Ever since the Neolithic age, Chinese embroidery has stood the test of time. Its fabrics have been made using the superior quality of silk fibres ever since the origin of the practice, which dates back nearly 5000-6000 years in China, the first real sample of which was discovered in a tomb from the Zhanguo period (c.5th-3rd century BC).
Silk production and trade has always flourished in China, and from the 14th century, it reached its highest peak. Even though today's handwork has been replaced by machinery, some intricate dressmaking and production is still hand stitched.
Embroidery Hunan embroidery, or Xiang embroidery, is possibly the most traditional folk art in China, along with Suzhou. It is regarded as one of the four most distinguished styles of embroidery in the country and has distinct characteristics of Chu culture. It is well known for the silk thread embroidering, which results in highly vivid patterns. In 2006 this type of embroidery was chosen as the first instalment of the national intangible cultural heritage list.
The characteristics of Xiang embroidery include blacks and whites and a variety of greys, which, which enhance the stereoscopic effect, along with a base of wool. The creator manipulates these shades as a balance of light and shade which highlights detail. The addition of these colours creates an almost 3D effect. The finished product forms a bold yet simple style which incorporates the elegance of Chinese wash painting.
Su Xiu Embriodery/Suzhou Silk
Su embroidery is distinct from the other 3 popular embroidery styles of China due to its stitching techniques, using split silk threads alongside an art theme. The art requires a large amount of preparation. The artist usually chooses a picture or ready-made oil painting as a support base, which the silk threads will reflect. The thickness of the threads are twelve times less than those used in conventional embroidery, and after the support is stretched over an embroidery frame the elaborate work can only then begin.
Sometimes referred to as “thread painting”, the precision of this art combines painting, graphic art and needlework, which results in an energetic masterpiece. Su Xiu is praised for its fine silk threads, composition, stitching precision and the smooth finish which ultimately creates a tapestry.
Yue of Guangdong
Yue is the oldest type of embroidery out of the four, sometimes being referred to as Cantonese embroidery because of its origins in the Guangdong province. The designs produced are intricate and complicated, having a variety of methods to draw attention to the subject of the piece. This specific style, although very smooth doesn’t involve as much effort for a 3D effect. Using bright colours and vibrant threads it is maybe the most eclectic of all the styles and is still used to this day.
The embroidered pieces are either done with silk or cotton and usually feature multiple objects such as birds or dragons. The patterns are usually symmetrical but always vibrant with varied types of stitches and a defined weave. The use of primary colours and light and shade, subtler than that of Xiang or Su, rivals that of western art and paintings. Its use ranges from wall hangings to bridal gowns.
Shu of Sichuan
Shu Xiu, sometimes referred to as Chuan Xiu is focused on even stitching, direct coloration and local flavours. Alongside Shu tapestry it is considered a true treasure in Suchuan, and can still be found today on pillow cases and quilt covers. The Shu Xiu technique is one of the oldest known in the history of Chinese embroidery. Its craftmanship is extremely detailed and refined with many describing the method as ‘painstaking’.
The rich colours and the vibrant images which are found through this technique are meant to remind the wearer or viewer of the joy which can be found through living things. The closeness of its stitching allows the stitcher to highlight the minuscule detail, demanding them to stitch hundreds of thousands of stitches, taking days, or even weeks for completion. This detail and dedication may have played a huge part in the reason why it is still around today.
At Stocks, we appreciate all areas of embroidery and sewing, and love to share the skills and dedication the world adds to their crafts, just as we do! If you want to begin your journey into embroidery, we would love to help. Feel free to contact us today and we will be happy to answer any enquires.