The Renaissance of Bullrush Weaving
Schoenoplectus triqueter is a unique species of stream bank bulrush with triangular stalks grown in Yuanli Township of Miaoli County in Western Taiwan. Streambank bulrush, known to be both fragrant and durable, was first woven more than 300 years ago by aboriginal peoples. The Han Chinese later adopted bulrush weaving and created a weaving culture that continues to this day; despite the fact that now only elderly women are familiar with this weaving technique.
Bulrush artisans WU Cai-qing and WU Shu-fen are sisters who learned to weave as kids. Their mother taught them to make bulrush mats and hats, which were later exported to Japan. The sisters look back on those times as full of both trials and tribulations because weaving a single bulrush mat was difficult work that could take almost a month. The weavers of Yuanli were set apart from patriarchal traditions since their families relied primarily on their daughters, rather than their sons, for financial support.
The rise of industrialization in the 1960s led to a decline in the bulrush weaving industry that caused the women of Miaoli to abandon weaving. Faced with the disappearance of such a fine art, a group of elders and young people decided to revive the art of bulrush weaving. They relied on their memories to restore traditional patterns while also incorporating innovative designs into their weaving.
This interdisciplinary project in partnership with the National Palace Museum and fashion designer CHEN Shao-Yen was quite challenging; however, the group managed some spectacular final products thanks to the aunts and grandmothers of Yuanli.