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English>>Life & Culture

Stitching together the past and present

By Wei Xi (Global Times)

08:45, September 10, 2012

A k'o-suu work lies half finished in a workshop. (China Daily)

A specialty of Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, k'o-suu is a type of Chinese silk handicraft that is even more painstaking to make than the famous Suzhou embroidery. Despite its status as one of China's greatest art forms, most Chinese have never even heard of k'o-suu or kesi in pinyin.

This traditional art differs from other kinds of brocade work in that in its most classic form, an entire work will be covered with hand-woven patterns and designs. K'o-suu works also have the distinct characteristic of appearing as if in relief, the images in the cloth having a raised, shapely quality to them.

In addition to displaying vivid and striking images, k'o-suu works can remain beautifully intact for thousands of years. While k'o-suu works have traditionally included clothes and copies of paintings, today the art form is spreading to more modern commodities like iPad cases and toys.

"The best way to protect traditional art forms is to make them come along with the times," said Chen Wen, a k'o-suu master and owner of Zhen Cai Tang, a k'o-suu workshop in Suzhou.

A timeless art

Although Suzhou is now regarded as the hometown of k'o-suu, the traditional art was brought from West Asia through the ancient Silk Road. While it is hard to trace the origins of k'o-suu, many scholars believe it began about 4,000 years ago.

Chen said k'o-suu works began to appear widely in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The art form reached its peak in quality during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), but since the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it has gone steadily downhill for the most part.

"During the Song Dynasty, k'o-suu was used to make replicas of paintings and calligraphy works, upgrading the craft from daily commodities to works of art that could be collected," Chen told the Global Times.

Yet, as the demand for k'o-suu increased during the Qing Dynasty, many works were no longer made with integrity.

According to Chen, during this period, the traditional art saw its beautiful silk work being slapped alongside painted fabric. In addition, k'o-suu clothes were exclusively restricted to the royal family during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), removing it from public use.

"Furthermore, as other cheaper materials, such as cotton and linen, began to take the place of silk, k'o-suu works became less popular," Chen said.

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