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Eternal blossoms made with silk and wire

Upsurge of interest in art of velvet flowers leads to a renaissance in ancient Jiangsu tradition, Lin Qi reports.

By Lin Qi | China Daily | Updated: 2024-03-19 06:02

Soft silk threads are groomed and trimmed for further use. [Photo by Li Jin/China Daily]

Flood of orders

Nanjing used to have a number of family-run velvet flower studios in the 1930s and '40s. Many of Zhao's instructors at the factory developed their experience at these private workshops.

Today, he has a studio of his own, as well as a company that designs and manufactures velvet flowers. It is located in a room just over 10 square meters in size at the Nanjing Folk Museum and Intangible Cultural Heritage Museum, which is not far from the old flower market and the bustling Qinhuai River scenic area.

The museum is housed in a magnificent compound of classic architecture called Ganxi Mansion or the Gan Family Courtyard. This private estate was first built by a prominent local family about 200 years ago and after several extensions, now occupies a floor area of around 9,500 square meters.

Over the years, the mansion has become a hub for cultural heritage brands and handicraft studios, including Zhao's.

His studio, which moved there in 2008, is packed with desks, boxes of tools and materials and a demonstration area of finished pieces. It is where Zhao and his proteges deal with the flood of orders, receive visitors and give interviews to media.

Silk sticks are arranged to form a floral cluster. [Photo by Li Jin/China Daily]

It is also in this cramped space where flowers made using "silk as flesh and thin copper wire as bone", as the local saying goes, emerge from the minds of artisans and their dexterous fingers.

To make a velvet flower, fine threads of silk are first boiled to be softened, then they are dyed, shaped and rolled evenly onto the wire frame. Next, the velvet sticks are trimmed into different shapes, and twisted to create the design that has been ordered.

It is a delicate process that demands great patience and a tranquil heart, as well as a great deal of time.

At the factory, it took Zhao about six years to master all the procedures. Today, the boiling and dying are outsourced, so his young proteges can focus on designing and crafting.

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