Moshi – Korean Linen

korean moshi linens in green, yellow and lime colors
Korean moshi linens green yellow

What is Moshi?

Moshi 모시 is a traditional Korean linen fabric made from the ramie plant. We all know that linen is the oldest textile that existed from ancient times. It was a favored material in many cultures and used for clothing, upholstery, bedding, and yes, even for wrapping mummies.

What makes Moshi different from linens found in other parts of the world is its translucency, crisp texture and stiff body. It’s very strong in moist and warm weather but very fragile in cold or dry weather. In fact, there is a saying that once the cool winds start blowing, it’s time to put away your moshi sewing because the fibers will “break.” 

”Dragonfly Wings”

Despite all its impracticality, the love for Moshi is ingrained in our blood. Moshi clothing was symbolic of summer beauty. Fine Moshi fabric is almost sheer when held against the light. In literature, this Korean linen clothing on a woman is compared to “dragonfly wings.”

It sounds kind of scary in English, but the Korean words denote delicate and feminine characteristics. So, the typical image of a summer beauty used to be a lady dressed in crisp, translucent Moshi, her hair neatly combed back in a bun speared with a long silver hairpin, cooling herself with elegant movements of her fan, and never losing her composure even in the dead heat of the summer.

The Last Empress

There is an old photo that I absolutely adore. I love it because of the fierce facial expression and the subtle folds in the Moshi dress. The lady in the photo is said to be Minbi, the last empress of the Joseon dynasty. The photo was taken by a French-American journalist A. B. de Guerville and published in 1893 in Le Figaro Illustré.

Here, she is dressed in a simple moshi dress instead of the lavish silk gowns typical of royalty. Empress Minbi was a tough and smart woman. She was one of the few in the royal court who saw through Japan’s scheme to colonize Korea. The stupid and greedy court officials dismissed her, and she paid dearly for her integrity when she was assassinated by Japanese soldiers in the royal chambers. It’s a tragic story. The feminist in me tears up every time I see this photo.

Where to Buy Moshi

Enough of the sad story. Anyhow, we love this fabric. But, nowadays this Korean linen fabric has become very expensive, because the art of moshi-weaving is dying out. We now rely on China for our supply. It’s still nice but not really dragonfly-wing quality. The few weavers left in Korea charge at least 1,000 dollars for a roll which is about 20 yards. That’s 50 dollars a yard! And the width is only 12 inches!

Even the ones woven in China cost over 10 dollars a yard. So, in conclusion, buy them while you can. You can also buy it at the Dongdaemun Market. I recommend two stores. One is Hwanghae Sang Hoe(황해상회), and the other is Taerim Sang Hoe(태림상회).

korean moshi linen closeup
Moshi linen closeup

Care instructions for Moshi

Do not dry clean. Gently hand-wash it in lukewarm water using regular detergent. Hang dry or spin dry in the gentle cycle, and iron before the fabric is completely dry.

Hope you enjoyed reading about this fabulously unique Korean fabric!

By Jean

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