Shanghai Series: Nankeen Gallery
In the Spring of 2015 I was finishing up my second year of graduate school at Philadelphia University where I was studying textile design, and trying to figure out how I could do some travel over the summer. "Trying to figure this out" because I was a graduate student and did not have the extra cash for international travel. I was bound and determined to find some kind of opportunity that could allow me to gain experience with textiles while being abroad over the summer. I had been asking and telling everyone I knew that this is what I wanted, hoping that by putting it out into the universe an opportunity would find me, and sure enough it did!
An opportunity to travel to Shanghai for a month and study at Donghua University popped up. Philadelphia University and Donghua University had a partnership, and many of my friends in the graduate program had done their studies at Donghua University for their bachelors degrees. What made this opportunity even better was that they were offering scholarships through the government to cover costs of the classes, room and board, and living expenses. This was exactly what a poor graduate student like me needed in order to make this happen, and luckily enough I was awarded a scholarship. It was a week before the spring semester was ending and I had secured my plans for the summer, Shanghai here I come!
*Big shout out to my classmate and dear friend Kailey for pushing me to do this. I was out of school sick the day our professor sent the email out about this opportunity. Kailey texted me and said " You're doing this, I have already told Marcia to save you a spot!". In an allergy medicine fog I just agreed, not even realizing what I was getting myself into. Forever grateful to Kailey for setting me up to have the best summer of my life!*
So for 30 days I participated in this summer course about traditional Chinese costuming, specifically Qipao. Students from Universities all over the world came to take this class, I think there were about 15-20 of us all together. I will share more about this experience and what we were studying in some other blog posts.
One of the girls I was taking this course with, who also happened to be from the US and the only other student who was studying textile design like me, had heard about this Nankeen Gallery. If there is ever an opportunity available to see traditional textiles and handmade products, you can guarantee I will be there. So one afternoon after classes we set off on our little adventure.
To give you some background, Nankeen is a traditional cotton cloth from the Nanjing area of China, that can be hand printed with indigo dyes. There are two methods of printing. One method uses hand carved wooden blocks that are stacked together. The cloth is laid in-between these stacks of blocks, the pressure not allowing the dye to get certain parts of the cloth so they remain the original color while the rest will pick up the indigo color. Another method to do this is with thick paper that has the pattern cut out, which is placed over the cloth and a soya bean resist paste is applied to the cut out areas like a stencil. This allows the cloth to be dipped into the indigo dye bath to dye the areas that were not covered in the soy bean paste. You can see the different methods and tools represented in the photos throughout this post. Note: I have not personally studied this method in depth, so if any readers have more information to add or corrections to my description please let me know :0)
Ok so back to the adventure! We knew the address, however we did not have a gps to follow. For one thing google maps doesn't work in China, and secondly both of us had phones from the US which means the SIM cards are locked so we couldn't get access to Internet through a Chinese SIM. We were going about this old school, following a paper map. It took us a little while, walking in circles for a bit, but eventually we came across the large sign on the street above the gate into this community.
As we went through the gate we soon realized we had to wind and wander through the tiny streets of this neighborhood. We followed the signs, which were very clearly marked the whole way through, then suddenly came upon a beautiful green courtyard with fabrics hanging out drying in the sun. It was this oasis located in the middle of this large bustling city, and in that moment made you forget that you were in Shanghai altogether. Inside there was a store on the first floor which sold fabrics by the meter as well as some garments, stuffed animals, and other accessories. I tried a few garments on but sadly nothing was quite the right fit. We both bought a couple meters of a couple different fabrics, then headed up to the second floor where they had a museum set up. In the museum they had fabrics on display, looms, and other tools used for the printing process. It really helped to illustrate and understand how the cloth came to be.
This place was well worth the visit and I would definitely recommend anyone to go if you are in Shanghai!
Opening hours: 9am- 5:30pm daily
Metro: Changshu Lu
English Address: Lane 637, 24 Changle Lu, near Huating Lu, Xuhui district
Chinese Address: 徐汇区长乐路637弄24号, 近花亭路