China has a rich cultural history and this ancient country has left much unique and exquisite craftsmanship for the world. Today let’s have a look at one of the most relevant Chinese traditions-Chinese embroidery!
1.The Original of Chinese embroidery
It is said that there was a smart and beautiful girl in ancient Suzhou who was making a new dowry before getting married. In the process of making it, she accidentally poked a hole in the shirt. She anxiously embroidered a small flower with colored velvet, which not only concealed the hole but also looked particularly beautiful. Inspired for the first time, smart the folk people in Suzhou became love wearing embroidered clothes ever since. According to the Shuoyuan written by Liu Xiang in the Western Han Dynasty, as early as the Spring and Autumn Period(771BC–476BC), Wu people began to apply embroidery techniques as accessories for decoration. By the time of the Three Kingdoms, Su embroidery had developed to a higher level.
2.Chinese embroidery and “female red”
Chinese embroidery, also known as silk embroidery or needle embroidery, is one of China’s outstanding fork arts. China is the earliest country in the world to discover and use silk. People in China started raising silkworms and making silk fabric at least 5,500 years ago. Embroidery was called “female red” or “needlework” in China because it is mostly made by women. During the Feudal Time, a woman would make several pairs of shoes as proof of her needlework ability, as well as her small feet. In those ancient stores, needlework is the required course for girls. The principle of embroidery is to use needles to pass threads of different colors and materials through the textures of various materials to form various characters and patterns on the fabric. In ancient China, if a girl is good at embroidery, she will be praised as an ingenuity girl to be liked. Looking at these dazzling embroideries, every needle and thread is a symbol of wisdom.
3.The Development of Chinese Embroidery
The discovery of the oldest embroidery works in the world are the embroideries unearthed from Chu Tomb in the Warring States, now in Changsha province, China. In ancient times, embroidery was primarily tribute to the upper or ruling class, especially to the royal land. At first, only high-ranking nobles could have exquisite embroidery, such as clothing and accessories, which would be accompanied by embroidery. The dragon robes of ancient emperors were all embroidered with dragons in gold thread, so as the queen’s phoenix robe, both symbolizing the noble and supreme status of the royal family. Due to the relaxation of the system, the embroideries gradually spread from the palace to folklore, in the form of blessing, weddings, and housewares. Although the inheritance is no longer restricted by class status and ethical principles, some patterns and colors endowed with Chinese characteristics are still reflecting the tradition and emotion of the Chinese people.
In the 17th century, graceful and exquisite oriental-style embroidery products were imported to Europe through the Silk Road and immediately became popular among those rich and royal nobles. Marco Polo was dazzled by this astonishing traditional Chinese craft, and these Chinese-style embroideries floated across the ocean with merchant ships, sweeping Western high society and becoming a world-renowned Chinese luxury product. Since then, traditional Chinese embroidery has started to integrate all over the world. The biggest difference between European embroidery and Oriental embroidery is that Orientals are good at expressing flowers, birds, characters, and landscapes with various stitches and the main embroidery material is silk threads. While Europeans are more focused on various embroidery materials, pearls, finely ground shells, gemstones, and even gold chains. Threads are not limited to silk threads. Linen, cotton, and wool are also common embroidery materials.
4.The Four Renowned Embroideries
The four renowned embroideries in China are Su embroidery (originated from Jiangsu province), Yue embroidery (originated from Guangdong province), Xiang embroidery (originated from Hunan province), and Shu embroidery (originated from Sichuan province). The four famous embroideries have their characteristics. For example, Su Xiu gives people a feeling of delicate and graceful, just like a Southern dignified and graceful woman in southern China, reflecting the activation of Jiangnan Water life. However, Shu embroidery brings a completely different feeling, flamboyant and enthusiastic, just like hot girls in Sichuan, China. Xiang embroidery is also inseparable from the local culture of Hunan province, a southern province of China. It combines the features of Shu embroidery and Su embroidery.
5.Modern Embroidery in China
In every age, the styles of embroidery will be changed. In ancient times, only a person of high status could enjoy high-quality embroidery products. Nowadays, embroidered patterns have been used on daily necessities, such as quilt covers, pillowcases, cushions, and shoe uppers. Many women in Chinese folk can also embroider some simple patterns, and even started to use machines to make them. Mankind invented the “needle”, which gave mankind a vast material and cultural space. Our ancients used bone needles and animal tendons to make clothes, and unconsciously invented-embroidery. With the development of the times and the progress of human civilization, this unconscious thread has gradually developed into embroidery that people need. From unconscious use to conscious production, even the expansion of basic functions, embroidery, as a material carrier, generates through long years of life practice and exchanges by human practice and gradually becomes a daily necessity.
Aside from practicability, people’s psychological feelings, aesthetic appeal, and etiquette concepts are also expressed through embroidery. Embroidery is compatible with the three attributes of material culture, institutional culture, and spiritual culture, which can be called embroidery culture. The history of China’s embroidery culture is the history of human beings, the story about the process of creating unique and exquisite life, as well as the history of human accumulation of profound humanistic meaning and artistic spirit.