What I love: mountains, hats, cloth, stories within ritual.
On our third day in China’s Guizhou Province last spring, publisher Linda Ligon, photographer Joe Coca, and I bounced along steep and muddy mountain roads with our dear guide Wang Jun and faithful driver Mr. Zhou. We were in China to work on our newest book Every Thread a Story: Traditional Chinese Artisans of Guizhou Province. Our end point that day was remote Fanpai Village celebrating its annual Bridge Worshipping Festival. When we finally arrived at the village, I saw a cluster of old men preparing to play their bamboo pipes that reached into the trees; women in indigo-dyed skirts and blouses decked out with silver head gear and an array of wild hats filed by carrying baskets of rice wine, fish heads, and “ghost money.” It was nothing short of love at first site.
We learned from Wang Jun that during this traditional Miao Bridge Worshipping festival, participants ask the gods and ancestors to protect their children’s health and to bless the family with a better life. They honor the unseen bridge connecting this world with the next. Dressed in their finest, they lay offerings of fish, glutinous rice, incense, and paper money at the foot of both sides of the actual bridges near their village. They offer each other (and us!) cups of rice wine throughout the ceremony before they move to the village square for ritual dances and a feast.
Witnessing this festival was a sort of crash course in Miao cultural and textile traditions; it illustrated many ancient ways alive today–the music, the clothing, that strong connection to another world, seen and unseen. As Linda and I wrote the stories of the Guizhou artisans, I would return to this remarkable day in the mountains many times, as inspiration, as understanding.
Linda, Joe, and I, along with a dozen other textile travelers were all set to visit Guizhou next week. We had planned to meet some of the artisans featured in Every Thread a Story, maybe try our hand at indigo dyeing or split-thread embroidery, and enjoy the costumes and food at festivals. Sadly, that trip had to be postponed, but we’re undeterred and are already plotting a Guizhou journey in the spring of 2021.
In the meantime, I will leaf through the pages of Every Thread a Story enjoying Joe Coca’s perfect photography and remember each village, each artisan’s story, all that cloth, and of course, the mountains. A third-century Chinese poet wrote, “Sad songs can take the place of tears, far gazing can take the place of return.” I will sing no sad song, but until next year, I will spend many of my days far gazing all the way to Guizhou.
Every Thread a Story & The Secret Language of Miao Embroidery are available now in one gorgeous boxed set. Order your copy today.