Villagers stitch together a living through traditional lacework

(| Updated : 2023-02-07

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Dawenkou lace craft-adopted umbrellas. [Photo/IC] 

It has been a busy week for the employees of an artistic umbrella factory in East China's Shandong province since returning to work following the Spring Festival holiday on Jan 28.

An order of 6,000 lace umbrellas, placed by a Thai company, is scheduled to be shipped in a few days, says Tang Binjie, head of the factory in the town of Dawenkou in the city of Tai'an.

Factory employees were already swamped with work in the two months leading up to Spring Festival, which fell on Jan 22, Tang adds.

Tang, 45, is a fourth-generation inheritor of the Dawenkou lace craft, a municipal-level intangible cultural heritage. Dawenkou laceworks are decorative openworks knitted and woven with a variety of fabrics, including cotton, linen and silk threads. The craft has a history of more than 2,000 years.

Now a renowned lace umbrella artisan, Tang, originally from a village in Dawenkou, learned the craft from his father as a child.

Some years ago, he decided to return to his hometown to start a business, with the goal of passing down and developing the lace craft.

He visited rural households in surrounding towns and villages to recruit skilled embroiderers and managed to foster partnerships by paying them for their work in advance.


Embroiders in Dawenkou town, Tai'an, produce the lace pattern umbrellas with Dawenkou lace craft. [Photo/IC]

Today, the Dawenkou lace craft is used to make a wide range of products. Tang's factory delivers fabrics to the homes of his embroiderers and later collects the finished items to sell.

"I can get the job done at home and make money without leaving the house," says Hou Chunling, a 57-year-old embroiderer from Dawenkou's Shendong village.

Hou makes more than 15,000 yuan ($2,226) every year by making lace umbrellas.

In recent years, Tang has integrated modern designs with the traditional craft to upgrade the product line, which now includes umbrellas and fans.

He has also taken advantage of e-commerce platforms to break into the international market, establishing stable business relationships with clients in more than 10 countries and regions, with an average annual order volume of more than 500,000 pieces.

"The demand for our umbrellas now exceeds supply. We are booked solid with orders until June this year," Tang says.

With the support of the township government, Tang has set up a studio to teach the lace craft to female residents who cannot leave Dawenkou to seek employment elsewhere, or are temporarily unemployed. The studio has helped more than 300 people find a job close to home.

"In the new year, we will intensify training of embroiderers, continue to expand our business internationally, and pursue innovations in product design," Tang says.

"We shall aim to continue to inject vitality into the traditional lace craft and help more villagers increase their income," he adds.