Suzhou Embroidery is a Legend Created by Women, and I already wrote an article about Suzhou Classic Silks.
Embroidery is a form of traditional Chinese art. During the Spring and Autumn Period, more than 2,000 years ago, people from Wu State applied embroidery to clothes. That was the origin of Suzhou-style embroidery. China’s three other well-known styles of embroidery are the Xiang, Shu and Yue. During the development of Suzhou-style embroidery, many famous women pushed the art form to new levels. They displayed their cleverness and talent, and, subse-quently, entrenched their names in history.
As one of the representatives of Chinese culture and arts, Suzhou embroidery enjoys a good reputation of the first of the Top-four embroiders in China. Suzhou embroidery was originated in Wuxian, Jiangsu Province. These areas have been famous for their high quality silk productions for centuries. The country of Wu (current Suzhou area) has started to use embroidery to decorate garments over 2,000 years ago. Suzhou embroidery Art has been already quite high-level in Song Dynasty. During the Ming Dynasty, Suzhou became a thriving center for silk industries and handicrafts. Flourishing painting art in Wu area helped the further development of Suzhou embroidery. Embroiders reproduced the paintings using needles. These works were so vivid and elegant as to be called “paintings by needle” or “unmatchable even by the nature.”
During the Qing Dynasty, Suzhou embroidery reached its peak. Portrait of the Italian Queen made by Shen Yunzhi, a master in Suzhou embroidery, was sent to Italy as a national gift and invoked a sensation there. In 1915, Shen’s Portrait of Jesus won the first prize at the “Panama-Pacific Exhibition” hold in US and was priced at a marked high US$13,000. Another portrait of an American actress also received great acclaim when being exhibited in the US.
After P.R.China was established, Suzhou embroidery was presented as the formal gift of international exchange more than 80 times and exhibited in more than 100 countries and regions altogether, when more than 100 embroiders masters gave the performance live.
As a kind of artworks made by hand completely, a piece of Suzhou embroidery needs an embroider-maid several months, even a few years to finish. Thereby as other kinds of artworks, the fine works of Suzhou embroidery are worth collecting as well.
To keep the ancient, Suzhou-style embroidery alive, research institutes and mills have been built since the 1950s in Suzhou, Nantong, Changzhou and Wuxi. The Suzhou-style Embroidery Institute has done an excellent job of studying, recording and promoting the embroidery technique, which was nearly lost during past generations. As a result, there are more varieties of Suzhou-style embroideries. In addition to single-sided and double-sided embroideries, there are “color-ful-brocade embroidery,” which is used especially for decorations; “hair embroidery;” “miniature embroidery,” in which up to 780 characters can be embroidered on a portrait of the Goddess of Mercy; and “seed embroidery.” Most of these creations are considered miracles.
History of the Suzhou embroidery
Suzhou embroidery was originated in Wuxian, Suzhou,Jiangsu province. These areas, ocated in the lower reach of Yangtse River, have been famous for their high quality silk productions for centuries. So, it’s a traditional habit for the women here being good at embroidering. The Superior environment, abundant beautiful brocade, and booming production of silk fabric and thread naturally nourished the burgeoning and flourishing of Suzhou embroidery. In the course of long-term historical development, the local style of Suzhou embroidery has formed, that is the pretty pattern, harmonious colors, the vivid lines, the lively needlework, and the meticulous crafts. It is praised as the “Oriental Pearl”.
During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Suzhou has become a thriving center for silk industries and handicrafts. Artists in Wu area, represented by Tang Yin (Bohu) and Shen Zhou, helped the further development of Suzhou embroidery. Embroiders reproduced their paintings using needles. These works were so vivid and elegant as to be called “paintings by needle” or “unmatchable even by the nature.” Since then, Suzhou embroidery evolved a style of its own in needlework, color plan and pattern, match in beauty with the art of calligraphy and painting.
During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Suzhou embroidery reached its peak, with the prevalence of various styles and master embroiders. The embroidered products used by the royal family were almost exclusively from Suzhou. Folk embroidery products were even more diverse, including decorations on garments, theater costumes, quilt covers, cushions, shoes, perfume bags and fan bags. They didn’t only boast various needlework and elegant colors, but also the joyous patterns of longevity or luck. They were extremely popular among the common people. The “drawing embroidery”, a special kind of Suzhou embroidery, which was called as the “boudoir embroidery” is the top-grade product for appreciation.
At the turn of the 20th century, Portrait of the Italian Queen made by Shen Yunzhi, a master in Suzhou embroidery, was sent to Italy as a national gift and invoked a sensation there. In 1915, Shen’s Portrait of Jesus won the first prize at the “Panama-Pacific Exhibition” hold in US and was priced at a marked high US$13,000. Another Portrait of an American Actress also received great acclaim when being exhibited in the US. Shen’s “realistic embroidery”, which opened up a brand-new chapter of Suzhou embroideries, achieved remarkable recognition both home and abroad.
The Suzhou embroidery works have attained the prizes in ” Italy Turin World Exposition ” (A.D. 1911), ” Panama–Pacific Ocean International Fair “(A.D. 1915), ” Belgium World Exposition ” (A.D. 1930). Embroidery works Cats in the exhibition of London in 1956, which caused a sensation in Britain at that time. Embroidery fine works ” Premier Chou Enlai”, “Deng Xiaoping” and ” Monma Liza”, ” Playing Xiao to Attract the phoenix “, etc. won many prizes at international and domestic artistic fairs, a lot of embroidery products became the national-level gifts. Embroiders masters gave the performance live in Germany, Japan, Australia, etc. Suzhou embroidery has achieved remarkable recognition both home and abroad.
Suzhou-style embroidery is world renowned for its exquisite, elegant, clear and beautiful artis-tic style. Such embroideries in years past were given by China to heads of states as gifts. Suzhou-style embroideries have been exhibited in 92 countries and regions, and more than 100 embroiderers have won international awards and/or recognition.
The art continues, and, in Suzhou, some old-time embroiderers are creating some outstanding pieces of art. By using needles, floss and fabric, and by applying various methods of stitching, they seem to bring nature, flowers, birds, fish and humans to life in their creations.
There are also many folk embroiderers in Wujiang County. Some estimates indicate there are 8,000 women embroiderers in Zhenhu. They range in age from early teens to 70-year-old grand-mothers. Almost all households in the county earn at least a portion of their incomes from embroi-dery. In Zhenhu, considered the home of Suzhou-style embroidery, needlework is a tourist favorite. No one can tell exactly how many embroidery mills are located in and around Zhenhu.
Superb Suzhou embroidery art
The color and needle method of the Suzhou embroidery are all expected very much, the color for a painting will vary endlessly. The embroidery artists have created the skill and technique of “splitting silks and piecing the colors together” from the long-term practice, not only there are abundant colors, but also the feelings, expressions and inherent structures of different images are demonstrated. So, though rough sketches for a painting are mostly out of the painters, through the re-creation of the embroidery artists, the artistic results, which are often beyond that of the original paintings can be obtained.
In the Suzhou embroidery art, the double-sides embroidery, which embody mainly the skill level of the Suzhou embroidery, is a pearl on its crown. Although initially appeared in the Northern Song Dynasty, the double-sides embroidery was extremely rare in history, especially the double-sides embroidery for appreciation. The earliest two pieces of double-sides embroidery for appreciation we can see are The Maids of Honor created in Qing Dynasty and collected by the Palace Museum. One of them depicts two maids of honor walking together, and there is a peach tree on the left of the picture with some ripe peaches hanging on, with two pieces of cloud and two cranes hovering on the sky, which means “the blessing life with both happiness and longevity”. The surface of the embroidery is even and neat, with the same pattern, needle method, and color on both sides.
So-called double-sides embroidery is to embroider on both sides of a piece of cloth synchronously of totally same outlines and equally exquisite patterns for people to appreciate.
Now the double-sides embroidery has already developed into the double-sides embroidery three-difference with different colors, different contents and different needle methods on both sides, the technology of the double-sides embroidery has been led into a magical realm. It is more difficult to make the double-sides embroidery with different colors, different contents and different needle methods on both sides, besides general requests for the double-sides embroidery, the stitches and silk threads should be taken into consideration to make sure that the colors on two sides do not affect with each other, the stitches do not reveal, and to perfect the effect.
The random-stitch embroidery was created by Yang Shouyu, a famous artist of Suzhou Embroidery in the beginning of 30s. She developed the traditional embroidering method of paralleling the stitches neatly and connecting the lines of thread densely into the method of random-stitch which means crossing oblique lines of thread and mixing the colors in different layers to out the figures, scenery, still lives and animals. The appearance of random-stitch embroidery, which had opened up the wide prospect for Chinese embroidery towards a higher level of fine arts, was a great breakthrough to the traditional embroidery of several thousand years of China, as well as an invention of combining the Western painting and Chinese embroidery together. After the development of random-stitch embroidery, there has already been a gorgeous beautiful world being embroidered in Suzhou, instead of mere cats or dogs. Robert Kotsyum, an American famous photographer, was totally subdued in the exquisite and magical Eastern art after his works Cedar was embroidered into a Suzhou embroidery, and appreciated it ecstatically.
In a word, the Suzhou Embroidery is crystallization of the pure artistic sentiment and the wisdom of the embroidery artists. It depicts the broad scenery in a little picture, and the numerous interests of the world are embroidered through the fingers of the embroidery maids, it demonstrated using the few to defeat the many and using the imaginary to defeat the real ones. With the little embroidery needles, the feelings can be conveyed through the silk threads, this is the exact charming of the Suzhou Embroidery art.