Ramie, which is known as mosi or moshi in Korea, is a bast fiber crop that is used to make cloth. That cloth is then made into a variety of cool summer weight clothes both traditional and modern. The fabric can be so light and finely woven that it has been likened to a dragonfly’s wings. In China it has been described as “light as a cicada’s wings, thin as paper, flat as a mirror, and slender as silk.” It actually gains softness and luster the more it is worn and washed. Nowadays it is often blended with other fibers such as cotton or wool and it is hard to find pure ramie clothes outside of the countries which produce it.
Ramie is a bast fiber, which means it is made from the inner bark of a plant. It comes from a plant in the nettle family and can be woven just like flax, hemp, or jute. Ramie is much sought after due to its durability and silky luster. It is resistant to bacteria, mildew and insect attack and is comfortable to wear in hot weather due to its ability to absorb sweat and wick it away from the body. Traditionally it was the fabric of choice for summer hanbok while quilted silk was prefered for winter wear.
It is difficult to produce, and expensive to buy, because the production method in Korea in particular, has remained virtually unchanged since ancient times. It is very labor intensive and requires skilled personnel to make. Some countries such as Japan do use machinery but they produce a much coarser fabric. Korean ramie, also known as Hansan ramie is considered the finest ramie available with Semoshi being the most finely textured of all. Semoshi ramie is nowadays usually only produced for special orders as only a few people retain the skills needed to make it.
Ramie has been used since prehistoric times in China, India, and Indonesia, and has been cultivated by man for over 5,000 years. It has been claimed that the ancient Egyptians used ramie for mummy cloths, however since it is hard to distinguish between flax and ramie in ancient textiles that will still need further research. Nevertheless ramie is one of the oldest fibers known to man. The oldest extant ramie clothes from Korea date to AD 1326, although no doubt they were wearing mosi cloth clothes long before then and there are references about mosi dating to the Three Kingdoms Period (57 BCE – AD 668). Most of the oldest examples of mosi clothes are housed in Buddhist temples.
The weaving of mosi in Hansan was recognized as an important part of the cultural heritage of Korea and was included on UNESCO’s World Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2011. The knowledge and skills are mostly passed down to the younger generations by middle aged women. Even families who have made mosi for generations are not always keen to have their children learn the skill as it is tough and arduous work. Each year there are fewer people producing it.
There is a museum of mosi in Hansan and they hold a festival there every year. These photographs of ladies preparing and weaving mosi come from that festival and I found them on the VisitKorea website.
I plan on buying some ramie on my next trip to korea, whether it will be fabric or a pair of PJs or light jacket I don’t know, but it will be something to support the continuation of a traditional craft. Also since I’ll be there at the end of summer I’m sure I’ll need suitable clothes for the heat and humidity.
Have a great day everyone.
If you want to learn more I suggest you watch this video.
I found this lady online and am tempted to buy some mosi fabric from her as her prices seem reasonable, but I cannot attest to the quality etc, so if you buy any please let me know in the comments.
The first 2 photographs are from http://www.koreaaward.com/kor/431 and http://sanggojae.skyrock.com/3241790463-Les-hanboks.html with Lee Young Hee being one of Korea’s top designers and a huge fan of mosi fabric.
I also found that there was something called a deungdeunggeori which was a vest woven of wooden strips which was worn to prevent the layers of traditional clothing from sticking together, and increased ventilation. How smart is that.