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Chinese Embroidery is an anciently established art form famous in the world. It was never classified as a solely female activity, and men and women have both been involved in embroidery. The items embroidered were diverse and included robes, theatrical costumes, purses, shoes, spectacle cases, banners, etc. Some of the pieces were so finely stitched that the pieces took several people several years to complete. Embroidery was also used as a means of decorating silk clothing and silk flags and banners that denoted rank or station. The finest pieces of work were very expensive. Gradually embroidery became popular as a pastime for wealthy ladies and many members of the court were renowned for their intricate work.
There are two main divisions of Chinese embroidery, Qing Wen and Tuan Cheng. Qing Wen uses the long and short stitch, while Tuan Cheng employees the seed stitch known in China as the Beijing stitch and as the French knot elsewhere. The stitches most commonly used by the Chinese are:
1) Satin stitch which is further classified into long and short
The Chinese satin stitch when done to perfection is exquisite in its fine detail. The use of gold thread for the French knot, for which the Chinese have a special gift, is characteristic of their work. Sometimes even such light material as gauze and paper were embroidered to demonstrate the fineness of the work.
It is difficult to be precise as to when embroidery was first practiced in China. But based on archeological excavations of tombs, it at least dates back to the early Han dynasty and was based near Lake Baikal. Many Tang embroideries continue to be preserved both in China and in Japan. One of the most famous representations of the embroiders’ artistry is a piece that came from the Mogao Grottoes at Dunhuang that dates from the 10th century.
There are also many fine pieces of embroidery from the Song dynasty. We know from historical records that the Song Emperor Hui Zong (1101-1126 AD) established an embroidery bureau called the "Wen Xiu Yuan". Since many of the finest pieces were copied in the Ming and Qing period, it is difficult to definitely attribute many of these pieces.
Chinese literature records the names of many famous embroidery artists. Among these are Kuan, the wife of the painter Chao Mengfu, and Ku Shouzhen, one the ladies of the Ku family in Shanghai who worked their artistry in Ming times. The painters Tong Qichang and Wen Zhengming and more recently Shen Zhou, who died in 1910 are all considered great embroiders.
Chinese embroidery is still practiced in many sections of the country. Suzhou is well known for the quality of its work, producing marvelous two-sided embroidery pieces.Other countries have a reputation for producing beautiful embroidery but few can match the precision, art and charm of the work produced in China prior to the modern period.
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