Beauty at Her Fingertips
The embellished cuffs of Chinese robes are known as sleeve bands (huan xiu). The faces of the bands appear relatively simple and void of decoration, however when worn the oversized fit in the length of the sleeves drape to the front of the arm, revealing a highly embellished reverse. The aesthetic field of the sleeve band offered artisans the opportunity present narrative scenes such as figures and landscapes that often did not find place in other Chinese garments. The most common decorative elements are botanical, insect, and “eight-treasure” symbols. Satin woven silk is the most common ground for sleeve bands, however gauze weaves, both figured and plain, were also popular and represented in this exhibition.
The silk bands were produced independently of the robes themselves. As the bands were created autonomously of the robes many examples were never attached to a garment and have survived in pristine condition. Most examples in the Aldrich collection are prepared as bands while others are mounted on paper scrolls. Some that Aldrich collected are process examples of sleeve bands that have yet to be cut from the full textile lengths that they were worked on. Aldrich also collected related brocaded ribbons that decorated successive courses on the sleeves. Of special note in this exhibition is an example from the Museum collection that is still wrapped on its original packaging (55.243) listing a Canton address for Yu Kee Co.. From ca. 1850 on the primary manufacturing sites for silk textiles in China were Suchou, Shanghai, and Canton –– in particular these sites focused on machine-woven ribbon trims. The sleeve bands and ribbons on display all date from the Tongzhi reign-period (1862-1874) and Guangxu reign-period (1875-1908).