Material and Makers
The artisanal craft of rush grass weaving was first recorded in Taiwan 300 years ago. It experienced its heyday in the 1930s, during which rush grass products were the 3rd most exported item (after rice and sugar), most of which were bought by the Japanese. The lovely little town of YuanLi (苑里), in the middle of Taiwan, is where the grass is grown and woven. This cultural heritage was passed down from mothers to daughters. Today it is done by highly skilled grandmothers over their sixties, most of whom began weaving before they even reached primary school.
Rush grass grows to approximately 150cm (59 inches), but only 40% of which can be used for weaving. There are over 12 steps involved in preparing the grass before it can be woven. Some of these include growing, harvesting, drying, selecting, cleaning, softening and splitting.
The decades of experience the grandmothers have is obvious during the splitting process. Using a sewing needle and their highly trained instincts each blade of grass is split either in twos or threes. It is this process that gives the finished woven rush grass its fine weave and hence its charm.
Currently there are no machines capable of replicating the sophisticated gestures of a skilled artisan. Today it is processed and woven purely by hand using simple tools, just as it has always has been for 300 years.
We collaborate with various master weavers from YuanLi (苑里). Here we share some of their thoughts with you. From left to right;
Grandma Fung - "When I was young people from YuanLi preferred having girls because they could weave and therefore earn a good income for the family. Even better than the men!"
Grandma Yun - "I weave now to pass the time, it helps the days go faster"
Grandma Wu - "My biggest fear is that someone else can weave faster than me"