Embroidery Is The Only Thing I Want To Do
Hui fen
SuZhou
Heritage
Fabric Decoration

Well, lets be honest.  This is the first time I have written anything like this. When you first meet Huifen, you will be attracted to her quiet, calm temperament. I won't talk about her work just yet, but get to know her a bit. She is a picture herself, and if you know Suzhou you will see immediately that she reflects their classical beauty.

Just a bit of background to her style of work. During the Ming Dynasty, Jiangnan handicrafts flourished, with a government-run Suzhou embroidery workshop sewing costumes designed only for the court. In the private sector also, there were many women making good needlework creating desirable embroidery for their family.  "Everybody had silk worms, and everybody did embroidery." Courtly ladies also made embroidery their pastime as it was felt that cultivating such an activity improved their creativity and spirit. Huifen was born into a Suzhou needle-work family, with her grandfather engaged in embroidery designs, her father designing drawings for needle-work for more than 10 years, and her mother at home stitching as well. She started to learn at a very early age and when she reached 10 years she was already quite good. At 16, just by chance, she came across a picture in silk embroidered with the "Mona Lisa", and instantly that masterpiece with the enigmatic smile captured the girl's heart, and she knew then that this was where her path lay.

Once the magical power of embroidery had conquered her, she set out to develop her skills. Granted, she had learned much as a child, but there was much still to learn. Although she already had six years experience, she decided to start again from the beginning and re-study with a teacher. She wanted to be the best of the best. She found in her village an old lady who was quite well known in the country and she began her studies. A week after she started as an apprentice she sewed a persian cat, and immediately many local ladies were envious of her obvious skill. Huifen's coach also realised that the student had already surpassed the teacher. Huifen began the search for another mentor from whom she could learn more, and finally after several twists and turns she met two teachers who were to change her life. One was a third generation descendent of Mu Zhihong and the other was a master of crewel embroidery, Ren Hui.

With these two masters' attentive training, and after more than thirty years of hard work, re-thinking and breakthrough innovations, today she employs hair-thin threads, using colours of elegance and distinction and her work is gracefully beautiful.  Especially with photo-realistic images of still-life and portraits, her work is amazingly three-dimensional and alive. She can capture emotion and depth, imbuing her pictures with soul, conveying not just visual enjoyment but a deep emotional resonance.

Huifen has on many occasions been an embroidery ambassador visiting the United States, France, Italy, Britain, and Russia, and she has been an effective communicator and advocate for her art. Her work may be found in the British Museum,  the Museum of Boston and Taiwan's Chang Memorial Hall.  The former President of the United States George Bush and other celebrities have her museum-quality pieces. But she still lives a reclusive life at Taihu Lake, indifferent to the fame and faithful spending her days over her embroidery frame, each stitch as youthfully passionate as ever. Embroidery is, indeed, the only thing she wants to do.

click on a gallery item below to enlarge

Accolades

  • National intangible cultural heritage embroidery
  • First Chinese embroidery artist
  • Generational "needle master," a fourth-generation descendant of Shen Shou

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