Four Schools of Chinese Embroidery

Early examples of work

The earliest examples of Chinese embroidery existed during the reign of the Zhou Dynasty (1027 BC – 221 BC). Early examples of embroidery have also been found in ancient Egypt and northern Europe.

At the moment, it is not known exactly where embroidery first originated. Although, it is quite possible that this type of applied art began to exist immediately in different places independently of each other.

Silk was used in ancient Chinese embroidery, as the Chinese had already learned how to obtain silk threads from silkworm larvae.

At least this fact is well established: the Chinese were the first to learn how to produce silk. Interestingly, only men worked in the Chinese embroidery industry at first. Only years later, Chinese men realized that the gentle hands of their women are better suited for this work.

The earliest examples of Chinese embroidery on silk are ritual garments found in a tomb at Mashan in Hubei province. The age of these items dates back to the 4th century BC. e. These items were related to the early years of the development of Taoist cults.

The art of embroidery became widespread throughout China during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220). At that time, four characteristic styles, or schools, of embroidery arose.

Further, these styles were supplemented or, conversely, became more distinguishable in later periods. They developed especially rapidly in the best times of trade with India, the Middle East and Europe, when silk was delivered to these regions along the Great Silk Road. Consumers demanded more and more skillful work, and craftsmen were ready to meet the growing demand and new needs.

The four schools of Chinese embroidery

All together and separately – are a valuable component of Chinese culture. Today, they are officially recognized by the government of the People’s Republic of China as China’s intangible cultural heritage.

These four schools are the Shu school, which originated in the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280) and which today includes the traditions of Sichuan; the Xiang school, which originated in the lands where Hunan province is located today; the Su school associated with Jiangsu Province, and the Yue School associated with Guangdong Province.

Su embroidery

It got its name from the city in which it originated. This is the city of Suzhou in Jiangsu Province. Unlike other schools of embroidery, the development of the Su embroidery school is divided into two distinct periods:

The periods before and after the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644). To date, not much is known about the stage of development of the Su embroidery school before the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644).

Su embroidery is famous for its sophistication and elegance. The design is usually very simple, highlighting the main theme.

Its stitches are smooth, dense, thin, neat, even, fine and harmonious. The fine thread is divided into many colored helical threads that are barely visible to the naked eye.

Double-sided embroidery has the same pattern on both sides and uses the same embroidery method, which does not show attachment to stitches. The Su embroidery style is becoming more and more famous all over the world.

Xiang School of Chinese Embroidery

The main features of Xiang embroidery are:

1. Xiang embroidery uses various fine arts such as painting, engraving and calligraphy. On products with Xiang embroidery, the image is applied on both sides, that is, such clothes, for example, can be worn on both sides.

2. Products with Xiang embroidery have ?satin? view. That is, they are very soft and smooth.

3. Images of people, birds and humans, as well as natural landscapes are used as motifs in Xiang embroidery.

Xiang embroidery products are very beautiful. Someone might say that these products use too bright colors and at the same time there are very few of these colors.

Indeed, in the Xiang school, the main task was never to achieve the complexity of the drawing. The Xiang embroidery school reached its peak in the last years of the Qing Dynasty.

Shu School of Chinese Embroidery

The main features of Shu embroidery are:

1. Using bright colored threads.

2. Products have a high density.

3. It skillfully forms a method of mixing threads with a gradual increase in density, in order to use the effect of different shades.

4. Nature motifs are used as the main themes of the drawings: plants, flowers, animals, fish, birds and various landscapes are depicted on products with embroidery.

Currently, one of the most popular motifs is the image of a giant panda. And this is not surprising – after all, it is in the province of Sichuan that the largest range of this animal is located.

The art of Shu (Shu) embroidery follows strict principles in its development, which can be divided into 12 main categories, which, in turn, are further divided into 122 subcategories.

Shu embroidered items are mostly soft satin fabrics that are still produced in this southwestern province. Among the most typical examples of products with Shu embroidery are duvet covers and pillowcases, tablecloths and chair cushions, scarves and shawls.

Yue School of Chinese Embroidery

Yue embroidery is sometimes called the Cantonese style of embroidery. Yue embroidery does not have any special unique characteristics.

This school is considered the most eclectic of all types of embroidery in China. It harmoniously combines different elements of all other famous schools of embroidery. At the same time, there are a couple of features that make the Yue style different from others. It:

  • In this school, the masters do not try to create the depth of the drawing, that is, to create the effect of the third dimension.
  • The most popular motifs are images of mythical creatures such as birds of paradise, dragons or the phoenix. Fantastic floral motifs are also used. Often the basis of Yue embroidery is not silk, but cotton.

Yue embroidery products are as bright and colorful as in other schools of Chinese embroidery. Yue embroidered items are very popular with Chinese communities overseas, as well as in Macau and Hong Kong. Yue embroidery has won many prizes, including at various international exhibitions.