Reproducing the traditional Hakka dyeing and weaving craft

The plant dyeing workshop established by the Hualien’s Fenglin History Association (鳳林文史工作協會) in 2009 is not only the most important plant dyeing base in the area, but also a comprehensive creative industry center. Now it also conducts restoration and reconstruction through field research and offers Hakka weaving and dyeing skills courses, even collecting cultural and historical materials, and then combining modern technology with traditional plant dyeing and weaving techniques to reproduce precious Hakka weaving patterns.
Traditional Hakka dyeing and weaving craft
(All images: Hakka TV)

Lee Mei-ling (李美玲), the lecturer of the Hakka Weaving and Dyeing Program, had previously learned the technique of weaving from a Taiwanese indigenous teacher, but during the course of her study, she always had a question in her mind. The weave of the indigenous people has a unique double diamond pattern, like the eye of the ancestral spirit (Dowriq Utux Rudan). As a Hakka, she couldn't help but wonder, does the Hakka group have their own weave pattern culture? In order to resolve her doubts, Ms. Lee thought that maybe there is an opportunity to find Hakka patterns on traditional Hakka clothing, and then establish Hakka people’s own ethnic identity and cultural image.
Lee Mei-ling

Later, the Fenglin History Association won the project subsidy of the Cultural Resources Bureau of the Ministry of Culture. It began collecting the characteristic weaving patterns of Hakka villages through field surveys, and then used digital technology to make patterns, convened students to learn, and was able to finally reproduce the weaving craft of Hakka costumes and reveal the ethnic group’s cultural stories behind them.

Some patterns that can be seen on Hakka clothes in the past are now being retrieved by the plant dyeing workshop in Fenglin, Hualien. As of now, ten types of Hakka weave patterns have been collected, and the workshop wants to restore them one by one. It also uses digital APPs to calculate the algorithm of the pattern, and then hand it over to the workshop members to study how to weave it.

In addition to the pattern and techniques, the re-engraving of the Hakka woven webbing requires various colors of cotton threads. The plant dyeing workshop has mature cloth dyeing technology, and now it is used to dye and weave threads, which is the best condition for the development of Hakka webbing.
Reproducing the traditional Hakka dyeing and weaving craft

Ms. Lee said: "We have the opportunity to reproduce the color used more than 100 years ago, and we really use the pigments at that time, maybe the juice extracted from plants, or indigo dye, etc. With the threads we dye, we can completely recreate the pattern and colors of the woven decorative strip on the Hakka blue shirts worn a century ago.”

Ms. Lee added: "Seeing the sense of design in the past, the aesthetics of our Hakka culture, as well as the symbols behind these patterns, which carry the meaning of auspiciousness, I think this is very helpful for us to re-understand our own culture. This generation, if we re-learn such aesthetics, and then rediscover them, then we will also have the opportunity to wear our own unique ornamental textiles, then we can imagine that one or two hundred years ago, the Hakka women should be the world's top female designers because they were able to come up with such complex and beautiful patterns. I think their designs should be passed down.”

In addition to Hakka blue shirts and floral fabrics, Hakka weaving and dyeing skills are now attracting attention from the outside world. The workshop not only wants to strengthen its promotion, gradually plan tours and courses, as well as train talents, it also plans to further integrate clothing design. The goal is to promote the trend of “wearing Hakka” again.