A five-thousand year old legend has it that an imperial Chinese princess discovered the secret of the silk fiber. A silkworm cocoon accidentally dropped into a cup of tea, and as she retrieved it, it dissolved to reveal a shimmering filament strong enough to be used for textiles. And so the great silk industry was born.
China was the first culture to elevate embroidery to a high art form. As early as 4500 years ago the Chinese were stitching with silk and precious metals. By 1200 BC, these textiles so beguiled visitors that the known world beat a path to the source (see the related story following). Many embroidery motifs found throughout Europe and Asia can be traced to Chinese designs.
Embroidery as Chinese outstanding traditional handicraft, has a long history, born with the jade, pottery and fabrics. It is the art of decorating fabric or other materials with needle, thread or yarn. It also include other materials such as beads, quills, pearls and sequins. In Chinese five thousand years of civilization, series human wisdom inventions, like the strings of precious stones, won praise around the world. Embroidery is in the forefront, which is based on the discovery and use of the “silk” and develop. It not only enrichs people’s material life, but also reflects a high level of spiritual development. According to the painting and embroidery unearthed from various ancient tombs, as far as the Yin and Zhou era about 3, 000 years ago, China already had beautiful silk and colorful embroidery. Currently embroidery found in Henan province from the Shang Dynasty, is Chinese earliest handicraft embroidery. The pattern are diamond pattern and angular wave pattern, whose process had reached a very high level.
This silk embroidery handicrafts, not only played an important role in Chinese society, but also in the international cultural life. To the Han Dynasty(221BC~AD220), embroidery had been developed to a higher level. It became major exporting commodities. In Qing Dynasty(AD1644~1911), the folk embroidery all had traditional flavor, forming the four famous embroidery, that is, the Su embroidery in Suzhou, Xiang embroidery in Hunan, Shu embroidery in Sichuan and Yue embroidery in Guangdong. Embroidery stitch has chain stitch, buttonhole or blanket stitch, running stitch, satin stitch, cross stitch, etc. Embroidered flowers and birds are likely alive. After liberation, China uses oil paintings, Chinese paintings, photographs and other art forms in embroidery, reaching wonderful effect. Use of embroidery also further expand, from drama costume to everyday pillowslip, table cloth, screen, wall hanging, life clothing and so on. In addition, embroidery is traditional Chinese foreign trade products, and of high economic value.
Silk embroidery is a type of Oriental wall art that results from the traditional Chinese skill of pulling fine strands of colored silk through a canvas to create a beautiful work of art. The most common way to enjoy silk embroidery is as a framed, wall-hanging object. Hence, it is ideal as a gift, collectible, home decoration, souvenir, or office piece. The art of skill embroidery originated in China and has been practiced there for over 3,800 years. It reached a high level early in the Qing and Han dynasties, with silk and silk embroidery being the main products transported along the ancient Chinese Silk Road.
China was one of the first countries to transform embroidery into an advanced art form. The use of special embroidery techniques and styles sets apart Chinese embroidery from embroidery created in other parts of the world. In the past, embroidery skills were considered to be an essential skill every woman was to possess. A woman who could create a high-quality embroidery piece was admired and well-respected. Women from rich families took on embroidery as a hobby while those from poor families did it for a living. Today, high-quality embroidery works are treated on the same level as the best Chinese paintings and Tang/Song Dynasty poems
How To Appreciate Silk Embroidery?
Whether you’re an “art lover” or the “common person,” you’ll come to appreciate the value of silk embroidery once you learn of the skill and effort that goes into creating each piece. To create a high quality piece, an artist must split a single silk thread into several thinner threads. It can be split into 12 to 48 thinner strands – depending on how fine the artist wants to be with his/her piece. The embroiderer then stitches layer after layer using threads of a variety of colors to reach the final wonderful effect. Embroiderers are known to take frequent breaks – every 10 to 15 minutes – to rest their eyes due to the strenuous nature of their work.
Due to the labor-intensiveness of the work, some larger and more intricate pieces of embroidery may require a year to a year and a half to complete by an artist or group of artists. Those works sell for thousands of dollars, – which is reasonable – considering the skill and time involved in creating the work. Of course, smaller pieces are available that are of high quality yet sell for much less.
Four Types of Silk Embroidery
The adoption of different needling methods through the years has resulted in four distinctive embroidery styles in China:
1) “Su” embroidery of Jiangsu Province – known for its delicacy and elegance, this style is usually very simple, highlighting a main theme. Its stitching is smooth, dense, thin, neat, even, delicate and harmonious. The thin thread is divided into up to 48 strands that are barely visible to the naked eye. Su embroidery is where double-sided embroidery originated. Su embroidery products were sent to participate in the Panama World Fair in 1915.
2) “Xiang” embroidery of Hunan Province – became the main craft in places around Changsha, capital city of Hunan Province, in the Qing Dynasty. Xiang embroidery was developed from Hunan folk embroidery methods, but it also drew on the skills of Su embroidery and Yue embroidery. This method uses loose colorful threads to embroider the pattern with the stitches being not as neat as those of other embroidery styles. The various colored threads are mixed together, showing a gradual change in color with a rich and harmonious tone. Designs on Xiang embroidery mostly derive from traditional Chinese paintings of landscapes, human figures, flowers, birds and animals. The most common designs on Xiang embroidery are lions and tigers. The tigers appear strong and bold, revealing their power and menace as a king of animals. Xiang embroidery won the best award in the Torino World Fair in Italy in 1912 and the First Award in the Panama World Fair in 1933.
3) “Yue” embroidery of Guangdong Province – is rich and complicated in content with bright colors and strong decorative effects. The embroidery is smooth and even. One type, gold and silver cushion embroidery, creates a magnificent three-dimensional effect. Yue embroidery has a wide range of designs, the most common ones being birds worshipping the sun, dragons and phoenixes.
4) “Shu” embroidery of Sichuan Province – are mostly found in Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan Province. They are made with soft satins and colored threads as the raw materials are embroidered by hand. The varied stitching methods form their unique local style. Designs on Shu embroidery include flowers, birds, landscapes, fish, worms and human figures. The products themselves include quilt covers, pillow covers, back cushions, table cloths, scarves and handkerchiefs.
- Chen Tao -
Chinese culture inspiration - Children's games in ancient China
Yesterday, I spent a whole day on the sofa and with my smartphone in my hand. Time flied from my hand during my wat...
Chinese pavilion at Venice show to focus on mountains and water
The map of Bu Xi [Photo provided to China Daily] One of Ma Yuan's twelve images of water surging [Photo provided to ...
IT’S an ever-present scene in China. As you stroll down a quiet alley, wander in a public park or pass a private cour...