From land, plants to crafts, human activity dictated the history and customs of the area they live in.
This article explored the connection between fiber art plants, landscape and human society, looking for clues for the development of Taiwan fiber art within the warps and wefts, in the dyes and colors, in the soaring imagination and the step by step practice. Fiber weaved nature, human activity and history together into a cultural craft. Today, it was also the symbol of the new values, experience and outlook of a transformed community. Through various experiments done in Taiwan cities and counties, we managed to map out the complicated network formed by visitors, inhabitants and the land and put together a clear picture of how the fiber craft industry evolved and thrived. Fiber crafts could be seen in grade one to grade six industries.
Its beauty and potential transcended ethnicity and knowledge systems. With perseverance and strong will, the fiber industry strode forward to a bright future.
Taiwan’s rich plantation and unique landscape gave birth to the lasting and diverse fiber craft. Fiber craft was created because the early natives needed to put food on the table. As time passed by, fiber craft faded into the background because handmade craft gradually lost its appeal during industrial revolution. The art was almost lost in time. Not until recent years did folk art lovers decide to rekindle the dwindling flame. In this fast-changing world, the challenge was to redefine traditional craft art, explore the charm and potential of fiber and find its place in between art in daily life and pure art.
In 1990, the study of local culture and history put Taiwanese cities and districts under the spot light. People began to realize that each region had its unique characters due to local natural resources and landscape. Culture evolved and grew with the help of the academia and the industry. People perceive, practice and learn as life went on and art continued to prosper. Eventually modern artists took traditional crafts to another level. Handicrafts went from local specialty to cultural creative products. The rush-weaving handicrafts of Yuanli, the mud dye fabrics of Dadu plateau, and the natural dye of Shimen district at Guaxing township were all testaments of how mankind lived and worked in harmony with mother nature. These skills had been an integral part of our culture. Today, some handicrafts charity programs also gave people new hope.
In remote areas where mountains rose and streams flowed, many plants thrived and prospered. Shell flower and paper mulberry could still be seen everywhere. Calamus formosanus Becc. was quite rare. Umbrella Sedge were introduced from exotic lands. All these plants had strong fibers fit for crafts. In recently, they were used frequently by professional designers, creators and artists to enrich their repertoire and improve the living standards of modern people.
This article looked into the effort and hard work of Mapihaw tribe in Miaoli County and Zhanghu district in Yulin as they busied themselves with the preservation and restoration of fiber art. The former strived to reserve the traditional ramie art by asking the women in the tribe to revert back into their traditional role in the family and the society. Women were asked to harvest ramie and spin them into treads for further fabric weaving and clothes making. The later turned an introduced plant, Mikania micrantha, into beautiful natural dye. The hand-dyed products opened new doors for the local district.