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A girl shows a pair of rabbit shaped sachets made in Qingyang in Gansu province. [Photo/Xinhua]

For centuries, sachets have been worn and exchanged as tokens of hope, happiness, and prosperity in northwestern China"s Gansu province. Today, innovative designs are injecting new life into the handicraft, which dates back more than 2,000 years.

The sachets produced in the city of Qingyang are handmade silk pouches stuffed with Chinese herbal medicine, and embroidered with colorful patterns ranging from vegetables to the 12 Chinese zodiac animals.

The craft was listed as a national intangible cultural heritage in 2006, but it has gradually lost its appeal to the young in recent years, worrying the city"s sachet makers.

"Traditional Qingyang sachets are deemed old-fashioned by many young people now because they lack variety in patterns and colors," said Liu Lanfang, 53, an inheritor of the craft and manager of a sachet making company in the city.

"The old craft needs to keep up with the times to stay alive," said Liu, who has been designing sachets for over four decades.

Since 2013, Liu and her company"s design team have been working to revive traditional Qingyang sachets with new designs while keeping to the craft"s original style.

The design she is proudest of is a donkey shaped sachet with a cartoonish look that is available in various colors.

"Donkeys are common household animals in Gansu and they are used in typical patterns of Qingyang sachets," she said. "But the traditional design is more like a realistic representation of the animal - black and dull."

To make the design more vivid, Liu drew the donkey a fluffy tail, pointed ears, big round eyes, and a cute smile in all kinds of colors.

The newly designed sachet has also been produced in different sizes for various purposes.

People can use the small sachets as cellphone chains and the bigger ones as car decorations, apart from wearing them as talismans for happiness and to ward off misfortune.

"The new design quickly caught on with consumers and has won awards in many tourism product competitions in China," Liu said. "Some donkey farming bases even asked if they can use it as their mascots."

Liu"s company has designed over 500 types of sachets based on traditional Qingyang sachet patterns. It sold more than 300,000 sachets last year, many of which were exported to countries including the United States, Germany, Italy and Belarus.

The growing demand in foreign markets has also motivated Liu to design sachets tailored for overseas consumers.

Inspired by Halloween pumpkins, she embroidered pumpkin shaped sachets with Shaanxi Opera masks. The folk opera style is popular in northwestern China.

"I sent the pumpkin shaped sachets to my friends in the United States, and they were very interested in them," she said. "The sachets represent the blending of Chinese and Western cultures."

Besides making the designs more appealing, Liu"s company has also used new materials to create more diverse sachets, such as using lavender for the filling and replacing silk with cotton and linen for the pouch.

"Only when we keep innovating can we pass down the craft to future generations," she said.


A collection of sachets on display in Qingyang. [Photo by CAO ZHIZHENG/FOR CHINA DAILY]


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