Imagine giving a new lease of life to a three thousand year old Chinese tradition! This is exactly what Liza Serratore and Claire Russo – two young American entrepreneurs based in Shanghai – have done with ‘Nankeen’ in creating LuRu Home. They are determined to make it a household name, not just in China but way beyond too. Nicely Made in China (NMiC) recently spoke with them to find out more about it.
Liza, Claire, how did you discover Nankeen?
In China you just need to keep your eyes open to see Nankeen all around you: it appears on a wide array of products like cushions, tablecloths, padded winter jackets, umbrellas and so on. We tracked it down with the help of the shop-owners offering it for sale, and they directed us to the workshops. We visited our first Nankeen workshop in October 2010 and started to envision its use for interior decoration. A few months later – Spring 2011 – we launched LuRu Home!
What is Nankeen?
Nankeen is a technique used to dye cotton and linen with indigo. Its use is mainly confined to the Eastern seaboard of China, but in fact you also find a slightly different version of it in Japan where it’s called shibori. A pattern is hand-carved onto a screen of thick oiled paper and a paste of soybeans and rice is then applied through the holes on to the fabric. When dry, the fabric with the paste on it is dipped into vats of indigo dye and then left to dry for 10 days in the breeze.
What can two young American girls bring to a 3000-year old technique?
We bring an updated edge to Nankeen. We also bring patronage and believe that we have reawakened an awareness and appreciation of a beautiful age-old craft.
How big is the workshop you deal with and why did you choose that workshop in particular?
It is a family-run business, with 6-8 members working at any given time, although there can sometimes be more depending on the size of orders received. We chose this particular family in Jiangsu because they have been making Nankeen for generations. Also, we were impressed by their attention to detail and the quality they produce. At the time of placing a new order with the workshop, we meet with the owners and head of production to view the print quality of the fabrics.
You mentioned that the weather influences the results of the dye. In what way?
Yes, it is true that the weather plays its part in the process and has taught us to be flexible and patient. When it is sunny and clear, the dry air sucks the moisture out of the paste and helps it dry quickly on the fabric. Once the cotton is dyed, washed, dried and scraped clean of paste, the resulting print is a very crisp navy and white. When the weather is rainy, cloudy or humid, the paste takes longer to dry and the indigo doesn’t dye the fabric to the same intensity. The blues are slightly lighter and the whites are softer, a bit more cream-colored.
How many products do you sell and who designs them?
We have 7 products in our collection: cushions, tablecloths, tea towels, placemats … So far, we have only used traditional Chinese patterns in our designs. However, for our Fall-Winter 2012 collection, due out in August, we will start using our own designs too. We are also happy to take individual customised orders and sell fabric by the yard.
Where can Nicely Made in China readers find your products?
Readers who are interested can contact us directly via our website (www.luruhome.com). We’re also always happy to welcome people in our Shanghai studio. For those of your readers who happen to live in the USA or in Australia our products are already for sale in home furnishing boutiques whose addresses are listed below.
Nicely Made in China would like to thank Fiona Reilly the owner of the blog Life on Nanchang Lu for the picture of Nankeen fabric drying in the breeze.