From everyday clothing to seating covers and military garments, textiles are one of the earliest human inventions and were made by hand for hundreds of years prior to the start of the Industrial Revolution.
In recognition of the unique charm of traditional woven and knitted fabrics, the Taichung City Cultural Center founded the Museum of Weaving Crafts in 1990 to collect a broad range of materials, including fabrics and articles made with braiding, knitting, dying, weaving, and embroidering techniques used by many cultures across the Asia-Pacific region.
Taiwan boasts some of the world's finest and most diverse weaving traditions because of its historic role as the crossroads of Asia's sea routes and a major port along the vibrant Maritime Silk Road.
Since ancient times, the island has assimilated weaving techniques and traditions from the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, and India.
Taiwan's traditional weaving crafts include rush hats and mats from Dajia, hemp products from the mountainous Fengyuan, woven bamboo-based fishing gear from Dongshi, and aboriginal Atayal woven crafts from Heping.
The museum's collection also include silk and cotton fabrics from China, hats woven from thin wood chips, 'hundred-year' woven wares made by Taiwanese aboriginal peoples, knitted articles made with techniques unique to the indigenous peoples of Southeast Asia, and creative pieces woven from film negatives.
The pleasures of dyeing
As part of its efforts to keep these traditions alive, the Museum of Weaving Crafts encourages visitors to experience the pleasure of dyeing clothes and fabrics with natural dyes made from common plants available in Taiwan.
The museum has published a manual entitled "Dye Making with Common Taiwanese Plants” to explain how all sorts of common plants can be turned into dyes and how these dyes can be used to dress up various kinds of fabrics.
This encyclopedic work was very well received by specialists, amateur dye enthusiasts, and homemakers as soon as it was published. It has introduced many non-specialists to the joys of dyeing and has become the museum's best-selling book.
Training a new generation of weavers
Because textiles are so closely tied to people's lives, the Museum of Weaving Crafts places special emphasis on nurturing new weavers and inviting members of the public to try hands-on weaving experience.
In addition to offering a range of friendly activities to the public, the museum also offers training courses in knotting, bamboo weaving, sewing, embroidery, patchwork, dyeing with plant-based dyes, and textile design.
To provide craftspeople with a platform to learn and compete with one another, the museum also began hosting a Weaving Craft Contest in 1995.
Besides discovering almost 300 individual artisans and teams specializing in weaving, the museum has also promoted the development of fiber arts, everyday life products design, and souvenir design.
Reviving textile art
In 1990, local people considered Dajia rush hats to be a sunset industry, but a rush hats and mats competition in 2000 received more than 400 entries. This shows that the decline of traditional arts and crafts is slowing down and that local communities and the Taiwanese public at large are showing growing interest in handmade constructions.
In today's industrialized and technology-reliant society, weaves and textile crafts are often seen as a declining traditional industry. Yet, if more people can be made to understand the beauty of such crafts and become more attentive to the traditional artisan industries, impressive results may be achieved.