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Museum Special- Suzhou embroidery museum

05-29-2011 13:24 BJT

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During the Spring and Autumn Period some 25-hundred years ago, people from Wu State applied embroidery to clothes, and thus began the origin of Suzhou-style embroidery. Suzhou embroidery is world renowned for its exquisite, elegant, clear and beautiful artistic style.

Today we travel down to East China’s Jiangsu Province, and discover the former glory and modern prosperity of the needlework in Suzhou, one of the top of four famous embroidery cradles in China.

The Suzhou Embroidery Museum was established in 1986 and was originally in the Fishing Master's Garden. In 1988, the museum was moved to Wang Ao's Ancestral Temple at No.262, Jingde Road.

Emperor Qianlong's imperial robe is one of the most precious deposits at the museum, boasting 42 dragon stripes, all embroidered with gold threads. The dragon stripes are intermingled with colorful cloud patterns, all in perfect harmony.

The empress court gowns of Qing Dynasty's Yongzheng and Xianfeng periods also represent the highest techniques and creations of the art. Gold couching embroidery, flat, back, roll, collective covering stitching skills are combined meticulously and flamboyantly.

A buff thin silk cotton-padded gown and a bed quilt are probably the most historical exhibits. Embroidered with dragons, phoenixes, and flowers, the patterns are typical imperial symbols of the culture of Chu State of the Warring States Period some 2000 years ago. Both of them were unearthed from the No.1 Chu Tomb in Mashan, Jingzhou City of Hubei Province in 1982.

Actually each piece hosted in this exhibition hall is magnificent in its design and sewing technique. Senior official's uniforms and rank patches, their spouses' cloaks, imperial throng back cushions and many decorative accessories the sophisticated artifacts illustrate the evolution of the art from Tang and Song, through to the Ming and Qing Dynasties. All of which are embodied with the highest techniques and artistry, including satin, layered, pine-needle, scale, braided and twine stitching.

No one can neglect such a vivid and melancholy piece: the Portrait of Jesus. It is the milestone work of modern Chinese embroiderer Shen Shou. In this work, she boldly and skillfully adopted the imitating style of embroidery. With this technique, she combined short and long stitches, false and real stitches, random and orderly stitches, and straight and winding stitches with application of coloring. The sorrowful facial appearance of Jesus is made visible in the threads helping people to feel the mistreatment he suffered. The Portrait of Jesus won the first prize in the Expo of Italy and the International Fair of Panama in 1915, which was the highest honor for Chinese embroidery in the world.

Shen Shou is an inevitable name when speaking of modern embroidery's history. The Suzhou native, born in 1874, enjoys a reputation as "Embroidery saint" and bearer of the "magic needle." She learned the technique when she was young and her longevity screens, "Eight Immortals Celebrate Birthday," was sent as a tribute to Empress Cixi as a 70th year congratulatory present. Later she went to Japan to study. She firstly created the simulation embroidery, which took Suzhou's specialty to a new level.

Apart from her own great achievements, Shen Shou, her disciples, and other devotees have accomplished some giant leaps forward in Suzhou embroidery by creating “cross-stitch embroidery method”, ”random stitch embroidery” and other techniques.

The 1950s ushered in a new era, and artists have since created a variety of new masterpieces. The two sided embroideries “Gold Fish” and “Kittens” became representative works of that time and have remained popular until today. The technique effectively transforms flat embroideries into three-dimensional works. The vivid, exquisite pattern is identical on each side.

Most of the masterpieces are currently collected and exhibited by the Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute, which is located next to the museum. To keep the ancient needle art alive, research institutes and mills have been built since the 1950s in Suzhou, Nantong, Changzhou and Wuxi. The Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute, or SERI, has done an excellent job of studying, recording and promoting the traditional technique. As a result, Suzhou-style embroidery has boomed with more varieties. In addition to single-sided and double-sided embroideries, there are "colorful brocade embroidery", which is used especially for decorations, "hair embroidery", "miniature embroidery", and "seed embroidery".

Visitors to the museum not only get a good understanding on the historical development of the intricate art, but also acquainted with a live performance of embroidering.

In three separate rooms, the elite needlework artists move the needle up and down between the fabrics. Usually they take a break every two hours to relieve their stiff muscles. The tedious work gives them neck and lumbar problems. However, when you admire them stitching ingeniously and a dulcet and delightful landscape gradually appears on the silk, you will definitely be unaware of the hardships the artists have endured.

SERI embroiderers have expanded their unparalleled skills to explore new artistic directions, creating works that transcend conventional perceptions of embroidery to reveal a dynamic, exquisite art form. Some of the resulting embroideries incorporate as many as 40 different types of stitches and 300 hues of silk threads.

Here in the workshop we also discover an almost faded silk-weaving technique, Kesi. Master Zhong is busy on her age-old machine for a six-screen silk painting "Peony".

As a style of Chinese silk tapestry, Kesi is admired for its lightness and clarity of pattern. Kesi means "cut silk", a name that comes from the appearance of cut threads by the use of color in the pictorial designs typical of the style. Unlike continuous weft brocade, in Kesi each color area is woven from a separate bobbin, making the style both technically demanding and time-consuming.

No one can tell exactly how many embroidery mills are actively located in and around Suzhou. The art continues, and the embroiderers are creating new miracles. They stitch their talent, ingenuity, and constancy into history.



Editor:Zhang Pengfei |Source: CNTV.CN

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