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What is Nankeen?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 16, 2024
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As a popular loomed fabric that is still produced by hand in some parts of China, nankeen has been around for a long time and has an illustrious history when it comes to making clothing for a number of occasions.

This cloth was originally always produced with natural cotton fiber that had a yellow tint. Looms were used to weave the fibers into material and the finished product was a cotton cloth that had a brownish-yellow color, sometimes described as dull yellow.

Named after Nanking, the area within China known for its fine fabrics, nankeen became so popular that it was not possible to cultivate enough of the yellowed cotton in order to produce the fabric. Over time, a process was implemented to dye pure white cotton fibers with a yellow dye, so the supply could keep up with the demand.

Today, most nankeen is produced with modern textile methods, although it is still possible to buy hand woven versions. The demand for this fabric has not be impacted a great deal with the invention of newer synthetic fibers, since it can be easily produced at a very inexpensive rate using those contemporary methods.

One of the advantages of this type of fabric is that it is made entirely of cotton, which makes it attractive to people who are not able to wear synthetic fibers, or who prefer to go with natural fibers only. With durable construction that will last for a number of years, nankeen is easily washed by hand or in a washing machine. As it true with many cotton fabrics today, it is treated for shrinkage before the material is used to make any type of textile goods.

Perhaps the most popular use for nankeen is in making casual trousers for men. The cotton material holds up well to a lot of wear and takes dye very well, and so comes in a wide variety of colors. One of the most popular is blue nankeen, as it lends itself well to daily use in the home and around the workplace as well. Besides trousers, this fabric is also used for simple casual shirts and some sports clothing as well.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum , Writer
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including HomeQuestionsAnswered, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.

Discussion Comments

By anon56269 — On Dec 13, 2009

When did nankeen first appear the literature? When was it first exported outside Nanking? Outside China?

Malcolm Tatum

Malcolm Tatum


Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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