Tea Saves the Day for Museum Replica!

java brewWhen giving a see-through bespoke dress its finishing touches, you . . . dunk it in a vat of black tea?

Turns out that tea—English breakfast blend to be exact—neatly provided the antique look required for a museum reproduction of a 2100-year-old silk dress.

The original, along with a second gown, was found in Xin Zhui’s tomb, which dates to around 148 BCE, during China’s Han dynasty.

These plain gauze gowns were so thin that you could see right through them, and each weighed only 1.7 ounces, less than the weight of your average candy bar! And if you exclude the trim, the gown itself weighed only 0.7 ounces!

The years of display were beginning to degrade the one gown that still survives (both gowns were stolen in 1983 by a teenager, whose mother destroyed one gown before anonymously returning the other), so Hunan Museum staff were anxious to have a credible substitute. Manufacturing processes have come a long way in the past 2,000 years, however, so it took a couple years to successfully replicate the gown.

A more narrow loom was required, along with finer silk. Today’s silk worms are fatter than those in antiquity, producing silk that measures 14 denier vs the 10.2 of ancient silk. Researchers resolved this by using weaker silk worms, which produce thinner silk. So thin, in fact, that the museum’s Yunjin brocade expert, Yang Jianshun, explained that it was:

about one fifth of the usual silk, and was almost invisible to the naked eye. . . . We could only feel it with our hands. It was very easy to break, too. . . . It took one hour to weave a centimeter [0.39 inch] of cloth. (Pinghui 2019)

This is really incredible! They even digitized the original to ensure the reproduction matches in both pattern and stitch number!

And then, to replicate the effect of 2,000 years on the fabric, museum staff turned to tea, finding that English breakfast blend achieved the exact hue required.

Demonstrating once again tea’s remarkable versatility and its capability for saving the day!

Breakfast teas

Source: Pinghui, Zhuang, “2,000-year-old see-through Chinese gown, the world’s lightest silk dress, is finally replicated successfully,” South China Morning Post, April 4, 2019.

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