China embroidery is one of Chinese excellent folk traditional needle craftworks. Embroidery is closely connected with China’s sericiculture (silkworm raising) and filature. Hence embroidery is also called silk needlework (sixiu). China is the earliest country in the world to discover and make use of silk. Roughly 5000 years ago, people begun to raise silkworm and make silk products. As the using of silk, silk articles appeared and developed, and the embroidery gradually sprung up. In accordance with the record of Book of Docements(shangshu,尚书), more than 4000 years ago, the clothing embroidery was required widely. In Song Dynasty, the embroidered garments were widely welcomed and embroidery gradually popularized widely in folk society, which to a most degree promote the development of Chinese silk embroidery industry.
In 1958, an embroidered article themed with dragon and phoenix was unearthed in Chu-Period Tomb in Changshai of China. This is the embroidery of warring-states period over 2000 years ago. It is also one of the earliest embroidery articles discovered in China.InShanghai, Gu-family embroidery is most famous in the past. The techniques of embroidery were succeeded from generation to generation in Gu family. Their excellent crafts were highly acclaimed by government. In Qing Dynasty, it became more famous and their products were sold largely abroad. Currently the embroidery is widely used in all around China and has diversity of embroidering styles. There are four most famous embroidering styles in China－Suzhou Embroidery, Hunan Embroidery, Sichuan Embroidery and Canton Embroidery. Furthermore, as the development of embroidery, its techniques become more complicated and delicate. For example the masterpiece Cat(Mao,猫) featured by two-sized embroidery is the representative of Suzhou Embroidery. The needle-workers divided the embroidering threads, which looks like the hair, into two parts, four parts, and twelve parts even forty-eight parts. Besides they hide the line knots and thrums mysteriously. Seen from both obverse and reverse of this masterpiece, the cat’s eyes are always very vivid and life-like, and needle workers need more than 20 lines with different colors for creating such a wonderful effect on the silk. Generally the embroidery commodity includes bedcover, pillowslip, vamp and so on. In folk, many women are expert in embroidery and it is very popular.
Suzhou embroidery is one of the oldest embroidery techniques in the world, with origins stretching back more than 2,000 years. Suzhou embroidery was one of the first embroidery styles to be developed in China, but its detailed needlework and intricate images are still produced today. It is a style characterized by brightly colored silk embroidered with well-proportioned and uncluttered representations of almost any pastoral scene, person, animal, or object. Examples of Suzhou embroidery were so detailed and intricate that many people used the pieces as artwork, and some of the oldest pieces still in existence date back hundreds of years. There are records of detailed embroidered pieces being produced in the Suzhou area around 200 BC, and of embroidered silk being used as maps in the second and third century AD. But it was during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) that the Suzhou style became prominent. With finely spun silk thread embroiders from the Suzhou area were able to create images that were said to have "rivaled nature," and it became very stylish to have Suzhou embroidery in the home. Embroidery spread to other provinces throughout China, and soon embroiderers all over the country were working were working in the Suzhou style. Although other techniques of Chinese embroidery have appeared over the years, it is the Suzhou style that has set the standard for other styles. Suzhou embroidery consists of very detailed representations of almost any subject embroidered onto fine silk with silk thread. One of the distinctive features of Suzhou embroidery is that some pieces two-sided; that is, the picture is repeated on both sides of the embroidered piece. The stitching on Suzhou embroidered pieces is done with silk threads that have been divided until the actual thread is almost impossible to see. Through the repetition of stitches a very dense embroidering occurs. Suzhou embroidery has been used in clothing, wall hangings, and even intricate book covers dating back almost 1,000 years.
Guangdong Embroidery (Canton Embroidery), together with Suzhou Embroidery, Hunan Embroidery and Sichuan Embroidery, are the four major schools of embroidery in China. It is rooted in Guangdong Province with a long history of over 1,000 years, dating back to the first year during the Yongzhen reign of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). During the Song and Yuan dynasties (960-1368), Guangdong Embroidery began to be exported to foreign countries and regions. During the Qianlong reign (1736-1796), the first professional industrial union called Yue Xiu Hang (Yue is the shortened form of Guangdong, Xiu means embroidery, and Hang means union) was founded in Guangzhou City. After 1915, representative works of Guangdong Embroidery won several prizes on the Panama World Exposition and the world expositions. Guangdong Embroidery is well known for its gorgeous color, distinct contrasts, graphic patterns and imagery, well-conceived designs, and changeable needle technique. Guangdong Embroidery has four varieties, woolen embroidery, purl embroidery, pearl embroidery and plain thread embroidery, whose products include garments, articles for daily use, ornaments, pictures for appreciation and stage costumes. The most gorgeous and luxurious of these is the gold thread embroidery. A new branch of Guangdong Embroidery is rising in Chaozhou, marked for balanced designs and impeccable needlework. The embroidery industry in Guangdong has developed more new forms of embroidery with products being exported to more than 50 countries and regions in Europe, America, Australia and Asia .
Sichuan Embroidery is one of the four major embroideries in China. It was first made in the western Sichuan Plain. The ancient western Sichuan Plain was an area thriving in mulberry planting and silkworm－breeding. The embroidery business is quite flourishing among the folks here. By the Western Han Dynasty over 2,000 years ago, Sichuan Embroidery business had formed a considerable scale and shown perfect craftsmanship. Yang Xiong, one of the famous writers at that time, hailed the skills in making the Sichuan embroidery. From his “Prose on Chengdu”, you can imagine the vivid scene of that period in the central Sichuan where every village planted mulberries and breed silkworms while every family wove cloth and made embroideries The carp is a traditional pattern in Sichuan embroidery. Such a carp will take a whole month of an embroidery worker, who will embroider over 210,000 stitches, i.e. averagely 15 stitches a minute. Well, how is a Sichuan embroidery work turned out？ Firstly, the designers supply a pattern draft. Secondly, the draft is copied on the silks and satins. Thirdly, the embroidery craftsmen choose silk threads of different colors and the stitching techniques according to the pattern to be embroidered. Embroidery requires fine workmanship. It will take several months or even years to finish an embroidery work. During such a long work time, the embroidery workers must always concentrate their attention on their work and be in a peaceful state of mind. Even a little carelessness will spoil the pattern and waste the previous efforts. An excellent embroidery craftsman must own good eyesight and skilful hands. And above all, he must have artistic attainments and good appreciation. He must be able to understand correctly the meaning and interests of the patterns. So in fact it is a kind of artistic creation to complete an embroidery article. A Sichuan embroidery work as a handicraft article must also be fixed into a frame made of phoebe nanmu or wooden－sculptured stand. That is the fourth step and the last step in the making of a Sichuan embroidery article. In the history, it was mainly the male workers who made a career of Sichuan embroidery and passed on their techniques from generation to generation. Later however, people found that the clever Sichuan girls were more patient and imaginative than men. So women entered into this business and their wisdom has been fully played in this field. Sichuan embroidery articles are mainly divided into two types: articles for interior decoration or collection such as hanging screen or desk screen, etc. and articles for use including quilt cover, pillowcase, slip-cover for chair, embroidered shoes and clothes as well as stage costumes. In the past, Sichuan embroidery articles were made at home or in small workshops. It was difficult to develop the diversities, patterns and techniques of Sichuan embroidery due to the poor working condition. Today, the embroidery handicraftsmen work together at mills, which has brought an unprecedented development to the Sichuan embroidery. It is just with their needles, threads, silk and satins that the embroidery workers have created these vivid plants and animals—a second natural world and a series of scenes to please our eyes and mind. Sichuan embroidery is really an art and a wonder created by mankind with their hands.
Hunan Embroidery is considered one of the four great embroidery styles of China, and has been practiced in that country for hundreds of years. The Hunan Embroidery style originated in the Hunan province of China, where examples of embroidery have been found which date back more than 2,300 years. Embroidery in the Hunan province has developed extensively in the intervening centuries, and Hunan Embroidery is a recent product of this development, and borrows influences from other Chinese embroidery styles. While other styles strive for perfection in their craftsmanship, Hunan Embroidery is far more akin to folk art with its loose threads and rich colors. Hunan Embroidery is still produced today, and is popular throughout China and around the world.The history of Hunan Embroidery starts in the Chu Kingdom, around the third century B.C. Excavations of archaeological sites dating back to this period have discovered examples of embroidery produced in the Hunan province which use fine silk and multiple colors. However, the Hunan Embroidery style that is most familiar to modern audiences developed during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Because of its relatively late introduction, Hunan Embroidery has enjoyed the benefits of being able to borrow stylistic elements from the older Su and Yue embroidery styles. But despite this cross pollination of styles, Hunan Embroidery embodies many unique characteristics that mark it a style all on its own. Hunan Embroidery is done on transparent chiffon silk. The silk threads are dyed and then soaked in water containing pod nuts – the oil in these nuts tends to make the thread soft and easy to work with. There are several distinct needling techniques used, and their lack of precision is by design – the random or uneven nature of this needling means that colors and textures are often mixed together with great effect. The most famous examples of Hunan Embroidery use tigers as their subject. Birds, landscape scenes, and people can also be used as subjects – one of the characteristics of Hunan Embroidery is that animals and people seem to be alive, thanks to the vibrant colors and often almost three dimensional effects created by the thick knots and stitching. Hunan Embroidery pieces are often two sided, with different patterns or images on each side of the transparent chiffon. Hunan Embroidery has earned a place amongst its fellow styles as one of four the great Chinese embroidery styles. By using elements of ancient Hunan embroidery, the Su embroidery developed around 1,000 A.D., and Yue embroidery developed in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), Hunan Embroidery makes figures and colors come alive with vibrant textures and craftsmanship. Examples of Hunan Embroidery are still popular today, and can be used practically as clothing, pillow cases, and sheets or as art pieces in and of themselves.
China Embroidery just as Chinese painting shows the deep culture of China. Chinese Embroidery is deeply rooted in Chinese culture. Embroidery in China is not only the needlework but also the show window of Chinese culture including painting, philosophy, calligraphy, story, literature, folk custom and so on. It is surely an important base to show Chinese history. As important as people’s pursuit of aesthetics, embroidery is also the important educational content in ancient time for women, traditionally women in ancient time called Embroidery Nvgong(女红). It is one of the necessities for unmarried girls. Hence it is one part of life in ancient time. Currently embroidery is also popular among girls, and it is also one of the fashions today. As people’s tiredness in modernized life, many people especially well-educated people are eager to live a traditional life, and embroidery is part of that like reading classical poems and essays in traditional education. Embroidery of China will be as popular worldwide as Chinese language learning in the world.
Writer: David from Seeraa International
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