Have you been curious to know the meaning of the name Ching Shih for our purple yarn?
Then it’s time to recap the story of the Pirate Queen and explain why we chose to associate Ching Shih with Logwood.
The story behind our purple yarn: Ching Shih
Who was Ching Shih?
Ching Shih was born around 1775, during the Qing dynasty. Like many women, she was forced to enter the sex trade in order to survive and help her family. She worked on a floating brothel and became quickly popular, not only because of her beauty but also for her wit and poise.
Fast forward to 1801 where she met the commander of the Red Flag Fleet. She accepted to marry him only she got half of his earnings and shared control over the Red Flag Fleet. You can wonder ‘is this really true?’.
Well, under her control, new rules were implemented like beheading for rape of a female prisoner, release of pregnant prisoners or the possibility to marry a pirate if the union was consensual. Clearly, Ching Shih was done with the patriarchy.
The Red Flag Fleet quickly became the largest pirate fleet with 1800 ships. After her husband’s death, she married their adopted son (adopted in his mid-20s which I guess, makes it less incestuous? ) , the second in command (who seem to have already been her lover, as well as his husband’s), this way keeping control of an agitated fleet of 80,000 pirates.
She decimated the Mandarin Navy and announced leniency for the ones joining her fleet, finding a very efficient way to weaken the Qing Dynasty.
The Red Flag Fleet eventually ended under the Portuguese Navy attach but the Chinese Emperor had offered amnesty to the pirates, allowing several of them to join the Mandarin Navy (among them, Ching Shih’s second husband became a Navy Captain. What’s best that someone who has experience from the other side, after all?)
Ching Shih died at 69, after becoming a successful business owner in Macau, where her descendants still live.
Why we chose to name our yarn after Ching Shih?
This was a quick summary for a life so eventful. If you want to learn more about the pirate queen, we recommend the excellent podcast from The History Chicks and their episode 122 about Ching Shih.
You may wonder if it was a random choice to name our purple yarn Ching Shih. We have always been influenced by the themes we favor the most and it’s no surprise that women in history is one of them. We even mention it in our About Us page on the website.
In 2020, we took the decision to be more coherent with our naturally dyed colorways. Rather than only listing the names of the plants used to dye, we decided to group them by colors and associate this color with a woman we wanted to put the focus on. But don’t worry, we’ll still tell you what the plants are used to dye the yarn.
Otherwise, what’s the point of owning a skein of naturally dyed yarn if you don’t know what it has been dyed with?
But why the purple color for our Ching Shih yarn colorway?
What is Logwood?
Like I explained, the name Ching Shih for our purple yarn hasn’t been chosen at random and that’s the same for the dyestuff used for it.
The yarn Ching Shih is dyed with logwood, a tree native to Central America and the West Indies.
This tree is not an endangered species since it grows easily and produces a lot of seeds. The dye can give several shades of purple, dark blue, greys and black. It’s not an expensive dye and with 100gr of logwood chips, you can get deep colours and several dye baths.
Piracy & Logwood
Logwood comes from Mexico but was quickly naturalized in all of the Caribbeans.
This made Logwood an important economical asset for the trade between Europe and the Caribbeans, which in turn attracted the pirates.
The demand for Logwood dye was high since, like I mentioned above, it could give several shades of colors and it was less expensive than other bright colors like madder or the coveted indigo. English, French and Dutch pirates would roam the Caribbeans in the hopes of catching a cargo full of Logwood chips, which turned the Logwood trade into another political point of contention.
Even if our Pirate Queen was active later and, on another sea, we still found it fitting to name our Logwood purple yarn, Ching Shih.
We hope you enjoyed learning the story behind the yarn color!
If you want to create a project with the Pirate Queen herself, we still have skeins of Ching Shih colorway available on 3 different bases in our store.