Making of: Hansan Mosi-jjagi, Korea
Words by Emily Lush, Video by UNESCO, Photos by Hansan Ramie Fabric Cultural Festival and London Korean Links
The versatile ramie plant (Boehmeria nivea) – a flowering nettle native to eastern Asia – has gained popularity in the past decade for its use in bio-plastics used to manufacture hybrid cars. Ramie is not typically used for textiles because of the difficult process required to prepare its fibres, which are sheathed in thick gum and resin, and have a hairy surface, compromising fibre cohesion during weaving. In Korea, ramie has been used since the 9th century to weave mosi cloth, a light-weight, ultra-absorbent textile worn during the summer months.
Hansan region in modern-day South Korea’s central west is known for its advantageous ramie-growing conditions. Here, plain-weave mosi cloth is woven from ramie by an elite group of female skill-holders. The process starts by harvesting ramie shoots and peeling off the thick skin using specially made ramie knives. Once sundried, the fibres turn from green to brown. Individual fibres are then lanced by women who pull the strands between their front teeth – a time-consuming, often painful practice that yields super-thin, flexible fibres ready for spinning and length-setting.
Ramie threads are then expertly inserted into a yard guide before undergoing a final starching process, whereby the fibres are strengthened by brushing them over a slow-burning coal fire. Using hybrid back-strap/standing looms, women then weave the cloth using special pulleys attached to their shoes to control the loom’s heddle.
The finished mosi cloth is used to make garments and bojagi, a traditional Korean wrapping cloth similar to the Japanese furoshiki. Hansan’s mosi weaving is recognised by UNESCO and recorded for posterity at the Hansan Ramie Fabric Hall museum and through the annual Hansan Ramie Fabric Cultural Festival.