China Exclusive: Universe born on tip of needle

China Exclusive: Universe born on tip of needle

 
By Yu Fei and Ji Shaoting
silk embroidery
hand embroidered
suzhou embroidery
BEIJING, Aug. 24 (Xinhua) -- Spiral galaxies, hazy nebulas, a comet dragging its tail, a black hole swallowing a star. This is a universe created by embroidery artist Chen Yinghua with a needle and silk threads.
When Jocelyn Bell Burnell, one of the discoverers of pulsar, saw Chen's embroidery work, which is being exhibited during the International Astronomical Union (IAU)'s 28th General Assembly in Beijing, she could not help praising that "it's really gorgeous; it's beautiful."
The female astronomer, invited to deliver a speech at the opening ceremony of the conference about the universe, tried several stitches on a needlework piece of the Earth. "It needs someone skilled, not like me," joked the scientist.
The 39-year-old Chen has drawn attention from both scientists and the public at the conference. "I started to learn embroidery from my parents when I was seven years old," said Chen, who was born in a family with a long embroidery history in Suzhou -- a city famous for its delicate needlework, in east China's Jiangsu Province.
"The main subjects of traditional Suzhou embroidery include flowers and animals. I started to try some new subjects several years ago, such as portraits and oil painting," Chen said.
Her career in embroidery changed when Mei Bao, an astronomer with the Purple Mountain Observatory under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, met her in 2006. Mei showed Chen pictures of various galaxies and nebulas taken by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the United States.
"I was amazed by those beautiful pictures. I never imagined that the starlit sky I loved so much since I was a kid was even more beautiful than I saw," Chen said.
Mei was also born and grew up in Suzhou. His love for art, especially needlework, gave him the inspiration to express the beauty of astronomy through traditional embroidery.
"All I need is to find the right person with master hands to realize my thoughts. Chen is the right person. She is young with superb skills and willing to try something new," said Mei.
But the combination of science and art did not go very smoothly at the beginning. Mei has a strict requirement for astronomical accuracy that Chen could not understand very well.
"I taught her lots of astronomical knowledge, which could help her better understand the stars, planets and galaxies," Mei said.
One of the most difficult parts is to show the hazy shape of the nebula, which requires more color gradations. Chen tried many times, and finally used some new stitches.
In order to show the indistinct hazy shape of the nebula, Chen split the silk thread, and used the ultra fine material as thin as 1/64 of a normal thread.
"Crab Nebula is my first work and the most difficult one, and it's also my favorite work. It took me six months creating it by using a total of more than 4,000 colors of thread," said Chen.
Mei said: "We chose Crab Nebula as the starting point because the Crab Nebula is the remains of the supernova exploded in 1054, which was recorded by ancient Chinese. It's one of the most significant events in Chinese astronomical history."
The gloss of the silk thread perfectly displays the beauty of the universe, Mei said.
For a long time the subjects of Suzhou embroidery have been quite limited. Chen's work will have a great impact on the traditional embroidery, Mei added.
Mei mentioned that they would try to replace silk thread with optical fiber in the future, which could better present the flowing light and colors of the universe
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