Embroidery, a revered traditional Chinese art form, boasts a rich history dating back over 2,000 years to the Spring and Autumn Period. It was during this ancient era that the people of Wu State first adorned their clothing with intricate embroidery, laying the foundation for Suzhou-style embroidery. China proudly showcases three other renowned styles of embroidery: Xiang, Shu, and Yue. Within the journey of Suzhou-style embroidery's development, numerous accomplished women have left an indelible mark, showcasing their ingenuity and talent while etching their names into the annals of history.

One of the most influential figures in the evolution of Suzhou-style embroidery over the last century is Shen Shou. Born in 1871 in Wuxian County, Jiangsu Province, often referred to as the birthplace of Suzhou-style embroidery, Shen's journey with a needle began at the tender age of seven, and she embarked on her embroidery apprenticeship just a year later. Initially, her needlework adorned bedding and various everyday items with flowers and grass motifs. However, as Shen honed her craft, she transitioned to crafting her own original works, earning acclaim from her family as a true artist. By the age of 16, she had gained fame as an embroidery artist in Suzhou City. In 1904, Shen undertook a remarkable project: she embroidered eight pieces, including a Buddha portrait, as a gift for Empress Dowager Cixi of the Qing Dynasty on her 70th birthday. This offering delighted Cixi, who reciprocated by gifting Shen and her husband with Chinese characters for "Longevity" and "Happiness." The same year, the Qing Government dispatched Shen to Japan to study the nation's artistic achievements, particularly in embroidery and painting. Upon her return, Shen was appointed as the Imperial Palace's chief embroidery instructor.

By amalgamating her diverse experiences, including Japanese embroidery techniques and Western sketching and oil painting methods from Europe and America, Shen set a groundbreaking standard for Chinese embroidery. In 1911, Shen completed her masterpiece, "Portrait of an Italian Empress," which was presented to Italy as a state gift from the Qing Government. Italy's Emperor and Empress expressed their gratitude in a heartfelt letter, praising the exquisite Suzhou embroidery. In return, they bestowed upon Shen a gold watch as a token of their appreciation. The embroidery found its way to Italy's Turin International Fair, where it claimed the top prize.

In 1914, Shen assumed the role of director at Jiangsu's Nantong Needlework Learning School. Her dedication extended to teaching embroidery in various regions of China, garnering a devoted following of young enthusiasts. Regrettably, her relentless efforts took a toll, and she succumbed to exhaustion after just eight years. While convalescing, Shen reflected on her life experiences and penned a book titled "Xuehuan Embroidery Guide," encapsulating her four-decade-long journey as China's foremost embroiderer. This groundbreaking work became the first-ever written account of Suzhou-style embroidery.

Among the outstanding embroiderers of that era were luminaries such as Hua Qi, Wang Shouming, Tang Yizhen, Li Peifu, Cai Qunxiu, Zhang Yingxiu, and Jin Jingfen. Collectively, they earned numerous prestigious accolades, including recognition at Italy's Turin International Fair (1911), the Panama-Pacific International Fair (1915), and the Belgium International Fair (1930), all in honor of their exquisite embroideries. Of these exceptional needlework artists, Jin Jingfen formally acknowledged Shen as her mentor. Jin later followed Shen to the capital, where she became a revered instructor at the embroidery school. Jin's artistry spanned a wide array of subjects, including flowers, birds, human figures, and scenic landscapes. Notably, she excelled in embroidering lifelike portraits of individuals.

 

by Su Embroidery Studio (SES), Suzhou China

SES is dedicated to Chinese Silk Embroidery Art and High-End Custom Embroidery 

Find SES's embroidery work at Chinese Silk Embroidery for Sale