While I have heard a fair amount about Japanese fabric (and even used it myself, on occasion, double gauze, anyone?) I don’t know that much about Korean fabric. On a recent trip to Seoul, however, I did get some time in the National Folk Museum of Korea, which is nestled in the Gyeongbokgung Palace in South Korea’s capital. Dodging herds of giggling hanbok-clad palace goers (you get into the palace, which is a museum, for free if you wear traditional Korean clothing, although many people end up renting the clothing from nearby shops that offer it on loan for palace visits, so how free is any of this, really?), I trudged through the palace grounds, enjoying the buildings that were all re-built in the early 1900’s, giving me a Disneyland vibe.
As a history seeker, Seoul could not really feed my love of the old, outside of museums, that is, my happy places, but I can’t much blame the place for this, any more than we can blame Berlin or Rotterdam, that is, when you are destroyed by war, you are destroyed by war, that’s all there is to it. But the many palaces of Seoul have been rebuilt, shiny and new, so modern visitors can pretend they are living in 1300 but with decent dental care. That’s a fantasy I can get behind, really.
Paying full price also meant not being hampered by full skirts, so I was able to nimbly make my way past many a selfie stick and ended up exploring a place that few other people seemed interested in, but was 100% up my alley, that is, the National Folk Museum of Korea, free with palace entry, by the way, and fitted out with a delightful gift shop (museum shops are always the best shops, am I right? It’s like passed hors d’oeuvres at a wedding, or at least, at a Western wedding, always the greatest, it’s all downhill from there). While the museum had many amusing things carefully explaining to visitors how agriculture works (either Korea has already developed so so quickly that people no longer realize how plants work, or, I don’t know, they just really want to cover their bases explaining that one must plant in Spring and harvest in Fall?), it also had a wonderful textile collection, outlining the historic use of a cloth made from ramie, which is in the nettle family and one of the oldest fiber plants humans have cultivated, according to the internet. I couldn’t find it for sale anywhere, apparently it’s expensive to make and hard to find now, but it was once commonly used in Korea, where it’s strength and luster made it popular.
The other popular material I saw a lot of was hemp.
Obviously the weaving width is thin on these, which maybe explains how Korean garments were cut and stitched.
I loved these. Fascinating in construction and, like so many things, now almost contemporary in design. It’s all cyclical…
Of course, silk, cotton and fur were all used as well, to survive the brutal South Korean winters and baking summers.
Both of those last two garments were quilted, one a little child’s jacket, one part of a woman’s hanbok.
Apparently people also worn objects made of rattan, that is, plant vines, under their clothing to keep cool in summers. I…don’t understand how this worked?
Yeah, no sense of a how-to guide on these.
One of my favorite things was this, actually, these spools for thread. I guess these must have been for rather fancy folk, no?
This is actually the outfit civil servants wore, but can’t you just see that at an art opening in Chelsea?
But my all time favorite thing from the museum must absolutely in all ways be this poem:
This was 100% written by a man, and I would bet a man who never had to do his own laundry. Only a person of great privilege and social distance would romanticize the act of doing laundry in freezing water this way.
Men: trapping women in endless cycles of domestic labor and then praising them for that labor so they wont question the inequality of said labor since….always.