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The art of Chinese Embroidery

No other group of peoples seems to have loved embroidery as much as the Chinese people. Chinese embroidery goes back to the Shang Dynasty reputed to cover in the region of the 1760s to approximately 1050 B.C. Back then, of course, embroidered items were used only by those very high on the social ladder.

From the Shang Dynasty, China moved through the Zhou Dynasty, as well as the Han Dynasty, with each marked by their own art styles as well as their own embroidery techniques. The people who acted in courts, in addition to royalty, wore embroidery.

With each change in Dynasties, the subject matter of what was embroidered on cloth also changed. For instance, Chinese embroidery often consists of cloud formations, grass and flowers, tigers, the phoenix, dragons, mountains, stars, the moon or the sun. In some very old examples of Chinese embroidery, words were often embroidered onto cloth as well.  Aristocrats and any members of the royal Chinese family were very proficient with the use of Chinese embroidery, as can be pointed out in the Mawangdui Han Tomb, the Astana-Karakhoja Ancient Tombs, and the Mogao Caves as well.

Other dynasties followed, and subject matter of embroidered items changed to reflect the times, such as adding the Buddha to embroidery.  In fact embroidery was actually divided into four distinct categories during the time of Emperor Hui Zong; flowers and birds, people, pavilions and finally water and mountains.

During the Ming Dynasty, themed embroidery came forth, so that longevity was epitomized by cranes, honor and riches by peonies, integrity by plums, pines and bamboo, fertility by pomegranates, and love by Mandarin ducks. Some of the best examples of this are found in Gu embroidery.  The Qing Dynasty brought forth metallic threads, and even the use of peacock feathers inserted into embroidered works.

Part of the romance of embroidery by the Chinese is that in olden times fair ladies were banned to remain in their homes and never set foot outside the home. Thus an elegant task for them consisted of embroidery on which to show their passion as well as their intelligence.  Many a romance was begun via the use of embroidery.

Many industries are connected to Chinese embroidery, even today.  Entire stories are told via the use of elaborate embroidery such as the “8 immortals crossing the sea.” Each era is also represented by certain topics, such as a magpie on a plum, or just mandarin ducks that play in water.

To this day, many different kinds of embroidery invented by various Chinese people still persist, though a lot of it has been lost due to time, wars and other factors that promoted the extinction of Chinese embroidery art. However, many old silk embroidery art patterns can now be found via the use of the Web, and are now sold on the Internet. Fine embroidery is no longer the province of the extreme wealthy because of this, and those who are “into” embroidery are exceeding pleased that this is so.

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