Exhibition stitching history together and celebrating craft of embroidery

An ongoing exhibition in the Crafts Museum of China Academy of Art is celebrating the ancient craft of needlework through a variety of historic costumes, patterns and motifs.

A piece of dudou on display

An ongoing exhibition in the Crafts Museum of China Academy of Art is celebrating the ancient craft of needlework through a variety of historic costumes, patterns and motifs through September 21.

The exhibition is divided into five sections, with the first part dedicated to traditional sachets, a common adornment that was used for representing a person’s social status and ritual. A sachet, in ancient times, was usually a small soft bag containing perfumed herbs or sweet-smelling items.

This ornament was worn on the body during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). People used it to absorb sweat, repel insects and ward off evil. During the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), scented women preferred these bags and sewing ornate sachets became a requisite skill for them.

In the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), sachets weren’t just exclusive to women anymore and they developed into a social item that symbolized a person’s aesthetics and social class. Elaborate designs were often used by the upper class, while rustic women favored plain styles.

Every sachet was adorned with some sophisticated needlework regardless of style. Sewers applied more than 10 types of stitching methods to make an exquisite scented bag. Floral patterns and auspicious animal motifs were the most common themes. They were believed to reflect an ancient person’s passion for life.

A bib is another item that was often needled with embroidery. In ancient times, they were not only used to prevent clothing from being stained, but also doubled up as an ornament for children.

The second part of the exhibition is dedicated to a series bibs made in the late Qing Dynasty. They were designed into symmetry shapes and in a bold color contrast. Today, plastic bibs have replaced the cloth version by virtue of their easy-to-wash nature, which made such stitched bibs more precious than the modern versions.

Miao-style baby sling to carry child

The highlight of the exhibition is dudou, a traditional Chinese form of bodice. In modern days, dudou is a sleeveless and backless halter-top blouse, while in a bygone era it was worn as an underskirt to protect the stomach and breasts.

The third section sees several typical designs of dudou on display that consist of a single rhomboidal piece of fabric and tied to the neck and waist with attached strings. In addition to the cotton version, some delicate dudou was made of brocade and silk.

Since dudou is mainly an outfit for women and children, popular colors include red, pink, beige and blue. Except for themes of flowers and animals, legendary stories that embodied fertility and happiness also found favor with people back in time.

Making dudou was considered to reflect a woman’s needlework skills centuries ago. The tailor was required to cut, sew and embroider before completing a satisfactory outfit. The exhibits that came from Shanxi Province and Taizhou City in the middle of Zhejiang Province highlight the skill, dexterity and aesthetics of a woman’s craftsmanship in the late Qing Dynasty.

In the fourth segment of the exhibition elaborate needlework showcases the importance of events throughout the dynasties.

A bib made in the Qing Dynasty, which was designed into symmetry shapes and in bold color contrast.

In Fujian Province, people prepared a myriad of embroidered fabric for wedding ceremonies. From dowry and betrothal gifts to decorations of venues and wedding rituals, the red colored embroidered fabric was indispensable for each procedure. They carried auspiciousness and were believed to bring thriving offspring.

In the last section, visitors can take a look at crafts from the Miao people. As one of China’s 55 minority groups, the group’s skills as embroiderers are famous across the country.

Miao-style needlework is often themed by their legends. The tribe’s mythic leader, Chi You, was killed in battle with the Yellow Emperor. One reoccurring symbol on the fabric is the maple tree, which represents the weapon in Chi You’s hand when he was slain. A butterfly and a bird are also two common totems associated with life.

Typical items of Miao folk dress feature tie-dyed patterns, symmetrical embroidery work and decorative cuffs bearing auspicious images. Due to their long history of migration, the Miao people are divided into 200 branches across the country. Though their costumes share many unifying characteristics, they still vary from place to place.

Baby sling is a featured Miao-style fabric that is still used in present-day Miao communities. It is a square piece of cloth with straps on the corner. Variations of slings are showcased in the exhibition with traits of traditional Miao-style embroidery and tie-dyed patterns.


Date: Through September 21, closed on Mondays

Address: 352, Zhuantang Town, Xihu District

Admission: 10 yuan (US$1.46)

A piece of typical Miao folk dress

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