2009 Weave of the week #21: Lady Dai’s mittens

Lady Dai's mittens

Lady Dai's mittens

The delicate, woven silk mittens shown above were made 2,200 years ago for a Chinese noblewoman known today as “Lady Dai.” When she died, they were placed into her tomb, along with hundreds of other luxurious items, for her to enjoy in the afterlife.

The “Noble Tombs at Mawangdui” where Lady Dai, her husband, and her son were buried were discovered and excavated in the Chinese province of Hunan in the 1970s, and more than 1,000 objects were unearthed, as well as Lady Dai’s remarkably well-preserved body. (Her last meal was still in her stomach!)

Seventy of the tomb objects — including the mittens and other woven silk textiles — are on exhibit at the China Institute, NYC, until June 7. It is one of the most interesting shows that I have seen in a long time, and the fingerless silk mittens are my favorite pieces in the show — they seem remarkably contemporary.

The panels across the mittens’ palms were dyed with ground cinnabar and woven with a damask pattern, then trimmed with handwoven gold ribbon at both edges, in what is said to be the first known instance of Chinese characters’ being woven into a ribbon (see the illustration below from the exhibition catalog).  The woven characters mean “much gold,” so the ribbon advertises the wearer’s wealth and status just as a modern logo would. As the exhibition catalog puts it, this ribbon, which was complicated and time-consuming to weave, was “produced in small quantities for an elite clientele.”

Mitten ribbon design

Woven characters

The China Institute, NYC, has an excellent short video about this extraordinary discovery on its website and there is a detailed article about it in the May/June 2009 issue of Archaeology magazine.


5 Responses

  1. My pleasure, Eva, glad you liked the video. Thanks for commenting.


  2. This is fascinating. I miss the close proximity to museums since we moved out of NY, but I watched the video and enjoyed it immensely. Thanks Fern!


  3. Amazing….just amazing.


  4. Thank you. I saw the exhibit. It is marvelous and enlightening

    • Virginia, I’m really pleased that you liked the exhibit too. Thanks for reporting back.


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