Gold Embroidery - Regal and Dazzling
Xiu hua
Beijing
Heritage
Fabric Decoration

Jing embroidery was only for the king and court officials and so became known as "palace embroidery". Jing embroidery was famous for its expensive fabrics, clever needlework, colourful and luxurious appearance and its patterns imbued with connotations of wealth and power. Cost was no object.

"Previously all embroidery belonged to men, because this skill was only allowed to be passed to males."  commented Xiuhua.   "My father-in-law, Ning Guoxi, was a famous artist and they called him butterfly Ning.  So from the day I married into the Ning family I had dual roles, one as wife and mother and also the one to carry on this family skill.  Just three days after I married, my father-in-law could not wait to show me his collection of embroidery, featuring the lifelike kylin, or unicorn, and the imposing crane. From the Qing dynasty to the early Republic of China, every single piece had perfectly coordinated colours, exquisite patterns, and my eyes were dazzled by the beauty.  Words failed me.  I was very worried that my coarse hands would not be able to hold the tiny needles. But my father-in-law had faith in me and showed me the way and then I began," said sixty-year-old Xiuhua.

"Jing embroidery holds that every pattern must have meaning and every meaning should be auspicious.  For example peony symbolizes wealth and good fortune, clouds signify favourable weather, so this is the most notable difference with other genres of embroidery.  The production process begins with pattern design on wax paper and then you would use a needle to poke tiny holes in the paper and apply coloured powder to transfer the dots to the fabric.  Only then would you begin to stitch."

Jing embroidery must be very even with extremely fine stitches, but what sets us apart is our gold thread. This was reserved for royalty and was intended to exude power, luxury and dazzling elegance. The king wore the gold dragon, not because they felt they were the son of a dragon, but because of the real gold they carried in their gown. Firstly the gold had to be turned into thread of course and this was done by hand rolling fine gold around silk. Thickness was determined by the amount of gold wrapped around the silk. Because this gold thread tended to be thicker than silk alone it is not sewn through the fabric in the way of normal embroidery, but is laid out in the desired pattern then attached by almost invisible threads holding it in place.

I looked at each glittering and eye-catching piece of work adorning the walls.  Everything looked delicate and represented perfectly the glory of the royal family. "Now so few people can still do this style of embroidery. It is not easy to find people who can still do work of this quality," she lamented. She was saddened for a moment, but in talking about about the people who love Jing embroidery the pride returned to her face. "Now so many people love this tradition, and call it art, especially foreign tourists who really appreciate the natural and graceful appearance and the luxurious materials."

Finally she showed me how to tell the best pieces.  "A fine piece must have the best materials, excellent needlework and also 'good meaning'."  I fell in love with one particular piece, two dragons playing with a pearl. The meaning is that the male and female dragons welcome the sunrise and brilliant sunshine bathing the earth. At that moment I silently prayed that this royal skill might persevere and that new generations may be bathed in the sunshine of these amazing works too!

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