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Stories of Cloth


Flora: A Chinese birth


A Chinese birth

I have three daughters. Traditionally the Chinese favour the birth of a boy and even today most families still hope for a boy.

I remember that after the births I observed a 40 day period of confinement. I was freed from household duties to tend my new baby, and to rest indoors to ensure that we didn’t contract any illnesses. I was given a broth of pig’s feet, eggs, vinegar and ginger to make me strong.

After 40 days my husband and I proudly introduced our new daughters to family and friends by holding a red egg and ginger party. These parties have their traditions in ancient Chinese culture. The hard-boiled eggs symbolize fertility. They are dyed red for good luck and given to the guests, an even number for a boy, and an odd number for a girl. It was on this occasion that my daughters were named and their heads shaved. Guests brought gifts of Li-shih, or ‘lucky money’, in red envelopes, jewellery made of jade and colourful clothing.

I made and embroidered a Mei-Tai, a traditional Chinese-style baby carrier. It’s a rectangular piece of red and white embroidered cloth, with four straps to tie around the waist and shoulders. Strips of webbed fabric support the baby’s head. The Tiger is considered to be the protector against demons, so a common gift to babies, particularly boys, is a pair of red tiger booties.

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