Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Chinese Ribbons - Ancient and Auspicious

I am a ribbon fancier. Take me to a shop such as Bell-occhio, Mokuba or V V Rouleaux, or set me in front a box of antique trims and ribbons at a flea market, and I am in vintage textile heaven.

So when I spied a sack full of rolls of old embroidered ribbon at Beijing’s Dirt Market I was hooked. I soon became the stall vendor’s new best friend, as week after week I filled my big blue Ikea bags with these precious ancient threads. Then I found out that he made house calls. (In Beijing everyone makes home deliveries - the tailor, the nail lady, the Indian restaurant, the wine merchant). So every few weeks, the man from the market would appear at my door with a few plastic bags full of ribbon, which he would open and empty onto my dining room table. And then the bargaining would begin.

Most of the examples date from the late Qing era, at the time of the last Emperor, circa 1900. Their original purpose was to imitate hand-embroidery, and to trim garment robes, jackets and hats, or interior decorations. My ribbons are mostly machine woven. They range in width from ¼” to several inches wide, and in length from tiny swatches to many meters of a particular pattern. Rich in color, the surfaces are covered with graphic repeat patterns of Chinese characters, motifs, and symbols such as flowers, butterflies, and birds. Lately, the clever seamstresses of Beijing have been busy cutting antique ribbons up to make replicas of the the small slippers so popular with foreign tourists. So in a sense I was rescuing these textiles from such a fate.

Alas, my accessioning halted with our departure from China.
But, what to do with such beauty?

Taking lengths of the ribbon, I matched these to corresponding Chinese silver rattles (once used to adorn Children’s hats), and created necklaces.

From The Parrott Collection (Photograph courtesy, Pomme Gallery)

But I still feel these exquisite ribbons deserve just the right couture treatment.

Perhaps, elegant evening bags, or, as one friend suggested, Chinese ribbon patchwork quilts or throw pillows. I am open to suggestions. Any ideas out there?



  1. Oh, Marjorie, these are exquisite! I have never seen them before, and they are just delicious. I am the same way in places like VV Rouleaux. Ribbons make my heart beat faster.

    I love your combination of the ribbon with the silver rattle, and I think your friend's idea about making a quilt would be lovely as a way to showcase many ribbons in all their variety at once. This would also preserve them intact.

    Sigh. What a gorgeous post! xoxo Gigi

  2. These are marvelous, Marjorie! They would be a gorgeous trim on absolutely anything. The scraps would make lovely bookmarks.

  3. Marjorie, wow, I love those ribbons! I too am such a huge fan of ribbon, I could just stare at it all day!!! The photos on your blog are just amazing!!!! I would love to see all of those ribbons in person and touch them too!!!!
    Thanks for sharing them!

  4. What a wonderful subject for a post. Terrific photos. I also love Mokuba. The selection! The prices (ouch)! Did you know that the Paris couture houses use a lot of Mokuba? That helps me when I'm rationalizing the expense!

    You write a super blog, and having an obsession with muguet de bonheur, muguet de bois, and le premier mai en France, I admire the title and themes of your blog.

  5. Fantastic post! I adore ribbon as well, but I just purchase pieces and they collect dust. You've inspired me!

  6. Bonjour Marjorie,
    Quel plaisir de lire votre blog ...
    Ces rubans chinois Sont vraiment merveilleux!
    Moi aussi, j'ai une passion pour les rubans et dentelles anciennes ...!!!
    Je suis contente que les blouses d'écoliers vous bien arrivées soient.
    Je reviendrais vous visiter Souvent,
    à trés bientôt
    Véronique / Musante
    Mon blog: http://javableueetcie.canalblog.com/
    lun. shop: http://javableue.canalblog.com/

  7. Marjorie dearest! Les rubans m'intriguent! THese are just gorgeous, and I am not surprised to see my dearest friend and neighbor Julie from Gilded Moons has commented! She loves ribbons and has good taste in them! So lovely dear.

    Have a great, wonderful day! Anita

  8. Glad you advised me to come check out those chinese ribbons. They are beautiful, I love the boldness of the colors that somehow work together without being loud or gaudy. The picture of the ribbons pile just makes you want to rummage through it.!

  9. Yes Marjorie that photo of the pile of ribbons has me in awe.. such beautiful bold colours and all playing together nicely!!! I've been playing with a few ribbons here today myself but not as beautiful as these.. have fun xx Julie

  10. Dear Marjorie,
    What fabulous ribbons. I, too love them. I can spend hours in V V Rouleaux. My husband can't understand how I can spend ages looking at spools of ribbons.
    I'm glad you liked Dennis Severs house. It is truly an experience. XXXX

  11. These are simply gorgeous!! I also thought about how beautiful these would be if they were made into a quilt. And I can also see them as wonderful pillows!

    Kat :)

  12. OH yes I can spend hours pouring over ribbons. When I go to the show there is one line where the ribbons all come from France and they are exquisite. Unfortunately they are more designer ribbons and $$$ but it's fun to look at.

  13. I am glad to know that I am not the only person that loves ribbons. I am clearly in good company. Thank you for sharing these lovely photos & your beautiful story. Good luck deciding what to do with them, they are so beautiful just as they are.