The Chinese umbrella, or parasol, originated over 2,000 years ago in Imperial times. The emperor carried banners and flags to indicate rank and status and a portable canopy to protect him from the sun and rain. The larger the canopy, the more important the individual protected beneath it. It is said that when a certain emperor went hunting, his parasol was so large it took 24 people to carry it. The early parasols were stationary and made of silk. About 1,700 years ago, during the Cao Wei Dynasty, the folding umbrella appeared. Today's finer Chinese umbrellas are made of oiled paper, silk or cotton stretched over a frame of mulberry wood or bamboo.
Strip the bark from a young mulberry tree. Boil the bark in a water-filled kettle until the wood fibres are softened.
Hammer the soggy bark to separate the fibres and remove the softer tissue. Suspend the beaten fibres in a tank of water.
Place a fine mesh screen in the tank to capture the suspended felted fibres. Remove the coated screen from the tank and allow the fibres to air dry, creating paper.
Cut bamboo to form a handle, sliding loop and several sturdy strips of various sizes. Cut holes in the outer circumference of the sliding loop.
Insert the smaller strips into the holes of the sliding loop in a spiral pattern. Glue in place using rice glue. Allow to dry.
Glue larger bamboo strips to the smaller ones, continuing the spiral pattern. Continue the process until the desired circumference for the frame is achieved.
Cut a small groove in the bamboo handle to allow for the insertion of a retractable bamboo stopper to keep the spiral frame fully open or closed. Slip the completed frame on the bamboo handle using the sliding loop. Fully extend the frame and lock it into place.
Apply a coat of oil to the paper you created. Allow to dry. Cut the paper in a semicircular shape to fit the fully extended frame. Apply glue to the edges of the frame that will be contacting the oiled paper. Place the paper over the fully open frame. Allow the glue to dry.
Carve a cap for the handle and glue it at the top of the handle to keep the frame in place. Decorate the paper with ink and paint with Asian symbols, flowers or Chinese letters.
Carve a stopper for the bottom end of the handle and glue it into place.
Brush on a coat of liquid acrylic wax to further waterproof the exterior of the umbrella. Allow to dry.
Chinese umbrellas may also be constructed using cotton, silk, plastic film and nylon.
Handle the carving knife with care. Bamboo splits easily. Take precautions to avoid cuts from sharp edges.