Traditional ‘soccer’ balls to feature at World Cup

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Traditional ‘soccer’ balls to feature at World Cup

On the way to Naksan in Dongsung-dong, northern Seoul, there is a small shop called Damugongbang in which there is a collection of colorful balls on display.
Lee Hyeon-suk, 57, is making replicas of traditional thread balls that come in various sizes ― from the size of beads to that of soccer balls. These balls are going to be displayed in Hanover, Germany, in June during the 2006 World Cup.
Ms. Lee is replicating traditional “soccer” balls used by ancient Koreans. According to the “Samgukyusa,” or “The Heritage of the Three States” (early 4th to mid 7th century), there is a record of the Silla Crown Prince Kim Chun Chu playing an ancient kind of football with General Kim Yu-shin when the general accidentally stepped on Kim Chun-chu’s clothes, tearing a coat string off.
Ms. Lee was interested in handmade crafts and learned how to make the thread balls from Park Jeong-hwa, 87, in 1981. Ms. Park encountered the traditional balls when she was studying embroidery in Japan and realizing that it was part of Korea’s heritage she decided to pass on her skills to someone else.
“Beginning with the Three States period, aristocrats played with balls made of silk. The balls were also used as charms or decorations. After the Imjiwaeran, the invasion by the Japanese in 1592, the traditions were lost. However, the Japanese learned the technique and continued to make the balls under the Japanese name demari and also gemari, which means ‘hand-made balls,’” said Ms. Lee.
In “The FIFA 100,” a book celebrating soccer’s centennial that was published in 2002, readers can find a painting of Japanese wearing traditional clothes and playing with silk balls. There is an explanation on the side saying that this was Japanese gemari, which was popular in the late 19th century.
Ms. Lee said she regretted that people believed the silk balls had originated in Japan and in order to remedy that, she is preparing various events.
Ms. Lee and her students have made 300 balls and put them on display at an exhibition ― she also sells the balls in a store in Insa-dong, Seoul.
“I wanted to keep the tradition and let the world know of its beauty,” Ms. Lee said.
These days she is busying preparing for the exhibition in Germany in June.
To make balls these days, she makes a round ball made of cloth, but also adds styrofoam for strength and then sews patterns with colorful threads onto it. It takes almost 20 days to make soccer-size balls, she said.

by Jeong Young-jae
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