Hakka Art of Making Threaded Flowers

“Chanhua (纏花)” - wrapping colorful threads around pieces of paper to make flowers - was a very special folk craft in the early days of Taiwan. During the late Qing Dynasty and even Japanese colonial rule, threaded flowers played a very important role in the marriage customs for both the immigrants from China’s Fujian province and the Hakka settlers from Guangdong province.

The delicate and elegantly wrapped flowers were seen mainly in the Hakka areas in northern Taiwan. They are also called "xianhua (線花, threaded flowers)" by Hakka people, while similar craft products are called "chunzaihua (春仔花, small spring flowers)" by the Minnan people from southern Fujian, and "jihua (吉花, auspicious flowers)” by people in the outlying islands of Kinmen.

A threaded flower

(Photo: Hakka TV)

For Minnan people, "chunzaihua" were a must-have hair accessory for Fujianese brides in Taiwan's early agricultural society when they step of the palanquin after arriving at their husband’s home. According to the ancient southern Fujianese wedding custom, the bride’s hair ornaments had to include a pair of pomegranate-shaped chunzaihua to symbolize wishes for the "early birth of a son." Other women in the wedding, such as the matchmaker, bride’s mother, mother-in-law, relatives and friends, would all wear different designs of "chunzaihua."

The word "chan (wrapped)" in "chanhua (wrapped flowers)" refers to the winding of silk threads and strings on pieces of paper shaped like flower petals or on metal wires used as the flower stems. The "wrapped flower" is a hand-made flower made of multiple petals and leaves that are wound on paper and iron wire with silk thread. In traditional society, Hakka people in northern Taiwan used chanhua extensively in daily life, but it’s almost never seen in southern Taiwan’s Hakka settlements of the Liudui area.

For northern Taiwan’s Hakka people, the flowers are used to make decorated hairpins for the bride, box-shaped table offerings in the halls, embroidered lamp decorations, room pendants, and even children’s hats, and ornaments on rice cakes, etc. The styles of Hakka chanhua are more complicated and diverse than the chunzaihua of Minnan people. Hakka people often use patterns such as butterflies, insects, cranes, spotted deer, turtles, fish, pomegranates, chrysanthemums, orchids, lilies, and other types of designs. The combination of silk thread they use is also more colorful and brighter than the simple red or peach color of Minnan chunzaihua.

The origin of this traditional handicraft is not recorded in historical documents, but as far as the technique of wrapping flowers is concerned, it mainly involves winding colored thread on cut pieces of paper, and then combining all the parts to make flowers, butterflies, insects, and mythical creatures. Its production method and scope of use have a lot to do with Hakka embroidery; in Hakka embroidery, examples of using pieces of paper to line the pattern can often be seen, and wrapping paper pieces with embroidery thread is used to produce a three-dimensional and rich effect.  The animal patterns on many wrapped flower works are very similar to the patterns seen on Hakka women’s embroidery hoops.

Wrapped flowers

(Photo: Hakka TV)

Hakka chanhua is an exquisite craft that takes a lot of time to make. The craftswomen also need to be very patient and careful. However, due to the changes of the times, industry, businesses and society demand speed and timeliness, so modern day people have neglected this traditional culture and art. As a result, the Hakka flower wrapping technique is almost lost, with few young people taking an interest in this craft form. Although a lot of hard work has gone into promoting chanhua, efforts to pass on this craft to younger generations are still in its infancy. It is hoped that through research and the drawing of paper models of the various patterns and designs, basic data for this craft can be established, and that continuous research and promotion will enable this beautiful Hakka handicraft to be revived.