Suzhou Trip Photos posted on March 31 2016 in Chinese Embroidery, embroidery, Suzhou Embroidery, travel 2 Comments

Pics from a few days in Suzhou~


Old Embroidery Photos posted on October 02 2015 in Chinese Embroidery, Suzhou Embroidery 6 Comments

While cleaning up the files on my computer, I came across my stash of favorite images of people doing embroidery which I thought I would share with you :) I hope this will also motivate me to finish up a few projects this Fall!

Embroidering in the Tang Dynasty

Mending Cloak by or attributed to Han XiMeng (韓希孟) from the Ming Dynasty, my favorite ancient embroiderer. You can see more of her works at my post here:

Embroidering in the Qing Dynasty

Shen Shou (沈壽) (1874-1921), probably the most celebrated embroiderer in Modern China, not long before her death.  In an embroidery manual she dictated during her illness, she said (or I think she said): "Since my teenage years, I worked on my embroidery day and night, often past midnight, with the aid of my lamp light.  This continued until my marriage without interruption.  Tasked with my household duties, I was further pressed for time.  Due to this, I fell into an illness.  These days I stop and walk around every two hours of sitting at my embroidery.  This is my earnest advice to you. (余自笲齡,畫夜有作,嘗過夜分,炷燈代燭。及於為婦,未懈而續。中饋之餘,晷催漏促,坐是致疾, 傷帶任督,今我權之。二時而足。或起或行。稍間而復。是謂繡節。致余忠告。")  I like how the tools do not appear to have changed much at all since the Tang Dynasty (circa 7-9th century) and to this day.

Jin Jing Fen (金靜芬) and her student Mo Zhi Hong (牟志紅), probably in the sixties.  Jin Jing Fen is a student of Shen Shou above. Around 1955, due to a series of personal calamities and the general tumultuous situation in China, Jin Jing Fen, now in her seventies, despite an illustrious embroidery career, was working as a servant in her nephew's Shanghai home.  When her friends in the newly established Communist government learned of her troubled situation, they helped her return to her native Suzhou to assume a teaching position there. 

Jin Jing Feng and Xu Zhi Hui (徐志慧), a student at the Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute probably in the sixties.  I love the relaxed attitudes and how you can perceive the gleam of the silk thread even in this black and white photograph. 

Lee EYing (李娥英), a former pillar at the Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute (SERI) and Suzhou embroidery in general, and my favorite modern embroiderer :) Born in 1926 in a village near Suzhou, she began to study embroidery with her mother since 10 years old and in 1954 was recruited into an organization the PRC organized in Suzhou to study and produce embroidery, which organization later became the SERI. 

Xu Zhi Hui (pictured above) some decades later.  I like her jovial expression here. 

A really small photo of Ren Hui Xian (任慧嫻)(a master of random stitch embroidery) but I love the image. 

Zhao Ming Zhu (趙明珠) my Chinese embroidery teacher visiting Canada in the eighties.

I like how the embroidery looks on the frame here. 

Tang Hui Qing (湯慧琴), a student of Lee E Ying above, finishing up a four year project, Music at Court

Tang Hui Qing putting last touches an embroidery reproduction of a Sung Dynasty painting, Listening to the Qin Under A Pine Tree

I think this lady might be an actress but I like the picture anyways. 

Yours Truly 15 years ago :)

A more recent photo :)


A Sublime Example of Suzhou Embroidery posted on May 26 2015 in Chinese Embroidery, Suzhou Embroidery

I came across a really neat article in Chinese by Suzhou embroiderer Tong Hui-Qin (湯慧琴) about her experience in creating an embroidery reproduction of Music at Court (宮樂圖), an Tang Dynasty (618-907) painting depicting twelve women in the Tang Dynasty court playing music, drinking or engaging in general revelry around a long table.  I thought her essay about the creation process was very informative, so I translate some highlights from her essay below, as well as some pictures of this sublime example of fine Suzhou embroidery.  And If you are ever in Taiwan at the right time, you might be able to see the original piece at the Palace Museum!

 Full view of Music at Court, completed in 2006 (48.2 cm by 69.5 cm).  

The original painting

The embroiderer recounts:

" In May of 2001, a business man who loved Suzhou embroidery and his wife visited my teacher Chinese embroidery master Lee E-Ying with a copy of the late Tang Dynasty painting Music at Court.  They told Master Lee that it was their wish that she recreate this beloved piece with the techniques and style of Suzhou embroidery.  At that time I was embroidering the Sung Dynasty painting Children at Play in an Autumnal Garden at Master Lee's home.  After they had a look at my work, they decided to leave their copy of  Music at Court with Master Lee for me to embroider under Master Lee's artistic direction.  

Music at Court is a famous painting from the late Tang Dynasty.  The original is currently in the Palace of Museum in Taipei, Taiwan.  The work depicts the culture of banquets and music in the Tang court, and shows buxom and elegant Tang court ladies each with their own poses and expressions.  Seated or standing around a table, the twelve court ladies in the painting drink tea, play drinking games, with four of them playing instruments to create merriment and the two standing figures setting the rhythm with the clappers in their hands.  A variety of tableware are set on the table.  Due to its old age, the painting had lost much of its color and details, with substantial portions being blurry and it was difficult to distinguish the original textile patterns on the ladies' robes.  Looking at the painting, I had a lot of doubts in my mind, because I had not yet embroidered a painting involving human figures in such a complex scene.  In addition, the image itself was not clear due to its age, which added to the difficulty in execution.  However, I thought it was also a new challenge and test for me, so I quietly decided that I would do a good job.

Then, how would I achieve that goal?  I thought that the first thing was to gather some background information on Music at Court.  Luckily, I found a book that provided more detail of the figures and objects in the painting.  After a certain amount of research to fully understand the composition, I then set up the fabric on my embroidery frame to begin.  When I was preparing the embroidery threads, my teacher noted: ancient paintings are different from its modern counterparts.  We are neither producing a painted copy, nor [insert conserve] the original work.  Instead, with Music at Court as a guide, we are using our needle as our paint brush and recreating the piece in the style of Suzhou embroidery.  Due to the age of the painting, the colors are clearly not what they were over a thousand years ago.  Therefore, when we are choosing our threads, we do not necessarily have to use the same colors as appears on the painting, but we should consider the bright colors preferred by the Tang court.  Therefore, with my teacher's instruction, I prepared a set of threads that included vermilion, jade, ochre and citrine in some tens of shades for each color.  After everything was ready, I started the actual embroidery in June of 2002.  

 I used a irregular long and short stitch, at the thickness of one filament (an average silk floss is comprised of sixteen filaments), for the outer edge of the woven mat table, the legs of the stools shaped like crescent moons and the dark outlines of the table, applying different shades of brown to create the appearance of wood.  For the woven mat center of the table I used several traditional Chinese stitches (e.g. diagonal satin stitch, battlement filling, split stitch) to further illustrate the woven quality.  For the tableware, I laid down layers of silk threads, at the thickness of one filament (see picture below) and half a filament (respectively, one-sixteenth and one-thirty-second of one silk floss) and at the edge of the dark outlines of the jade colored tableware, I further added a thin line of white, so that the curves in the tableware appear even more three-dimensional. 

The pink circle in the picture shows the thread at the thickness of one filament (1/16 of a silk floss)

During the embroidery process, I paid particular attention to three aspects, as set forth below: 

The fashion worn during the Tang dynasty has become an icon of ancient Chinese clothing.  Before working on the robes of the court ladies, I did a fair amount of research on Tang fashions, as well as the colors and designs of the fabrics that would be used at court.  Since the painting has deteriorated considerably through the ages, it was difficult to make out the patterns of the textiles used in the robes, so the best thing I could do was to reconstruct, based on my research of Tang dynasty textiles and what I could make out from the painting, a set of patterns to be embroidered on the robes.  I traced the patterns onto transfer paper and stitched guidelines based on the patterns.  Then I used irregular long and short stitch and, following the contour lines of the robes, I stitched the robes, leaving empty the parts covered by the guidelines I previously laid down.  After the robes were completed, sans the patterns, I then completed the patterns using the appropriate stitches.  After completing this, I was not really satisfied with the results.  The robes and the textiles comprising them appeared heavy, with no sense of movement or billowing that I had imagined.  After some additional experimentation at the side of my frame, I decided to restitch the robes without leaving any empty space for the patterns, and then I used extremely fine threads to re-embroider the patterns on the robes, taking care that the fine threads have sunk between the threads for the previous layer.  I was quite happy with the results this time, seeing that the patterns on the robes now have a woven quality and the robes had a much lighter and airy look to them. 

For the faces, I used a light red and a rouge red at the forehead, nose and chin areas. I took care to not emphasize the contour lines within the faces, in order to prevent the appearance of pockets of light and darkness on the ladies' faces.  Such pockets of light and darkness are prone to appear as the silk threads travel along contour lines that have more dramatic movements.  Another important point was to embroider the features accurately, with not one iota of deviation, and to convey the delicateness and colors of the ladies' complexions and cosmetics. I went about this by laying a fairly sparse foundation with rather thin threads, and then laid additional layers in different colors and increasingly thin threads, which were as thin as one sixty-fourth of a silk floss, or even a tad thinner.  I concluded by leaving one line of empty space on the bridges of the noses, and sparsely stitching around the hairline.  As I arrived at the hair, I used threads of various colors and thicknesses for the hair, and where the skin met the hair, I used a color that was closer to the skin and with very thin threads, I lightly went over the hair line with irregular long and short stitches again, so that the hair would look like it grew out of the skin, and perhaps add to the spontaneity of the facial expressions. 

Third, to use a popular expression, eyes are the windows to the spirit, conveying a myriad of feelings and emotions.  The execution of the eyes have a direct correlation with the success or failure of the entire embroidery piece.  The eyes of the ladies in the painting are tiny, and quite difficult to handle.  In the beginning, I used different shades of the same color to embroider the eyes, but after I finished, I found that the eyes looked dull, with no animation.  So I decided to try redoing the eyes in the same fashion, but did not see any improvement in the results, so I was getting increasingly anxious.  For a while my mind was completely consumed by thoughts on how to do the eyes; even as I walked on the street or while I was waiting for the bus, I would try to pay attention to the surrounding people and their eyes. On one occasion, I happened to see photos of some movie stars in a magazine, and I ended up using their eyes as a guide to do some additional experimentation around the outer edges of my frame.  Finally, I used a fine thread to do the white of the eyes in sparse and short stitches.  Then I did a thin foundation layer for the pupils, on which I added more layers of different shades until the pupil areas were fully stitched.  Then, depending on each lady's expression, I used a fine thread of varying colors and added a few stitches, and found that those few stitches of other colors made all the difference in creating the character's expression.  As I embroidered, I examined my own eyes in a mirror and observed the way in which they changed as I altered my own expressions, and thus I embroidered several eyes around the outer edges of my frame that seemed to be saying various different things.  At that point I felt I had begun to grasp the key to embroidering eyes.  Thereupon, I completed the eyes of the twelve court ladies in this manner, and my conclusion is that when embroidering eyes, the ultimate coloring described above cannot be off by even one filament, a mistake of even one filament can create a world's difference in the message conveyed by the eye. 

During the four years of embroidering Music at Court, I worked in front of my embroidery frame for about eight or nine hours each day.  Whenever I encountered any difficulties during the embroidery process, Master Lee always provided guidance and support to me without fail, so I was able to reach a new level in my command of the traditional techniques and my understanding of contour lines and the use of color.  In August of 2006, I finally completed my Suzhou embroidery version of Music at Court.  My teacher was very pleased with the final product  She said it was precise, delicate, elegant and pristine--in other words, the essential characteristics of traditional Suzhou embroidery."

The embroiderer during the final stage of the piece


The embroiderer at home


More Pics From My Trip posted on May 19 2015 in Chinese Embroidery, Suzhou Embroidery, Taipei 3 Comments

Here are some other pictures from my trip :)

Back in Taipei

The cafe cat in Shenzhen

A pretty embroiderer (from Shenzhen)

Her Work

Wedding robe of a Chinese warlord/politician (袁世凱)'s fourth daughter (at Suzhou Museum).  This came with a red embroidered skirt. 


I was pretty blown away by this set of embroidered cuffs

A blurry picture of the detail of the cuffs

A rabbit ornament.  This would be perfect for my sister, a bunny. 

A Gleaming Lotus

Embroidered gold fish

Bamboo Fans with woven tapestry centers

An embroidery of famous calligraphy in process

Early Mother's Day






Happy Mother's Day! posted on May 10 2015 in Chinese Embroidery, Suzhou Embroidery 4 Comments

Two stems of Carnations I did recently in Suzhou technique

Real Carnations



My Trip to Suzhou posted on April 30 2015 in Chinese Embroidery, Suzhou Embroidery

Thought I would share some pictures from my recent trip to Suzhou that was filled with local culture and many beautiful embroideries...

Embroidery at Suzhou Museum

Pond at the Suzhou Museum

A Beautiful Painted Fan

My mom and me in the bamboo grove at the Suzhou Museum designed by I.M. Pei

In the cafe that had wisteria growing from above


Local Suzhou Scene

Home of a Tapestry dealer

Tapestry loom


A Lovely Peacock and Peony Fan from Suzhou posted on March 24 2015 in Chinese Embroidery, Suzhou Embroidery 4 Comments

I thought this double sided embroidered peacock and peony fan created in Suzhou was pretty dreamy.  Hope you like the pics!

Reverse Side


Children at Play in an Autumnal Garden posted on March 03 2015 in Chinese Embroidery, Suzhou Embroidery 2 Comments

A few months ago when I visited my family in Taiwan, I noticed an exhibition of Suzhou decorative arts on the top level of the Eslite building.  One of the artworks on exhibition was an embroidered reproduction of a section of Song Dynasty artist Su Han Chen (蘇漢臣) (960-1279)'s Children at Play in an Autumnal Garden, which depicts an older sister and her brother focused intently on the game of spinning dates.  I hope you enjoy the photos!

The older sister (love the blue of her headband)

The baby brother

The siblings at play

Their game of spinning dates on a beautifully lacquered table

The original painting


Choupette and Other Famous Felines posted on October 14 2014 in Suzhou Embroidery


I love these two pics of Choupette, the pampered white Siamese cat of designer Karl Lagerfeld.  Given to Lagerfeld by model Bapitiste Giabiconi as a Christmas present, Choupette boasts a superb collar of white fur,  a penchant for Louis Vuitton luggage, and the attendance of not one, but two lady's maids, who in addition to being at Choupette's beck and call, also keep a daily diary of Madame's moods and ennuis.  Choupette has inspired fashion collections (her deep blue eyes being cited as an inspiration for Chanel's spring 2012 couture collection, which consisted entirely of shades of cornflower blue), collaborated on a make up collection with Shu Uemura and this Fall, there is a book out exclusively on Choupette. 

So, given the above, I think it is fair to say that Choupette is at least one of the world's chicest cats, if not the chicest. 


Love that pillow

I've been there...

To return to the main subject of this blog, Chinese embroidery has also had its share of famous felines.  In the 1950's, embroidery artisans in Suzhou, China, such as Gu Wenxia (顾文霞) and Yu Fuzhen (余福臻),  developed a now iconic style of cat embroidery that has spawned a thousand and one imitations.  From what I can recall, my seven or eight year old self was also first drawn to the art of Chinese embroidery by a photograph of an embroidered double sided cat extending its paws into a bowl of gold fish that I found in a tourism book on China's old canals.   Here are a few favourites:




 A Pair of Cats (雙貓).  This piece is actually by my Chinese embroidery teacher. 


White Cat's Frolic with a Grass Hopper (白猫戏螳螂)

White Cat's Frolic with a Grass Hopper (白猫戏螳螂)


Gu Wenxia (顾文霞)

Yu Fuzhen (余福臻)