Suzhou Kesi Weaving

Suzhou Kesi Weaving

Kesi, also called 'cut silk', is an ancient silk weaving craft that originated in Suzhou, and now exists in Suzhou and surrounding areas.

Kesi refers to silk tapestry with cut designs which resemble carved artwork. With a unique silk weaving technique, Kesi uses raw silk as a warp yarn, and boiled-off silk as a weft yarn. It weaves in blocks according to the outline of the pattern using a bamboo leaf-shaped shuttle and wooden comb-shaped plectrum. To change a color means changing a shuttle. Kesi doesn't run through the whole breadth of the tapestry. The weft is not interlocked between differently colored areas. When the outline (weft) meets the perpendicular (warp), there is a small slit that looks like it was cut using a sharp knife. This slit is part of the 'continuous warp and discontinuous weft' method.

Kesi is not only a technique but also a kind of art. In ancient China, an inch of Kesi was worth the same as an ounce of gold.


Kesi is a traditional Chinese silk weaving technique of cut designs upon a silk tapestry. Archaeological evidence indicates that Kesi was produced in China at least as early as the Han Dynasty (206BC - 220AD). Later, in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), tapestries became highly desirable due to the refined workmanship, classical style and coloring, making it the golden age of this art form in China.

During the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), Kesi was used to weave robes for royalty ad aristocracy, and the tapestries began to incorporate golden thread into their intricate patterns creating a unique and opulent effect. Unfortunately, few such examples survive today.

The art lost its popularity for a time until it was revived during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644AD). Many tapestries made in the early Ming Dynasty were imitations of works in the Song Dynasty, but artisans were later able to create works with vibrant compositions and increasingly refined weaving. Some tapestry designs were even embellished with brushwork and colors for an even more beautiful outcome. Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) tapestry weaving techniques became increasingly precise and even. The range of subject matter also blossomed as designs became ever more abundant and complex. The practice of combining tapestry and painting spread, resulting in further variations on this art form.


Kesi is the art of weaving on a handy tabby wooden loom. It is done with raw silk as the warp and boiled-off silk as the weft. With a combination of partial weft (vertical) threads attached to full warp (horizontal) threads, it differs from other woven silk goods that have full warp and weft threads.

The weft threads are usually made up of dozens of colors and are separately reeled in many small shuttles. First the artisan makes a sketch of the pattern to be woven on the warp, and then guides a shuttle with the weft thread of a specified color across the warp threads -- almost never throughout the entire width but only where that particular color is needed. This is a form of weaving patch by patch. One could also say it represents an integration of the skills of silk weaving and painting. It is necessary to make frequent changes of the shuttles (i.e. threads of different colors), and a small piece of work requires thousands of changes to finish.


Subject matters in cut silk include human figures, mountains, water, flowers and birds.

1. With close threads, exquisite patterns and rich colors

Many kesi depict portraits, landscapes, animals and many other decorative textile styles. Pictures designed in this style are explicit in dark and light contrast , while still allowing character harmony.

2. Wide usage

Flexibly cut according to a requested size and shape, Kesi is widely applied to crafts, scroll painting, clothing ornaments, and household goods like cushions. It is a good combination of art, decoration and practicality.

3. Durability

The image is identical on both the front and back and both sides are neat and smooth, making it superior to two-sided embroidery. It can be stroked, rubbed, or pinched without sustaining any damage, and is very durable compared to embroidery or brocade.

4. Irreversibility due to the unique technique

There is no way to fix a flaw once the piece has been finished. The whole work will be thrown away and started again, which increases the value of Kesi pieces.
Ⅳ. Significance

As the oldest woven textile in China, Kesi can trace its ancestry back to the Loulan Site of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), and has been used a tribute to the emperor through the ages. This highly collectable item has been prized as "the treasure of oriental art" and the "dignity of woven textile" since its inception for its style and value.

It is one of the most artistic forms of traditional Chinese handicraft. Though many of the artisans who made the pieces are anonymous, their works reveal an exceptional level of skill and patience as well as a considerable degree of artistic cultivation.

Kesi gained popularity throughout the world as it spread to Japan, and into Europe. It has become one of the messengers of traditional Chinese art forms, and continues to grow in popularity and reputation.