I thought that I would share a non-textile but related item with the forum - a Dong thread or sewing booklet from Rongjiang county in Guizhou. It seems that both the Miao and the Dong in this area use a similar style of booklet to hold their embroidery threads, scraps of fabric, paper patterns and other items. I first became aware of them in 2005 when on a trip to south east Guizhou with Gina Corrigan and then subsequently via a project book by and discussions with Ruth Smith, the author of 'Miao Embroidery from South West China' and editor of 'Minority Textile Techniques: Costumes from South West China' (information on both these volumes may be found on the 'Books' section of this forum. Ruth has been very taken by these thread booklets and has analysed their construction, produced the project book to illustrate and instruct and also offers a workshop in their construction.
I spotted one recently on eBay and couldn't resist it. The dealer, who listed it as Miao, subsequently said that the booklet was Dong, from the 'Rongjiang area and at least 30-40 years and highly possible was made during the period of Chinese Cultural Revolution (from 1966-1976)' - interesting but perhaps not correct. I think that it could be Dong as the hand painted decoration on the surfaces of the 8 opening pockets inside are very similar to a Dong booklet in Gina Corrigan's collection which is shown in Ruth's project book. The larger images of sun and dragon on the inner covers remind me somewhat of the decoration on Dong drum towers. In amongst the squiggles and stylised flowers around the opening pockets there are some images which could be political and perhaps why it has been suggested that it could have been made at the time of the Cultural Revolution although I think that this is perhaps placing too great an emphasis on them.
The booklet has quite a complex construction. I think there are 20 different pockets - at least, I managed to come up with that number twice! It is an ingenious way of creating a concentrated filing system for organising threads or other essentials for embroidery which is very compact yet has an amazing amount of space. The outside indigo fabric is in my favourite pineapple weave. The inside is all hand-made paper. Unfortunately it has been subjected to quite a bit of insect munching and I feel that it needs a spell in the freezer to try and make sure that all the inhabitants are dead. I should keep it segregated from my textiles and books. There was not very much inside the various pockets, some threads, a few scraps of red and orange silky fabric and a paper pattern for the sole of a shoe. This has been cut out of a magazine and I attach below photos of the back and front of this pattern. I would be very grateful indeed for any translation of either the captions or the added writing in Chinese script in case it can give any hints to period or place.
I was keen that Ruth Smith should have a look at the booklet, especially as it seem a little different and more complex than those shown in her project book and we are planning to meet up early next month for her to examine it. The details of her project book are: 'Folded Secrets Project Book' and Ruth can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
[I met up with Ruth on 5 Nov and we examined my thread booklet together. She felt that there are 17 pockets (not the 20 I thought). She brought with her a collection of the completed information sheets on perhaps about 20 thread booklets on which she has now gathered and been given information. Fascinating!]
As well as photos of my booklet I will also post a couple of photos of one of the thread booklets in use in the Miao village of Wu Jia Zhai, Gu Zhou township, Rongjiang county, Guizhou province. At the time our local guide called this group 'Black Miao' but they are often referred to as 'Short skirt Miao'.
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