Beijing - Chinese knotting was originally developed not as an art form in itself but was used to attach accessories, such as jade pendants, to clothing.
Today, it is considered beautiful in its own right, thanks to people such as Taiwan's Chen Xiasheng.
Chen Xiasheng, who has been engaged in promoting Chinese knotting to domestic and Western audiences, receives the Outstanding Fashion Personages Award 2011 in Beijing on Wednesday. [Liu Zhe / for China Daily]
Chen, who was born in 1939, has studied Chinese knotting since the early 1970s and was one of the first people to introduce the centuries-old craft -- with the help of books and exhibitions -- to both Chinese and Western audiences, helping it become known around the world as Zhongguojie.
On Wednesday, she was honored for her contribution to Chinese knotting at the Outstanding Fashion Personages Award Ceremony 2011, which were held in Beijing.
"These days, so many domestic designers are scrambling for ideas from Western countries, despite the fact that we already have such elegant, beautiful knotting," Chen said.
"Why not use Chinese knotting as a fresh element in clothing design?"
Her affection for knotting developed out of her interest in ancient clothing when she worked as a researcher at the Taipei Palace Museum between 1972 and 2001.
She said Chinese people have been using knots for decoration since the 5th century BC and a wide range of knots have been developed over the years.
"The archaeological significance of this is you can figure out when an antique was made based on the decoration and knotting it has," Chen said.
She said knowledge of the knots helped her when she was a researcher but she was not satisfied to keep them on paper and wanted to see what they looked like in bright colors and experience the way they felt.
She used information about Chinese knotting available at the time, such as from ancient books, carvings and paintings, to start to make knots.
"I copied all the knots I saw on paintings. Then I analyzed their structure and found that all the knotting was formed by variable arrangements of some 'basic cells'," Chen said, adding that her college education in mathematics helped her make sense of them.
Chen said 14 "basic cells" were used in various combinations.
"This is so different from knots found in Western countries, because they have only two basic types."
"In the West, people use very simple knots to form complex shapes, such as a tree or a dog, but the knots themselves are not decorative. In contrast, the Chinese knots themselves are ornamental," she said, pointing to a necklace made of Chinese knots and small jade rings.
The necklace is one of Chen's favorites and stands out among the hundreds she has made during the past four decades.
Chen has used various materials, including cotton thread, silver thread and silk, to make and create new shapes.
"Based on the basic knots, you can create countless shapes," she said. At the same time, she has written a series of books that have been sold around the world that tell others how to tie such knots.
In publishing the books, she gave a general name to Chinese knots -- Zhongguojie -- and called each specific knot by its own name.
"For instance, the 'wan zi' knot did not have a name. I named it that way because 'zi' means character and the knot, which was found on a statue of the Buddhist god Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Guanyin), looks like the Chinese character 'wan'," Chen said.
Thanks in part to the popularity of her books and the general name she has given to the knots, Chinese knots have become a symbol of China and are becoming more popular, not only domestically but also overseas.
Chen's latest project has seen her making two-dimensional art out of the knots and displaying them on canvas.
Usually, she knots with natural materials and then dyes different parts of the knots with various colors.
"The colors make the knots more organic. This is like painting, you have to get a concept to express with your work."