Rush, commonly known as the “mat rush,” boasts three Taiwanese varieties: the round rush, the triangle rush and the da-jia rush, or the yuan-li rush. Their properties and uses are slightly different. The well-known da-jia rush hat adopts the endemic rush grown in the downstream area of the Da-an River. The da-jia rush is resilient in texture with great tenacity and excellent hygroscopicity. The scent of the grass is full-bodied. When it comes to rush weaving, the end product is delicate and refined.
Two hundred years ago, the aboriginal tribal women of Toakas started to tap into harvesting rush and making it into rush mat. The mat was nicknamed the “aboriginal mat” and improved on that basis to look better, more durable and comfortable to wear. It soon became their best-selling product.
In 1897, Hung Yuan, a female resident of Yuanli, Miaoli, came up with the very first rush hat. After that, Da-jia business people started to export the hat to Japan, US and Europe. In 1936, the hat exports topped 16 million in quantity, marking Taiwan’s third biggest export industry.
The rush must be harvested, exposed to the sun, then cut, beaten and rubbed before going to the next stage of weaving. The basic weaving skill includes single press, double press, connecting, patterning and seaming. Patterns may vary due to personal ingenuity. The Dragon and Phoenix Patterned Mat is a product of great skill. The mat constitutes hollowed parts to reveal the dragon and phoenix patterns. It is not only a difficult task, but also an artistic one. A contemporary approach to the work incorporates three-dimensional weaving techniques. The modern version of the Dragon and Phoenix Patterned Mat is more ornamental and decorative, and less practical for daily use.
The rush weaving went to its decline with industrialisation. In recent years, the Yuan-li community has been committed to promote the heritage. They established the Taiwan Yun-Li Handiwork Association to preserve and to take in elements from the latest trends of the fashion industry.
Artisans of rush weaving, including Cheng Mei-yu, Chu Chou Kui-chun and Lu Jin-xia, all strive to convert the traditional two-dimensional weaving into three dimensions. Their efforts have brought new vitality to rush weaving. To see and experience rush weaving culture, visit the Triangle Rush Exhibition Hall and the Yun-Li Lin Workshop of the Taiwan Yun-Li Handiwork Association in Yuan-li, Miaoli.