A Brief Introduction of Chinese Embroidery

Embroidery, a folk art with a long tradition, occupies an important position in the history of Chinese arts and crafts. It is, in its long development, inseparable from silkworm-raising and silk-reeling and weaving.

China is the first country in the world that discovered the use of silk. Silkworms were domesticated as early as 5000 years ago. The production of silk thread and fabrics gave rise to the art of embroidery. According to the classical Shangshu(or Book of History), the "regulations on costumes" of 4000 years ago stipulated among other things "dresses and skirts with designs and embroideries". This is evidence that embroidery had become an established art by that remote time.

In 1958 a piece of silk was found in a tomb of the state of Chu of the Warring Sates Period (475-221B.C). It is embroidered with a dragon-and-phoenix design. More than 2000 years old, it is the earliest piece of Chinese embroidery ever unearthed.

The art became widespread during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.); many embroidered finds date back to that period.

Today, silk embroidery is practiced nearly all over China. The best commercial products, it is generally agreed, come from four provinces: Jiangsu (notably Suzhou), Hunan, Sichuan and Guangdong, each with its distinctive features.

Embroidered works have become highly complex and exquisite today. Take the double-face embroidered "Cat", representative work of Suzhou embroidery, for example, the artist splits the hair-thin colored silk thread into filaments-half, quarter 1/12 or even 1/48 of its original thickness-- and uses these in embroidering concealing in the process the thousands of ends and joints and making them disappear as if by magic. The finished work is a cute and mischievous-looking cat on both sides of the groundwork. The most difficult part of the job is the eyes of the cat. To give them luster and life, silk filaments of more than 20 colors or shades have to be used.

Recently, on the basis of two-face embroidery have developed further innovations-- the same design on both sides in different colors, and totally different patterns on the two faces of the same groundwork. It seems that possibilities hitherto unknown to the art may yet be explored.



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