market dealing only in ramie goods opens every five days in Hansan and usually only about two of the approximately 200 bolts that are generally up for sale in the market are of this quality.
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When age has dulled their teeth, weavers split the ramie bark with their fingernails but f the fibers are not up to the Hansan standard as the woven fabric is almost as coarse as hemp. The reason that Hansan moshi is famous is because the fabric from other regions cannot match its fineness.
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Ramie, which becomes as new and fresh as a rain-showered tree when washed, starched and ironed, can last more than 30 years unless the user carelessly exposes it to cold air which will cause its fibers to break. Imported Chinese ramie, on the other hand, is of a single ply and the fiber itself is not smooth, so the fabric looks worn out after a single season.
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Recently, Hansan moshi has been attracting the attention of international designers. However, making the fabric as fine as cicada wings is hard on the weavers' teeth and working in the damp workshops subjects them to arthritis. And efforts to mechanize ramie weaving have not been successful. According to local people, "ramie doesn't much approve of machines."
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Hemp Weaving in Andong
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Hemp is yet another fabric that has frustrated mechanization efforts, its weaving method being more or less the same since the dawn of civilization. Much heavier and better fitting than ramie, hemp is used for top'o, a man's formal coat, and shrouds. It is also popular for summer clothing because it is cheaper than ramie and is thus produced and used in greater quantities.
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Andong in Kyongsangbuk-do is the place to go to see how hemp weaving is done and, better still, to see the people who know how to wear hemp clothing with flair and pride. Grandmother Pae Pun-yong of Kumso-dong, Andong-gun, who is a "Kyongsangbuk-do intangible (human) cultural asset," learned weaving when she was a little girl. At the time when there was no school or factory for rural women, learning and doing hemp weaving at home was as natural as a girl of that age going to school today.
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Pae pun-yong works on a loom her husband made for her 50 years ago. A few changes have been made to the loom to accommodate today's somewhat thicker and heavier hemp fibers, but weaving is always done by hand. She weaves using four to five reeds alternately, for the reed is what determines the fineness of the hemp. In the past, some hemp was woven so fine that a whole bolt would fit in a bowl, but that type of fabric is no longer produced because it requires special fibers and a "demonic" skill.
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Pae Pun-yong and her daughter-in-law do all the work themselves from sowing hemp seeds in the spring to harvesting and retting the hemp straw, separating, cleaning and bean-starching the fibers and finally weaving on the loom. They weave about ten bolts a year between them to sell at the Andong market which opens every five days and at a hemp show hall that opened recently.
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In 1992, I overheard three old ladies of Kumso-dong gossiping while shelling beans about how the girls these days do not know anything about stitching top'o coats for their future fathers-in-law and have to order them from professional seamstresses. Hemp coats and skirts for one's parents-in-law are still an essential part of a girl's trousseau in the area, especially since the fabric can be put to other uses later.
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The villagers like to reminisce about how 17 elderly members of the village went to see the opening of the Andong Folk Village in 1992, all dressed in brand new Andong hemp outfits complete with top'o coats. I can almost visualize their elderly wives tagging along after them to watch their husbands participate in various ceremonies. As the elaborate festival outfits excite little children, the grandfathers and grandmothers of this Andong village get a thrill out of wearing a new set of hemp clothes on such outings.
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Mourning Clothing: Essence of Confucianism
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Sangbok, mourning clothing, graphically represented Confucian ideals based on filial piety during the Choson period, the time when scholars respected the Chuja karye (Family Rites of Zhu Xi) as a golden rule to live by. Even today, sangbok is the garment that keeps the ancient style the most intact of all Korean clothes.
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The stories of Ch'oe Pu and the sangbok controversy after the death of King Hyojong (r.1649-59) well illustrate how the Confucian sense of filial piety dominated the life of Choson people.
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In 1488, Ch'oe Pu (1454-1504), an official stationed on Chejudo Island, was sailing to the mainland to attend his father's funeral w hen his boat ran into a storm. After drifting on the Yellow Sea for 15 days, they washed ashore in China and Ch'oe and his crew were taken captive by Chinese who mistook them for Japanese pirates. All this time, Ch'oe did not remove the sangbok which he had put on at the news of his father's death. Although Ch'oe did not speak Chinese, he could communicate with his captors in writing as most educated Koreans at the time understood and wrote Chinese characters.
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The Chinese officials were greatly impressed with Ch'oe's gentlemanly demeanor and learning, especially his knowledge of family rites and the seriousness with which he followed them, and the Ming emperor decided to award him with a gift. One of Ch'oe's servants went to the palace and received the award on Ch'oe's behalf because he was still in mourning for his father. However, Ch'oe himself had to thank the emperor for the gift, but palace etiquette prohibited the wearing of mourning clothes in the palace. His discourses with Chinese officials epitomize his adamant ideas on loyalty and filial piety. Eventually, it was agreed that he would wear a court outfit within the palace grounds but change back to his mourning attire the minute his audience with the emperor was over.
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Ch'oe Pu's account of his experience in P'yohaerok (Drift on the Sea) presents an unequivocal picture of the inflexibility of the sangbok culture of the Choson period.
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Even more dramatically revealing is the controversy that erupted over the period of time Dowager Queen Cho was to mourn the death of King Hyojong (d. 1659), her second son by King Injo, who had ascended to the throne because his older brother, Crown Prince Sohyon, died prematurely. The dowager had already mourned her first son's death for three years as required by Confucian protocol. A great dispute erupted in the court, which was already rife with factional strife, as the Soin (Westerner) faction including Song Shi-yol insisted that the dowager should observe a one-year mourning period for Hyojong because he was the second son, while the Namin (Southerner) faction led by Yun Hyu and Ho Mok insisted that she should observe a three-year mourning period because the second son succeeded to the place of the first when the first died Eventually, the Soin faction prevailed but that was only the first round of the controversy.
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The difference of opinion originated from a different interpretation of the Confucian rites by the two factions, but it also reflected a power struggle that had previously raged between Crown Prince Sohyon and King Hyojong who disagreed on diplomatic policy toward Qing China.
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Adding fuel to the controversy was the objection by Yun Son-do, who had tutored Hyojong when he was still a prince, that "a one-year mourning period would be an act demoting the king and thereby weakening the line of royal succession." This made the question a political issue rather than a simple disagreement on mourning rituals. Yun Son-do was eventually exiled, but the dispute spread across the country with local Confucianists sending endless depositions to the court, each advocating a particular political faction.
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The matter worsened when Hyonjong's queen died in 1674. Again the two factions collided head-on over the question of whether the dowager queen should mourn for the period required for a first daughter-in-law or a second daughter-in-law. This time the dispute ended with victory for the Namin, which heralded the ascendancy of power of the Namin faction. It also meant that the ritual theory which had dictated the mourning procedure for King Hyojong was wrong and the annals of the king had to be rewritten. The dispute over how long Dowager Queen Cho should wear sangbok lasted for 15 years.
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In recent years Yi Ku, the son of Yang-wang, the last crown prince of the Choson Dynasty, wore the sangbok called Ch'amch'oebok, the heaviest and most complicated sangbok, upon the death of Queen Yun in 1966, the death of his father in 1970, and the death of his mother in 1989. The garment was in the same style as the one Sunjong, the last king of Choson, wore at the funeral of his father, King Kojong. That such a heavy sangbok was put to use so many years after the downfall of the kingdom is another significant example that sheds light on the customs of Korea.
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Indigo Dyeing of Naju
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On a November day in 1992, I journeyed to Munp'yong-myon, Naju-gun, Chollanam-do to visit dyer Yun Pyong-un. Over the silvery eulalia bushes undulating in the wind, the blue-tiled roof of Yun's house jumped into view together with the orange persimmons that hung above it. The gate was also painted blue, reminding me that its master was a specialist in indigo dyeing.
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Dyeing yarns and fabric deep blue with an extract of tchok, or indigo plant, was an integral part of daily life until a synthetic chemical process was invented in Germany in 1897. In recent years, however, a small group of people have been trying to revive indigo and other natural pigments.
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The lower reaches of the Yongsan-gang River of Chollanam-do near the southwestern coast were the last stronghold of indigo dyeing Indigo dyeing thrived here until the Korean War thanks to its fertile soil and warm, sunny climate ideal for growing indigo and an abundance of oyster shells which served as an essential oxidizing agent. Almost all households in Yongsanp'o were once engaged in indigo dye production and the dyeing of fabrics thrived in the neighboring Naju. Yun Pyong-un's grandfather and father did dyeing work and by the time the Korean War broke out, Yun was helping out as well. His experience from that time helped him greatly when he decided to revive the old art in 1983. However, the indigo fields had long been turned into paddies and it was a major hurdle to get hold of indigo seeds.
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Making indigo dye begins with cutting the plants in the early morning before the summer sun dries up the dew. The plants are stored in a jar and turned over exactly 24 hours later. Oyster shells are burned on a pile of wood, covered by straw mars, and then pulverized, sieved and added to the pr of indigo. As the oyster powder is stirred into the jar, the indigo juice changes from yellow to jade green to green to blue, and froth rises like a cloud. At the end of the oxidation reduction process, the indigo settles to the bottom of the jar and jells. The jelly is saved and diluted in water in another jar with wood ash being added The jar is kept in a room while the solution seasons into dye.
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The reason I scheduled my visit in November was because Yun was waiting until the weather cooled and he had plentiful ashes from wood burned to warm the room. It is a fussy business to wait for the solution to mature into dye after the ash is added. The jar should never be uncovered and no one who bled, fought or did anything that would make him or her "filthy" should come near the jar. "This tchok dye is an uncanny thing" is all Y un offered in the way of explanation of the delicate balancing of ingredients and conditions involved in the oxidation. reduction process. Surprisingly, I was admitted into the room with all the reverence and decorum of someone visiting a clan patriarch.
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"Blue skins and blue bed covers were an essential part of a bride's trousseau before the Korean War," recalls Yun. "You couldn't marry off your daughter if you didn't have tchok to dye the fabric. It was used for only silk, linen, ramie and hemp. My father used to keep forty dye jars and dye hundreds of skirts. The dyeing process was usually repeated eight times but sometimes he would dip the material ten times for a deeper blue color. I have done indigo dyeing for about four hundred people from across the country since I began the business recently."
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Indigo dyeing has not been recognized as a cultural tradition deserving state protection. Lack of governmental support for the perpetuation of the dyeing art makes Yun dubious of the future for his specialty. Han Kwang-sok, another dyer operating in Polgyo, Chollanam-do, grumbles that "People come for indigo dyeing as rarely as a dragon appears in a dream."
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Buddhist Robes
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The late Venerable Songchol (1911-1993) who used to hide in the valleys of Haeinsa Temple was a symbol of Korean Buddhism. His ascetic austerity had a great influence on everyone he met. A collection of photographs of Songchol taken after he became a monk and especially between 1986 and 1988 gives us glimpses into the life of the revered monk. In his preface to the book Poyongjip published in 1988, photographer Chu Myung-dok says that he wanted "to focus on the essence of the monk whose quiescent attitude of asceticism inspires hope and trust in people."
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"It is generally thought to be the approach of modern religion that the ordained participate in the painful mundane affairs and politics, but I do not believe that offering help when need arises and the interpersonal relationship are the only things that inspire the sense of history." These words provide the framework of the photograph collection named after his penname, poyong, which means "bubble."
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Songchol was not always a quiet hermit, however. His argument on Son (Zen) set off the most heated controversy on the subject. With relentless chastising he guided his students in the way of meditation.
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Songchol's personality was reflected in his ink-dyed robes which consisted of a ceremonial gray changsam robe and a brown kasa stole as well as the traditional gray Buddhist outfit of baggy pants, jacket and coat. White rubber shoes or snow shoes, a wool cap and a staff completed his wardrobe. The ceremonial kasa that is draped over the changsam at Buddhist services, rites and official occasions is said to date from the time of Sakyamuni. It is draped over the left shoulder and down the body, its front end swept up around the arm and held in the hand.
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Monks observe strict rules when they put on or take off the kasa and fold it for keeping. One of the first things monks learn is how to care for their kasa robes. Monks with a flowing kasa over their long gray changsam robe are a sight that inspires solemn reverence in a Buddhist ceremony, One sees a certain consistency and almost visible rhythm in their posture.
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What I am trying to describe, however, is about Sogchol's ragged coat which was mended with hundreds of coarsely stitched patches. According to his followers, the coat that he is wearing in many of the photographs in the Poyongjip must have been more than 40 years old. The contrast of the rags and the blazing eyes of the monk is truly awe inspiring. However, he appears as tranquil as water when he is in meditation in his ragged clothing, Then, rags or no rags, his supreme dignity spills over the page and grips the earthly me with otherworldly values that he must have represented to junior monks when he supervised them in meditation.
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On another page, the camera caught him, again in the same rags, musing over a pile of red flowers at a corner of the yard still clearly marked with the sweeping marks of a broom. Perhaps the patches on Songchol's coat are the marks of spiritual sweeping. In some photographs he is seen in the same rags on a meandering mountain trail. There is an unearthly aura that is unique to Buddhist sanctums in such scenes.
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Cotton rags of wear and tear seem to be unique to Buddhist monks. When I interviewed Monk Chongnim who was supervising the computerization of the Tripitaka Koreana at Haeinsa Temple, I could not help noticing the collar and cuffs of his ragged gray jacket were held together with scotch tape. The cotton jacket already looked cold in the mountain temple that late summer day.
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Songchol did not leave many worldly possessions when he died other than his ragged habits and socks.
 
 
 
     
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