Mongolians usually wear caftans, as the nomadic people can easily ride horses in the clothes. In particular, the traditional costumes and adornments of Ordos, a city in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, are gorgeous and elegant. Ordos costumes and adornments are of high artistic and practical value. The costumes and adornments embody the cultural elements of the Hans' traditional clothes and adornments, and those worn by dignitaries during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).
A complete traditional Ordos outfit, with exquisite, colorful embroidered patterns, consists of a caftan, a vest, a sash, boots and a pair of trousers. Many Ordos women wear headgear, such as hats and scarves.
Craftspeople use different materials (including silk, cotton, sheepskin and brocade [richly decorative woven fabrics, often made in colored silks]) to make caftans. A man's caftan is usually blue, gray or brown, with high collars and long sleeves, which helps keep him warm when he herds during winter. A woman's caftan is usually red, pink, green or blue, with a sash that is generally shorter and narrower than that of a man.
Bright-colored satin vests, trimmed with embroidered lace, are favorites of many married women. During her wedding ceremony, a Mongolian bride usually wears a long silk vest, called "Wuji," with split sides, over her caftan.
Siqing Balamu, 76, a native of Wushen Banner, in Ordos, is a State-level inheritor of the craft of making Mongolian costumes and adornments. As a sixth-generation inheritor of the craft, she has created numerous Mongolian costumes and adornments during the past six decades, during which she has strived to improve her craft-making skills.
Born into a nomad's family, Siqing began learning, from her mother, how to make Mongolian clothes, hats, boots and personal adornments when she was eight years old. "Influenced by both my mother and grandmother, I developed an interest in creating the items during my early childhood," says Siqing.
At the age of 15, Siqing was known for her lively mind and quick hands. When she was 17, she could use different materials to make clothes, headgear, boots and other items for men and women.
Dubbed as a "star embroiderer," Siqing uses more than 2,000 varieties of colorful silk threads to make costumes and adornments. By drawing inspiration from life and traditional Mongolian culture, she has created a unique style in designing costumes and adornments.
To meet locals' aesthetic preferences, she has put a lot of effort into creating costumes and adornments with modern, fashionable elements.
Given the shortage of raw materials — including coral, agate, turquoise, gold, silver, jewelry and other precious materials — used to make Ordos headgear, and as it takes a lot of effort to create the adornment, craftspeople who are good at making the headgear, like Siqing, are rare in Ordos.
Making Ordos headgear involves hundreds of complicated procedures, including designing and drawing patterns, piecing together colorful cloth to create the patterns, inlaying the cloth with pearls, jade and other precious materials, stringing agate beads and adding the string to the headgear, and polishing turquoise (an opaque, blue-to-green mineral) and adding the mineral to the headgear. A mistake at any stage can ruin the item.
During the past four decades, Siqing has put much effort into developing the craft (of making Ordos costumes and adornments). She has produced more than 1,000 outfits, and more than 40 sets of headgear, since she established her factory in 1978. In 2007, she established a society to display the beauty of Ordos costumes and adornments to senior residents of Wushen. In 2012, China's Ministry of Culture recognized Siqing as a State-level inheritor of the craft.
Over the past several decades, Siqing has devoted her life to studying and saving the craft. Many of her apprentices, including her sisters, have become skilled craftspeople who have created Ordos costumes and adornments. Siqing hopes the younger generation of craftspeople share her passion for creating the costumes and adornments.
In recent years, Siqing has won prizes for her costumes and adornments during many national and international exhibitions and cultural activities.
"I hope more visitors, from home and abroad, will have a better understanding of Ordos' traditional culture through the exquisite costumes and adornments," says Siqing.
(Executive Editors: YAO YAO and GU WENTONG, Women of China English Monthly April 2017 Issue)
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