Hand Embroidery Art
Antique Textile History
Chinese Embroidery History
The history of silk begins in China--silkworms were domesticated as early as 5000 years ago. The production of silk thread and fabrics
gave rise to the art of embroidery.
Chinese embroidery boasts a very long history. An embroidery piece with dragon-and-phoenix pattern was unearthed at 1958 from Chu
tomb (Warring Sates Period, 475 -221 B.C.) and the “Longevity embroidery” & “Token embroidery” unearthed at 1972 from Mawangdui
Han tomb (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) in Changsha of Hunan Province, proving that embroidery reached a high level of development over 2000
During Ming Dynasty(1368-1644), some Portuguese businessmen visited China and returned home with samples of Chinese embroidery they
were highly awarded by their king. Since then, Chinese embroidery became well-known throughout the world. Silk, in textile and
embroidery form, were the main products transported along the ancient Chinese Silk Road. In the Qing Dynasty(1644-1912), embroidery
workshops were formed and the industry was developed. Chinese embroidery became more elegant and covered a wider aesthetic range.
Embroidery is a traditional Chinese craft which consists of pulling colored thread through a background with needle to stitch patterns
that have been previously designed.
The adoption of different stitching methods developed into different embroidery styles. There are four famous top Chinese embroidery
Styles: Su embroidery from Jiangsu, Xiang embroidery from Hunan, Yue embroidery from Guangdong, Shu embroidery from Sichuan. Also
another style Bian embroidery from Henan.
Chinese Embroidery and Symbolism
Hand Tools of Chinese Embroidery
Procedure of Silk Embroidery:
1. Creation of an embroidery artwork starts with design conception. Silk embroidery can be created as original artwork, or replicated,
based on other media or art forms (for example, such as an oil painting or a photograph).
2. With replication, the design is transferred to a support fabric (pure silk, or mixed silk and synthetic fabric), by means of sketching
or the use of digital printing.
3. The support fabric is then installed on an embroidery frame. Embroiderers then begin the embroidery process with tiny needles and
thousands of strands of colorful silk floss. One hundred twenty eight individual strands of silk are combined to make a coarse floss,
which are dyed in house by the artists themselves. Depending upon what embroidery technique is to be used, and the detail required, an
embroidery artist needs to split the coarse floss into several strands of thinner floss, from one split to as many as 16 splits. The floss
commonly used contains eight to sixty-four individual silk strands. In some of the highest quality pieces, the finest floss with six
individual silk strands is also used. In some cases, single colored split silk floss is intertwined with other colored floss to achieve
special color effects.
4. Mounting after completes. It is most suitable for larger pieces. Mounting a piece of silk embroidery can be an art in and of itself. It
involves mounting the embroidery piece on a large sheet of paper with a silk border. In this way, it is easy for removing and preserving.
Sometimes we also call the process as soft framing. It not only can protect the real work, but also it's easier to carry and store to
any where. The mounting technique is very difficult to master. As a result, due to the nature of the mounting technique, a piece with
soft mounting is more valuable.
5. Framed by Wood/Metal frames with glass for your wall decoration. Embroidery artworks look better without the glass, but we
suggest our customer to frame it with glass, since the glass will protect the art from dust and last longer.
How to Appreciate Chinese 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.
An embroidery artwork can be appreciated on the basis of both the skills employed and the artistic merit. The skills employed can be
appreciated on the basis of color, silk floss, the stitch and needle distance. The value of an embroidery artwork is determined by type of
stitching employed, and the extent, or size of the embroidery area.
To create a high quality piece, an artist must split a single silk thread into several thinner threads. It can be split into from 2 to 16 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, even a year and a half
to complete by an artist or group of artists. Those works sell for thousand of pounds, 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.
How to Protect Embroidery Artworks
* All the embroidery artworks need to avoid wet;
* Be sure to wrap embroidery pieces in a container that protects it from moths for storage.
* Place in a good ventilation environment.
* Do not touch the surface of the real work and the threads with your hand;
* Avoid to be exposed to strong light, especially sunshine for an extended period of time.
* Protect the artwork with a proper frame. The front glass can reduce glare and protect against UVA and UVB rays.
If you protect your embroidery artwork well, they will last for a very long time. The earliest Chinese embroidery which well kept since now
has a history of over 500 years.
The Top Four Styles of Chinese Silk Embroidery
Chinese Embroidery is well-known for its neat stitches, elegant colors and fine quality. The methods applied in producing embroidery
artworks include parallel, mixing, netting, random stitches and many unique secret methods.
1. Su Embroidery
Su embroidery: Suzhou city of Jiangsu province and everything from it reflects tranquility, refinement, and elegance.
With a history of more than 3,000 years, Su embroidery is the general name for embroidery products in areas around Suzhou, Jiangsu
Province. The craft, which dates back to the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280), became a sideline of people in the Suzhou area during the
Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Well known for its smoothness and delicateness, Su embroidery won Suzhou the title City of Embroidery in the
Qing Dynasty. In the mid and late Qing, Su embroidery experienced further developments involving works of double-sided embroidering.
There were 65 embroidery stores in Suzhou City. During the Republic of China period (1912-1949), the Su embroidery industry was in
decline due to frequent wars and it was restored and regenerated after the founding of new China. In 1950, the central government set up
research centers for Su embroidery and launched training courses for the study of embroidery. Weaving methods have climbed from 18 to
the present 40.
The designs are usually very simple, highlighting a main theme. Its stitching is smooth, dense, thin, neat, uniform, delicate and
harmonious. Double-sided embroidery has the different patterns on both sides.
Su embroidery features a strong, folk flavor and its weaving techniques are characterized by the following: the product surface must be flat,
the rim must be neat, the needle must be thin, the lines must be dense, the color must be harmonious and bright and the picture must be
even. Su embroidery products fall into three major categories: costumes, decorations for halls and crafts for daily use, which integrate
decorative and practical values. Double-sided embroidery is an excellent representative of Su embroidery.
Double Sided Embroidery works or two sided embroidery artworks
Besides average double sided embroideries that have two same images, we also make rarely seen works that have two different images
on both sides, embroidery works done on one and the same silk fabric, an embroidery skill in danger of extinction that now only several
embroidery artists know how to achieve it. We've prepared two video clips to show how the double sided embroidery works look like.
2. Xiang Embroidery
Xiang embroidery was initiated in the Chu kingdom of the Warring States Period. It had become the main craft in places around Changsha,
capital city of Hunan Province. It absorbed and combined the merits of Su embroidery and Yue embroidery with their local embroidery,
and developed the unique, detailed, marvelous style.
Xiang embroidery is well known for its time-honored history, excellent craftsmanship and unique style. The earliest piece of Xiang
embroidery was unearthed at the No.1 Tomb of Mawangdui, Changsha City of the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220). The weaving technique
was almost the same as the one used in modern times, which demonstrated that embroidery had already existed in the Han Dynasty. In
its later development, Xiang Embroidery absorbed the characteristics of traditional Chinese paintings and formed its own unique
characteristics. Xiang embroidery experienced its heyday at the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and in the early Republic of China
(early 20th century), even surpassing Su embroidery. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, Xiang embroidery was further
improved and developed to a new level.
Xiang embroidery uses pure silk, hard satin, soft satin and nylon as its material, which is connected with colorful silk threads. Absorbing
the spirit of Chinese paintings, the embroidery reaches a high artistic level. Xiang embroidery crafts include valuable works of art, as well
as materials for daily use.
The thin silk thread can be divided into up to many strands that are barely visible. The embroider can split the hair-thin colored silk thread
into filaments--half, quarter, 1/12, 1/64 or more of its original thickness and uses these to create subtle and refined visions of beauty. The
stitches are very disciplined and critical. The various colored threads are mixed together showing a gradual change in color with a rich and
harmonious tone. Xiang embroidery is high detailed and there is more handwork involved to complete these artistic pieces.
3. Shu Embroidery
Shu embroidery products are mostly found in Chengdu city of Sichuan Province. Like other Chinese embroidery, the style is constructed
with soft satins and colored threads, and is embroidered by hand. The varied stitching methods form their unique local style. Designs
include flowers, birds, landscapes, fish, and portraits, and applications include quilt covers, pillow covers, back cushions, table cloths,
scarves and handkerchiefs.
Also called Chuan embroidery, Shu embroidery is the general name for embroidery products in areas around Chengdu, Sichuan Province.
Shu embroidery enjoys a long history. As early as the Han Dynasty, Shu embroidery was already famous. The central government even
designated an office in this area for its administration. During the Five Dynasties and Ten States periods (907-960), a peaceful society and
large demand provided advanced conditions for the rapid development of the Shu Embroidery industry. Shu embroidery experienced its
peak development in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), ranking first in both production and excellence. In the mid-Qing Dynasty, the Shu
embroidery industry was formed. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, Shu embroidery factories were set up and the craft
entered a new phase of development, using innovative techniques and a larger variety of forms.
Originating among the folk people in the west of Sichuan Province, Shu embroidery formed its own unique characteristics: smooth, bright,
neat and influenced by the geographical environment, customs and cultures. The works incorporated flowers, leaves, animals, mountains,
rivers and human figures as their themes. Altogether, there are 122 approaches in 12 categories for weaving. The craftsmanship of Shu
embroidery involves a combination of fine arts, aesthetics and practical uses, such as the facings of quits, pillowcases, coats, shoots and
4. Yue Embroidery
Yue embroidery was developed in Tang Dynasty. Ancient Chinese craftsmen used peacock feathers twisted together as the embroidering
thread to stitch the ornamental designs. The designs are rich and complicated in content with bright colors and strong decorative effects.
The embroidery is smooth and even.
Also called Guang embroidery, Yue embroidery is a general name for embroidery products of the regions of Guangzhou, Shantou,
Zhongshan, Fanyu and Shunde in Guangdong Province. According to historical records, in the first year of Yongyuan's reign (805) during
the Tang Dynasty (618-907), a girl named Lu Meiniang embroidered the seventh volume of the Fahua Buddhist Scripture on a piece of thin
silk 30 cm long. And so, Yue embroidery became famous around the country. The prosperous Guangzhou Port of the Song Dynasty
promoted the development of Yue embroidery, which began to be exported at that time. During the Qing Dynasty, people animal hair as the
raw material for Yue embroidery, which made the works more vivid. During Qianlong's reign (1736-1796) of the Qing, an industrial
organization was established in Guangzhou. At that time, a large number of craftsmen devoted themselves to the craft, inciting further
improvements to the weaving technique. Since 1915, the work of Yue embroidery garnered several awards at the Panama Expo.
Influenced by national folk art, Yue embroidery formed its own unique characteristics. The embroidered pictures are mainly of dragons and
phoenixes, and flowers and birds, with neat designs and strong, contrasting colors. Floss, thread and gold-and-silk thread embroidery are
used to produce costumes, decorations for halls and crafts for daily use.
Silk Embroidery Framing, Matting & Mounting
A frame serves many purposes: It protects and enhances the work, offers protection from dirt, moisture, light, insects and corrosive
elements, while providing a stable platform for hanging. Glass or clear acrylic is held off the surface of the artwork by the mat. The back of
the work should be attached to acid-free board. Most cheap frames use backing board and matting material that contains small amounts
of acid. Over time this acid leaches into the artwork, staining it and making it brittle.
In museum quality frames, all material that touches the work is PH neutral (free of acids, at least four-ply thickness archival quality 100%
cotton rag museum mat board, over an acid-free foam or corrugated backing board). All frames should be sealed against moisture to
avoid damage from mold and humidity. In terms of value, if something is not framed properly, it can do more damage to a work of art than
you could imagine. People should care about their art pieces.
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http://www.marlamallett.com/chinese.htm Chinese Antique textile
Embroidery is a very long established art form in China. It was never classified as a solely female activity and men and women have both
been involved in embroidery. The items embroidered are quite diverse and include robes, theatrical costumes, purses, shoes, spectacle
cases, banners, alter cloths and many other pieces. Some of the pieces were so finely stitched that the pieces took 5-6 people several
years to complete. Embroidery was also used as a means of decorating silk clothing and for silk flags and banners as a means of
denoting rank or station. The finest pieces of work were very expensive. Gradually, embroidery developed, as a pastime for wealthy ladies
and many members of the court were renowned for their intricate work.
According to the Chinese there are two main divisions of embroidery, “chih wen” and “tuan chen”. “Chih wen” uses the long and short
stitch, while “tuan chen” involves the seed stitch used in Beijing which is also known as the French knot. The stitches most commonly
used by the Chinese include 1) satin stitch – which is further classified into long and short 2) Beijing stitch or French knot 3) Stem stitch; 4)
Couching; 5) Chain stitch; and 6) Split stitch. All of these stitches are known in the west. Many westerners find Chinese embroidery a little
over done. The Chinese satin stitch when done to perfection is exquisite in its fine detail. The use of gold thread for the French knot, for
which the Chinese have a special gift, is characteristic of their work. Sometimes even such light material as gauze and paper were
embroidered to demonstrate the fineness of the work.
It is difficult to be precise as to when embroidery first was practiced in China but based on archeological excavations of tombs it at least
dates back to the early Han dynasty which based itself near Lake Baikal in the early second century B.C. Many Tang embroideries continue
to be preserved both in China and in Japan. One of the most famous representations of the embroiders’ artistry is the piece that came
from the Thousand Buddhas at Tun Huang and that dates from the tenth Century.
There are also many fine pieces of embroidery from the Sung dynasty. We know from historical records that the Sung Emperor Hui Tsung
(1101-1126) established an embroidery bureau called the “Wen Hsiu Yuan”. It also is well known that many of the finest pieces were
copied in the Ming and Ching period and it is therefore difficult to definitely attribute many of these pieces.
Chinese Literature records the names of many famous embroidery artists. Among these are Kuan Fu-jen, the wife of the painter Chao
Meng-fu and the ladies of the Ku family in Shanghai such as Ku Shou-ch’ien who worked their artistry in Ming times. The painters Tung ch’i-
ch’ang and Wen Cheng-ming and more recently Sh’en Chou who died in 1910 are all considered great embroiders.
Embroidery is still practiced in many sections of China. Suzhou is well known for the quality of its work. Additionally other areas have a
reputation for embroidery but few can match the precision, art and charm of the work produced in China prior to the Modern period.
Embroidery Hoop (Square, for large work)
Embroidery Hoop(Round, For mini work)
The final view of hoop stand, hoop with cloth
|Embroidery Cloth (Silk)
To select the proper color,
sometimes the cloth need to be
colored if necessary.
Also, the threads need to be split up times
according to the artwork requirements.
Embroidery Needles, Scissors & Hoop.
Embroidery Hoop Stand