Chinese Costumes In First UK Exhibition At Willis Museum

By Graham Spicer | 13 November 2006
photo of a chinese woman in colourful embroidered dress and red blue and yellow beaded head dress

Many of these unique items display a range of traditional techniques. Photo The Willis Museum

Spectacular costumes from south-west China are being displayed for the first time in the UK at Basingstoke’s Willis Museum.

The exhibition, Faraway Festival Costumes: Traditional Dress From South West China, runs until December 22 2006 and showcases embroidered and decorated festival costumes from China’s Guizhou province. It highlights the traditional textile skills of some of the country’s poorest minority people.

All the pieces are from the private collection of textiles expert Gina Corrigan, who has also taken a range of photos illustrating the garments in context. They show the local landscapes and people and document details of their fast-disappearing traditional craft processes.

The brightly coloured clothing includes jackets, baby carriers, shoes, leg wrappings, skirts, aprons, headgear and jewellery.

phoyo of a group of chinese women and children in traditional embroidered and beaded brightly coloured costume

Traditional life in China is being threatened by rapid social and economic change. Photo The Willis Museum

Their distinctive designs are often theatrical, with resplendent headdresses and rich colours. Unique spinning, weaving, dyeing, wax-resisting and pleating skills have been passed down through the generations.

Some 39 million people live in the province, almost 40% of whom come from minority ethnic groups. The clothes are all made by groups like the Dong, Bouyei, Yi and Shui people, whose traditional ways of life are being threatened by the rapid economic and social changes sweeping China.

Many are particularly notable for the range of embroidery skills and combinations of different techniques used on one item. As well as being used for festivals and celebrations, traditional dress is still worn on a daily basis in some communities.

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