In Hangchow, the capital city of the Eastern Chinese province of Chekiang, the traditional art of making silk parasols is being kept alive in modern factories.
In Hangchow, the capital city of the Eastern Chinese province of Chekiang, the traditional art of making silk parasols is being kept alive in modern factories. Instead of being made by craftsmen in their homes, these delicate umbrellas are now mass produced. But the skills needed to assemble to decorate the parasols have not been lost by the move into workshops.
SYNOPSIS: Beside the lake in the centre of Hangchow, the colourful parasols make a startling contrast with the simple, utilitarian fashions favoured in modern China.
In the factory the bales of silk are stretched along benches ready for expert cutting. Conventional umbrellas made of nylon are also produced here - but the end product of this process has more to do with beauty and delicacy than protection from the rain or sun.
The parasol frames are made from thin strips of bamboo. The poles are marked and peeled until they are fine enough to be bound together to form the intricate framework supporting the silk. Attaching the material to the bamboo struts is difficult. Too tightly drawn, the silk could tear or pucker - too loose, and it will sag.
Once the parasol is assembled, the real artistry begins. Using stencils and paint, this silk is brought to life with a variety of colourful designs. This pattern depicting the lake is Hangchow is one of the most popular produced in the factory.
By spinning the finished parasols the factory workers check that they are securely framed and symmetrical. Although intended as sun-shades, these parasols are also used in traditional Chinese acrobatic displays. They can be twisted and twirled for effect - but also provide an aid to balance. Whether on stage or in the street, the parasols which were once part of formal fashion, still add a dash of colour in modern China.