A life dedicated to guxiu embroidery

Dai Mingjiao (1922-2018), a master of guxiu embroidery, died in January in her hometown of Songjiang. 
Ti Gong

Dai Mingjiao, the late master of guxiu embroidery, checks the stitches of plum blossom on one of her creations. She devoted herself to the time-honored art. 

Ti Gong

A piece of Dai’s magnum opus, featuring white cranes in the forest. 

Ti Gong

A piece of Dai’s magnum opus, featuring children playing outdoors. 

Dai Mingjiao (1922-2018), a master of guxiu embroidery, died in January in her hometown of Songjiang. She had dedicated her life to carrying on the time-honored tradition, an ancient art designated as an intangible cultural heritage of China.

The embroidery, a style that originated in Songjiang during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), is often referred to as “painting by threads and stitches.” It was devised by the Gu family, whose works mainly featured Chinese paintings of landscapes, animals and people in elaborate settings.

One silk thread used in guxiu embroidery is thinner than a human hair, while stitch work has to be close and meticulously aligned. Mastering the style requires at least a dozen different sewing skills.

Born into an intellectuals’ family in Songjiang, Dai was the only daughter among her siblings and therefore well-tended. Influenced by her aunt, a traditional woman from a noble family, Dai attached herself to embroidery at a young age.

When she turned 13, she sought permission from her parents to attend the Songjun Vocational School for Girls, where Dai not only learnt embroidery, but also studied classic Chinese, English, liberal arts and other subjects.

After graduation, she became the only one of the 100 classmates to continue the embroidery career. However, her delicate skills were rarely used as she, like the other embroiders, was only required to churn out embroidery work for daily utensils rather than artwork.

That frustration ended when she found a position at Songjiang Craft & Art Factory in 1976. She finally settled down on her dock of peaceful embroidery.

Dai, together with some colleagues, did research in Suzhou, in neighboring Jiangsu Province and created double-surface embroidery for the first time in guxiu history.

Dai created about 40 delicate embroidery pieces over the past decades. Some were displayed at the Songjiang Museum, and some were presented as diplomatic gifts, or treasured by galleries, museums and collectors worldwide.

In 2007 guxiu embroidery was listed among the first batch of national intangible cultural heritage projects.

Dai also taught students to promote the art. The younger embroiders have created about 500 pieces of work, exported to Europe, Asia and America.

With the help of her son, Dai’s accounts of the needle skills of guxiu was compiled into a book called “A Basic Study on Needle Skills of Guxiu Embroidery.”

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