Tag Archives: Natural fiber

Towers, Silk and Shopping in Shanghai

After a busy day at the water village, we still had time for one more trip on the way back to the hotel. There’s a definitive division of opinion about going up very tall towers. Some people can’t resist them, and others get vertigo just by seeing photographs of the view. About half of our tour group were really keen on going up the Shanghai Tower; the others waited in the bus and explored the traffic.

I paid the entrance fee and joined the intrepid group of tower-hunters. We queued up for the security check where I lost my lighter and water again. We queued up for the free souvenir photo which you collected at the top, and for the Very Fast Lift. This made my ears pop, so losing the water was a bit annoying, but takes you up to the sightseeing deck in no time, travelling at up to 46 miles per hour. When built, it was the fastest lift in the world, and possibly still is.

There seems to be a global competition to build the tallest skyscrapers. There are strict rules about what can be considered the actual top; the Shanghai Tower is 632 metres to the very tip. I was more interested in finding out about the building’s sustainable features. It’s enclosed in a transparent ‘skin’, and the space created is used to modulate the temperature inside, so reducing the need for electricity.

View over Shanghai; note the pollution haze in the background
View over Shanghai; note the pollution haze in the background

Wind turbines near the roof generate 350 megawatts a year, about 10% of the power needs. A combined system for cooling, heat and power saves energy; water conservation measures also operate within the building. The highest hotel in the world, using the 84th to 110th floors, is due to open next summer.

shanghai view with radio tower

The Oriental Pearl Radio and TV Tower, at a mere 468 metres high, is a more established tourist attraction; I’d have liked to see the glass floor and the double decker lifts, but that’ll need to wait until next time. As will the unfenced glass walkway around the 88th floor of the Jin Mao Tower.

The next day was an early start, as we had a lot of sightseeing to do before our eight hour train journey to Yi Chang; we were on the bus by 8am, luggage all packed and loaded.

One of the interesting breakfast options!
One of the interesting breakfast options!

The bus dropped us off at the Jiangnan silk factory. This incorporates a small museum covering the history of the Silk Road, which had several branches through China before focussing on Xi’an for the passage through the Himalayas. Silk, tea and other light goods took the land route. Heavier items, such as porcelain, travelled by ship along the sea route, from the Shanghai region as far as East Africa.

Further in, there’s an old silk reeling machine in working order; you can watch how the cocoons are unwound, each containing a single length of thread. It’s not unusual for these to be over a kilometre long! Even so, the raw silk is so fine that it takes more than 600 cocoons to make a shirt.

silk machine

The larvae inside the cocoon are killed with boiling water; they’re often eaten, or used for fertiliser. Some firms claim to make ‘ethical silk’, but there is a debate about how viable this is.

So far, the process had been much the same as the one we’d seen in Turkey, but then we were shown something new. A fine sheet of raw silk was teased out of a single cocoon, held at the corners by four women who gently tugged it into the size of a double quilt and laid it on top of a pile of similar sheets.

Once the required thickness of silk was reached, it was enclosed in a cotton cover and became a silk-filled duvet. The prices were very reasonable, the weight easily manageable and we could fit a large double quilt into a quarter of a medium sized suitcase; the shop compresses them for you. Most of the hotels on our tour were using these; they were very comfortable.

We got a lift from our tour bus to the Bund, where we had just enough time for a quick stroll along the historic waterfront area, formerly the British Quarter, before turning off into Nanjing Road. It’s worth doing some research before a holiday in Shanghai; you could easily spend a couple of days in this area alone. Some of the shops in this famous pedestrian street date back to the Qing dynasty; others are modern retail outlets. There are museums and temples worth a visit too.

A London bus on the Bund
A London bus on the Bund

Although there are few vehicles using the main thoroughfare, watch out for the constant cross-traffic of bicycles and electric scooters from the interesting little alleyways leading off towards tiny stalls. You can sample street food there, but it’s not advised unless you’re accustomed to it.

Avoid also – if you can – the husslers and touts brandishing catalogues of watches or scarves to entice you into certain shops. They can be quite insistent, but are restrained by the ubiquitous presence of smartly uniformed police. Ironically for a city whose name was once a byword for piracy, modern Shanghai is very law abiding!

nanjing road

 

We were in a hurry to reach the train station by then, so any serious shopping was out of the question, but the potential was definitely noted. One could easily spend a pleasant week in Shanghai doing sightseeing and retail therapy. The weather was mild even in November, so your luggage won’t be cluttered up with thick jumpers, leaving plenty of space for silk quilts and the like.

If you go as an independent  traveller, don’t even think about hiring a car. Join a local day tour, take a taxi, use public transport. Just avoid the last during the rush hours.

Next week: A Cruise up the Yangtze River

 

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How to use a Spider to braid cord

for the people I met on my travels this summer

Find some thick card which does not crease easily, yet isn’t too thick to cut. A scrap of mounting board is ideal. Draw a circle about 9 cm across and cut it out. Divide the circumference into 8 sections of roughly equal size. Cut a thin notch, no more than 1 cm long, along each dividing line. Around the centre of your circle, cut out a hole about 1 cm across.

This is a spider.

Cut seven equal lengths of wool, ribbon or thread and knot them together at one end. Push the knotted end through the hole in the spider and lay the threads on top.

preparing the spider for braiding cord

Slot each thread into one of the notches around the edge. The notch should grip the thread quite tightly. There will be an empty notch. Hold the spider so that this is at the top.

Count three threads to the left. Take the third thread and lift it over the first two, slotting it  into the empty notch.

taking the third thread from the left across the other two and into the empty notch

Turn the spider clockwise so that the new empty notch is now at the top. Repeat the process, lifting the third thread to the left over the other two. Your cord will start to form in the centre.

spider 3 v2

Keep the braiding firm but not overtight.

As you work, the loose ends waiting to be braided get tangled. Separate them every so often. This limits the length of your starter thread to about two arms’ length, but once you get the hang of braiding, you can splice new lengths in. Do these one at a time to avoid unsightly lumps, and to maintain the cord strength.

Once you have had some practise and know what you need this tool to do, you could cut a longer lasting version from thin plywood. Try making cord from wild grasses, braid heavy duty cables from thin rope using a much larger spider.

The use of braided wicks was a key development in candle technology. Can you replicate this process? Could you invent a simple machine to braid cord? Why might you need to?

The Hemp Twine Project – Part One

One of my planned projects involves encouraging the sale of hemp twine to promote the local economy in Somerset. Everyone needs string. Hemp was once a major crop here, supplying huge quantities of rope for the Bristol shipping trade.

You can still see some of the long sheds where the ropes used to be twisted together from fibres.

Accordingly, after my summer adventures in the field, I set about ordering some hemp twine. Reluctant to create yet another customer profile for a possible single purchase, I called my chosen supplier and spoke to a friendly chap from the north of England.

I deplored the price of hemp twine, given the ease and low cost of hemp cultivation. He told me the sad tale of the decline of the natural fibre rope making industry faced with competition from oil based plastics. The hemp I was buying came from Egypt. Could I believe that unscrupulous sellers even tried to pass off jute fibre as hemp?

Uncomfortably aware that, although my grandfather would certainly have known the difference, I could be thus hoodwinked all day long, I moved the subject to purse nets. The hemp twine – the largest and cheapest reel I had found – was destined to make and repair these nets, commonly used for catching rabbits.

Alas, there was a sad story there too. Modern lads take no care of their hunting gear, but are content to stuff wet and muddy nets into a plastic sack at the end of a day. Left in this condition, even the spectacular ability of hemp to resist rot is overcome. Cheap imported plastic nets, however, can be abused endlessly.

Lads – do you realise that your careless lazy habits are having this impact? Take a minute or ten just to rinse out your nets and hang them up to dry before opening that can and slumping in front of the TV! Buy hemp purse nets or better still have some pride in your craft and make your own. There are instructions on the internet.

Hemp can and should be widely grown in this country. As well as fibre to replace imported oil based plastics, it yields nutritious seeds ideal for livestock feed. All it lacks is a market. Hundreds of new jobs could be created.

See how it’s all connected?

Start paying attention.