Arts and Culture
The discovery of an 18th century Dong/Kam wedding bedcover provided the first hint that present-day ethnic figured weaving could be related to archaeological Chinese textiles. Its woven structure and aesthetic style suggested a possible link with some early Chu archaeological fragments unearthed not far away, dating from the Warring Kingdoms period, 2300 years earlier. Comparative study of active traditional looms with archaeological looms showed a remarkable consistency in the transmission of weaving techniques, structures and tools. It proved impossible, however, due to the lack of information regarding ethnicity and technological exchanges during the first millennium BCE in China, to draw a clear picture of the weaving situation at the time.
But the same comparative method could be applied to a later period, from the 3rd to the 8th century CE, when dramatic changes occurred in the history of Chinese figured textiles, owing mostly to exchanges with Central Asia. While ancient weaving traditions survived in Iran (the zilu loom) and India (the Varanasi jaala loom), the abundance of ancient textiles and texts found along the Silk Road provides ample information on this epoch of intense multicultural interactions. This period is marked by the evolution from warp faced compound tabby to samite. This process involved weaving experiments with taqueté and warp faced compound twill, which occurred concomitantly with a revolution in design iconography and loom technology from the multi-heddles patterning system loom to the drawloom. The study of ancient Iranian and Indian looms mechanisms is crucial to explain this development.