Features and Categories of Chinese Embroidery
Embroidery is an excellent traditional technology with a long history in China. It is a kind of Chinese handicraft to embroider various designs with different kinds of threads and materials on fabric. The unearthed silk painting and embroidery prove that as early as more than 3000 years ago, there was already splendid silk with veiled design and of various colors. At present, the piece of embroidery of the Shang Dynasty found in Henan Province is the earliest embroidery handicraft in China. The rhombus, folding waves design with twisted thread at the edge show that the technology had reached a rather developed level. In a Western Zhou Tomb in Baoji, Shaanxi Province, a piece woven by the braid-strand method was found, which is still used today. The smooth lines and neat stitches showed the skill.
The production of Chinese embroidery products has not only promoted the productivity in China, but also influenced the international cultural life. In the Qin and Han dynasties ( 221 B.C. -220 A. D.), it had reached a fairly high level and had become an important merchandise for export. Being the homeland of silk, there was an old custom in China that the rich people took the "embroider boudoir" as their proof of loyalty and chastity while the poor people took the skill of embroidery and weaving as their profession. In the Qing Dynasty ( 1644-1911 A. D.), the folk embroidery of different provinces all had their own characteristics and formed the four famous categories of embroidery, i.e. suxiu in Suzhou, xiangxiu in Hunan, shuxiu in Sichuan and yuexiu in Guangdong. Beside these, there were jingxiu in Beijing, ouxiu in Wenzhou, guxiu in shanghai, miaoxiu of the Miao nationality, etc. Each had its own distinct styles. The methods included crisscrossing, mixing, netting, scattering, etc. The flowers, birds and beasts on the embroidery were all as vivid as real living ones.
Since 1949, the art of oil painting, Chinese painting and photography have been applied to embroidery at such a terrific effect that they look like paintings from distance and embroidery at close range. The scope of usage also has expanded from theatrical costumes to pillow cases, table cloths, screens, wall hangings, clothes, etc. It is also a traditional exporting product, which is of high economic value.
The four famous categories of embroidery embody the characteristics and artistic value of Chinese embroidery.
Suxiu is famous for its neat stitches, elegant colors and fine quality. Smooth, bright, neat, even, fine and tight are its features. The subjects are mostly little animals like cats, fish and shrimps. The double-sided embroidery, with the two sides either identical or different, is of exquisite workmanship. For example, the cat's eyes are of different colors on the two sides, which is done by superb skill.
Xiangxiu has bright colors. With Chinese paintings as its background, clouds, mountains, rivers, pavilions, birds and animals are embroidered realistically. The techniques of xiangxiu is manifested fully especially in the embroidery of tigers and lions , with their hair embroidered in fine bold lines. There goes a saying: On xiangxiu, birds can sing, tigers can run, flowers are fragrant and people are lifelike.
Shuxiu is characterized by its simple structure, bright colors, well-knit stitches, smooth surface and traditional decorator designs like squares and stripes. Its subjects are mostly butterflies, carps, pandas, etc.
Yuexiu is done by embroidering with gold and silver threads, which are neat and bright. It has a tight layout, decorator designs and a gorgeous surface. Yuexiu is mostly used in theatrical costumes and wedding gowns. Lychee and peacocks are its traditional subjects.