Chinese embroidery is one of China’s oldest art forms. Without any distinction between genders, both men and women participate in this activity. One cannot ascertain the actual origin of embroidery in China. According to archaeologists, embroidery in China dates back to the Han dynasty. Some Tang embroideries and one of artistic embroidery pieces from Tun Huan of 10th century are still preserved here.
Some of the finest Chinese embroidery is believed to have produced during the reign of Sung dynasty. Hui Tsung of Sung dynasty had set up an embroidery bureau, which was known as “Wen Hsiu Yuan.” Chinese literature mentions some famous embroidery artists like Kuan Fu-jen and Ku Shou-ch’ien. The latter was one of the family members of the Ku family of Shanghai, and is known to have worked during the period of Ming dynasty. Some of painter cum embroiderers are Wen Cheng-Ming, Tung Chi-Ch’ang, and Sh’en Chou. In earlier times, embroidered pieces were limited to rich ladies or ladies of high social status. Now, it has become everybody’s handiwork.
Xiang embroidery is noted for its short stitches as well as its color gradient. It uses 16 stitches for every color. With this vibrant color gradient, Xiang embroidery is stunning. Also, due to the short stitches, Xiang is able to bring out even the minutest details in the design. The finest pieces of embroidery are very costly. No wonder – some of these pieces were so elegantly stitched, they took five to six people and a few years to finish!
Types of embroidered items are quite diverse. They include theatrical costumes, robes, shoes, banners, and purses, to name a few. Some embroidered silk banners and flags are used to express rank and status.
There are two types of Chinese embroidery. They are: Chih Wen and Tuan Chen. Chih Wen involves both long and short stitch; Tuan Chen involves the seed stitch, also known as French knot. There are many varieties of stitches used in Chinese embroidery. Some include:
- Satin stitch-including both long and short stitches
- Beijing stitch or French stitch
- Stem stitch
- Chain stitch
- Split stitch
The Chinese are known for their expertise using golden thread in the French knot stitch. Embroidery is practiced everywhere in the mainland China. However, Suzhou region is especially noted for it.