A Travellerspoint blog

November 2012

Silk, Oh, Silk in Hetian

Find out about the Silk Road in China, learn about silk... in Vietnam-lah.

View A Thread of Silk on automidori's travel map.

Hetian, August 24th 2012

Who would go on a Silk Road journey but not expect silk? Silk, oh, silk! It's silk that created the Silk Road. It's silk that transformed culture and religion. It's silk that met China with Europe. It's silk that I'm here in Hetian for!

Under the service of Old Road Tours, I visited a silk factory in Jiya.

I'm not sure whether there are other silk factories in Jiya and whether this is the one meant by Central Asia Traveler here. The place looked like having been just renovated. One two white fresh painted rooms were still empty.

It was nice to witness the traditional way of silk production. However, the full process wasn't available. I had expected to see a detail process starting from silkworm breeding, boiling cocoons, washing, reeling, spinning, dyeing, and so forth. I had expected to find more than what I had learned in Vietnam. Vietnam got the knowledge, with no doubt, from China. And now here I am, in China. Not to mention, in Hetian to be precised, the heart of silk on the Silk Road. (Or is it not?) Therefore, logically, Hetian must have much more to offer about silk than Vietnam. (Or not so?)

Oh well, that white thingy in the yellow plastic box are cocoons. Before silk thread can be spun out of the cocoon, the cocoon has to be boiled. And then the pupa would be separated from the pupa like the woman on bottom left picture is doing. Then it's time to pull the thread out like shown on top right picture. Had I not learned about this in Vietnam -- also through a private tour, although unmentioned in Lonely Planet or TripAdvisor -- I would not understand what the woman was doing, because... Abdul the Tour Guide was in silence.

Like previously in the carpet factory, I had to ask him whether he had anything to explain to me. This is what he said:

  • One cocoon consists of 500 m up to 800 m long thread.
  • 25 up to 30 thread of silk is spun into 1 strand of thread.

Abdul the Tour Guide also explained the dyeing process to make thread of various colors like the picture on top right. First, they stretch the thread warp between two ends like the picture on the left. Some parts of the thread is masked with black plastic bands. Unfortunately the next process couldn't be seen here. You can imagine that, anyway. After the next dye, the parts covered with plastic bands would remain yellow. And then the process repeats with another color.

This kind of thing I didn't see in Vietnam. Over there, dyeing process comes after the whole white silk fabric is done. For patterns, they used patron cards. Here, they play with colors to make patterns. Different art technique. I like both.

This is another example.

I feel bad, because I haven't kept my promise to this old man. He asked me to send his picture like another tourist had done. He had her picture on the windowsill next to him. Sure, I would love to. I asked Abdul the Tour Guide to write down for me the address of the place so that I could post the photo. But he never did. I myself forgot about that when we came out from this factory. I could have asked the front office. Ah, I hope I still can send him his picture in one way or another. His name is Mamatemin.

This kind of spinning method, I didn't see in Vietnam. If only I could see and document the 'entire' process of this ancient style as described by Central Asia Traveler here: "This is a small workshop where you can take a tour of the entire silk-making process, which is done by hand, including boiling the cocoons, reeling the strands, spinning the thread, tying and dying the design, and weaving the fabric." That, would have at least made my day in Hetian. Oh, you should learn to see things from the eyes of the locals! Someone might comment again. Aye. I thought whether to see or not to see, things from the eyes of the locals during traveling, is every traveler's free choice. So... maybe, from the eyes of the locals, this is what's called 'entire'. I shouldn't see through the eyes of Vietnam. Aha. Or maybe, that workshop mentioned by Central Asia Traveler has actually gone into extinction as I had been pointed out for trusting an outdated source like Central Asia Traveler. Well, in that case, I had emailed the author and I was never told that her/his source is outdated.

The silk workers were kind, warm, and welcoming. I asked Abdul the Tour Guide to tell them that I say thank you for letting me taking their pictures. And then I asked him what's 'thank you' in Uyghur.

"That easy. Rahmat," Abdul the Tour Guide answered.


"Yes, rahmat."

"Wow. In my home country, 'rahmat' means 'grace'," I replied.

Abdul the Tour Guide just looked at me and said nothing.

"Grace. That's 'rahmat' in my home country's language."

He said nothing, still.

"This silk carpet is unique," said Abdul the Tour Guide. He urged me to turn around and view it from the other side. Oh yeah, the color is different from the other side.

These are the various products of silk sold at the shop in front. Some products are a mixed between silk and cotton, Abdul the Tour Guide explained. The ones mixed with cotton cost cheaper.

Inside the shop, there were a few information boards telling about silk. However, through the English translation, I could scarcely get what it was trying to say. I'm posting these just in case any of you would like to read the Arabic or Chinese version, which I trust mustn't be as awkward as the English version.

These are the natural material used to dye silk. Silk fabric dyed using chemical, usually looks more shiny, explained Abdul the Tour Guide also. I what's the differences of these stuffs. He only said that they were taken from plants. Hmmm, displayed in such a way, I believe there should be an explanation for each bowl.

Some historical relics were also displayed in the shop. Ah, this reminds me of my Alibaba storybook which Dad bought and read to me when I was a kid. When he was at work, I went through the pages from cover to cover, again and again. I lingered at each page as my mind wandered. These people, the way they dress, their houses, their tableware, are so unique, I thought.

This painting captured my attention. According o Abdul the Tour Guide, this is "Mukam Concert". This concert consists of approximately 10 instruments, 12 sessions and performs for 24 hours, during Eid al-Adha Festival and Eid al-Fitr Festival.

Posted by automidori 01:38 Archived in China Tagged china silk carpet xinjiang hetian old_road_tours abdul_wahab_tours central_asia_traveler Comments (0)

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