Summerwood: Old Grass, New Design

Summerwood by Yi Hongbo 

An old town in China's Hunan province,
Liuyang is surrounded by mountains and hills
with three rivers running through the terrain.
The very first dwellers in this town
draw roots back to the Old Stone Age.
Today, little is known about grass cloth
- a fabric spun from the local crop ramie,
which has been the main crop used
for textiles since six thousand years ago
until cotton was introduced into China.

ramie grass cloth fabric rolls by summerwood

Also known as China Grass, the authentic ramie (or white ramie) shines with a white, silky luster and is one of the strongest natural fibers in the world. Hand spun from ramie and loomed by skilled artisans, grass cloth from Liuyang used to enjoy equal popularity with the finest silk from Hangzhou. Today, China still produces 90% of the world's ramie, but the artistic techniques to process and weave ramie have almost been forgotten in the country for decades. As synthetic fabrics occupied the market, grass cloth disappeared and its name became completely foreign to the young generations. Young people prefer to work in factories rather than learn the time consuming techniques of the grass cloth loom. The remaining grass cloth factories export their products to Japan and Korea.




ramie grass cloth

SUMMERWOOD has been working with a handful of independent designer brands to explore modern applications of grass cloth. "Unlike fabrics woven on modern machines, the width of handmade grass cloth is limited to the widths of hand looms, which are usually narrow and varied," says Yi in an interview with Design Management China. "However, if you look at our traditional clothing, the Japanese Kimonos, or the Korean Hanbok, they are all designed sophisticatedly based on the narrow widths of the fabrics. Such harmonious interdependence between fabric and garment design is very elegant."

Moving forward, Yi hopes to expand the usage of hand loomed grass cloth beyond fashion design, and eventually cultivate a domestic market. "We are looking to develop grass cloth products for hotels, restaurants, and home decor," says Yi, with the hope that SUMMERWOOD will one day become like Norlha and Chiaki Maki, connecting traditional hand-woven textiles to the world of modern design.


summerwood ramie grass cloth table runner

hand spun ramie for grass cloth, summerwood


Without further efforts of preservation,
the ancestral know-how of grass cloth production
is in danger of dying within a few generations
resulting from the cost-effective approaches
of modernization.

However, one piece of grass cloth epitomizes
an incredible capacity of human creativity,
and reflects man's connection with nature.

For the designer,
these extremely rare characteristics are
no where to be found in machine woven
textiles, and are vitally needed
in our time.

hand loom ramie grass cloth