I think I should be very careful about ever complaining about have a few too many demands on my time on my blog again…. Apparently, life decided to take that as something of a challenge and pile things on to an extent that definitely crossed the ridiculous threshold and in a way that will also mean lots of big changes up ahead… Just when I was thinking of getting a bit settled!
Still, there are always good moments in the chaos and I had the great pleasure of going back to South Korea this year and revisiting Dongdaemun Fabric Market. I can confirm it only seems to get absolutely more fabulous as a result of having some idea how to navigate the labyrinth! I will do a post on some of the best places for hanbok fabrics and stalls I really like as a more detailed compliment to the general tour I did last year. It’s an incredibly special place that is very hard not to love if you like anything remotely crafty.
I had a chance to see a few places outside of Seoul this time too and I think with it came a bit more appreciation of some of the history and craftsmanship that Korea is home to. Korea wasn’t really a place I knew much about or had particularly intended to go to, it was just where work ended up taking me, and last year I found it hard not just to draw comparisons with Japan. It’s true that most Asian cities have a certain sense and feeling, in the way that most European and American cities have lots of small commonalities, but Korea has a sense of fun chaos to it. I will not miss the constant aural assault from the fact that it seems it is mandatory to play music everywhere at hideous volumes and the more different tunes you have overlapping the same intersecting area the better but I will miss the gorgeous rivers and rolling forest-covered hills.
What I think strikes me most about the traditional textiles in Korea is the magnificent colourings. Hanbok, usually considered the traditional formal dress worn during the Joseon dynasty, is a wonderful exercise in all things craftmanship. The accessories worn with the clothes are sneaky demonstrations of maedeup – the knotting technique that is probably my favourite Korean craft, alongside geumbak, the art of fine gold leaf printing on fabric.
If you head to the Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul, there’s a rather modest looking geumbak workshop which houses some textiles and artwork that are anything but modest. You can see photographs of some of the items here as photos are not allowed. This is the place that is home to one of Korea’s ‘Living National Treasures’ – a designation that honours the finest artists of traditional Korea crafts and feels like something of an understatement compared to the magnificence of the work.
If you’re lucky and get there at the right time, you might get a tour of the studio where you can learn a little more about some of the symbolism to be found on the garments. You’ll see lots of the characters for bats for luck, with the phoenix and dragon being the symbols for the empress and emperor respectively. Colours also have their place, with the combination of blue and red on the South Korean flag being the symbol for harmony.
There are a few things you might spot on these traditional textiles that wouldn’t look out of place on a piece of Jacobean work, like pomegranates, despite them not being a traditional part of Korean agriculture. Apparently this comes from a bit of old Roman influence – it seems that even the ancient world where voyages could be measured in months not hours was a small place.
Other highlights were Changdeokgung palace in Seoul for which it’s well worth taking a tour of the grounds, the strange wonderland that is Nami Island and some of the beautiful botanical gardens at the Garden of Morning Calm. I’ve raved about Trazy before for their tours in Taiwan, but their Korean ones are just as awesome and very good value for money so may be a good way to get around if you don’t fancy braving the transportation yourself.
I hope this post will mark a return to regular blogging and maybe even a bit more of a regular life, though I suspect that part might be a little optimistic! It has been a rather good few weeks in terms of textile travel stories to share and even a little bit of project progress to tide me along.